The Wild Atlantic way is currently doing more for tourism in Ireland than U2, W.B Yeats and Riverdance all rolled into one. Having lived on the Atlantic side of Ireland all my life I have never seen as many camper vans, caravans or tour buses as I have witnessed the last two summers. While dramatic scenery, historic landmarks and the famed Irish hospitality are pretty much guaranteed the weather unfortunately never is. So what better way to spend a wet afternoon in Kinsale than to visit one of the most popular breweries in the country Blacks of Kinsale .
The husband and wife team Sam and Maudeline’s journey into the world of independent brewing started with a thoughtful gift of a homebrew kit. The new hobby of homebrewing soon became an obsession for Sam and the beers kept getting better and better with every brew. Ultimately the demand for the brews from family and friends gave the Blacks the encouragement to go Pro. A crowd funding plan was put into action and with a lot of hard work and the backing of the beer enthusiasts of Ireland Blacks of Kinsale was born.
The first two beers both which had started their life as homebrew favourites were the Pale Ale (KPA) and a Black IPA. Both were well received by the Irish beer fans who back in 2013 were hungry for more quality Irish craft beers. The Pale Ale still makes up the bulk of Blacks brew days and can now be found throughout the country in its new canned format. However the beer that really stood out for me was the Black IPA. As a beer geek who was living in a small village at the time I was amazed and delighted to see such a challenging style of beer available in my local shop!
To help Blacks spread the good word of beer and independent brewing Sam, Maudeline and the crew at Blacks have been busy. They have built themselves a taproom. Converted from a shipping container the new taproom well help showcase their beers to visitor’s . Kinsale is a beautiful town and has long been on the tourist trail but now Kinsale is the official beginning or end (depending on which direction you travel north or south) of the Wild Atlantic Way bringing even more visitors and tourists to the area. With their new taproom and tours, Blacks are providing tourists with an interest in beer a way to sample local beers at the source.
The rapid growth of the independent beer industry in Ireland is in overdrive there are now independent breweries dotted all along the Wild Atlantic Way but sadly the opportunity to interact and engage with the many tourist passing through is pretty much lost under current alcohol licencing laws and legislation.
Many of these tourist coming from the UK, Europe and U.S might scratch their heads and wondered why they can’t buy a beer straight from the breweries? In many U.S states taprooms and on site sales are an everyday occurrence. In the UK tap rooms are usually opened over the weekend when brewing has stopped for the week. The public can visit and sample the different and new beers being brewed, meet the people who produce the beers and learn more about the production and brewing process. For a small business this is an invaluable opportunity to sell their goods directly, and also a brilliant way to build a tangible relationship with their customers. On a summer’s day London based Bevertown brewery can have up to 300 visitors . This might be an extreme example but it shows the potential that is there for breweries if they were given the opportunity to run a tap room. Closer to home Belfast based Boundary brewery have run taproom events throughout the summer. What better way to show the public your wares than to have them enjoy the beer in the very place it was made. These events in Belfast have been a great success and highlight just how disadvantaged breweries across the boarder are at.
Right now the minimum you can purchase directly from the brewery is about 20 litres, unless the brewery has a bar licence (which can cost somewhere around €75,000), paying for a glass, bottle or can of beer is illegal. By providing tours, breweries can of course offer samples and having a nice taproom like Blacks of Kinsale have built is a great place to sample their beers after your tour, but is this enough?
Starting and running your own business is a hard task in this country but not being able to sell your products direct makes it all the more difficult to maximise your potential profits. Sure there will be opposition from the usual naysayers, allegations of irresponsible drinking and antisocial behaviour will be used to oppose the very notion of a tap room. The drinking culture of Ireland has been a contentious subject for generations but the now nanny like state policies are out of touch with the consumer and breweries alike. Surely it’s time to join the rest of Europe in its more adult approach to alcohol.
These naysayers have their own interests at heart not the interest of the breweries and the people they employ. There are now around a 100 breweries in the country each employing nearly 450 people. And this is done with a tiny percent of the beer market share around 3%. Compare that to Molson Coors who command around 7.5% of the Irish market and employ around 66 people. Adjustment of the licensing laws would surely give small breweries the opportunity to maximise profits while providing a local amenity and becoming a tourist attraction at the same time. The breweries understand legislation is slow to change but this really is a massive opportunity missed for the breweries, tourist board and the local economy alike. In every other sector of the food and drink industry in Ireland it is possible to sell your goods on site and direct to customers. Is it fair that a brewery is denied this privilege but the petrol station, supermarket and off licence down the road is free to sell their beers 7 days a week. If a brewery near you does offer tours like Blacks do go visit and learn more about your locally produced beer.