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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
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Opinion Craft beer – is it just a phase?

There seems to be a perception that craft beer is a phase, a fad, a temporary hipster thing – nothing could be further from the truth.

CRAFT BEER: is it just a phase? It;s question that many people probably ask themselves but it all came to a head on 31 July when new Sligo brewery, The White Hag, tweeted the following three tweets (which I have combined):

Our application for licence for a craft beer experience at the Sligo fleadh was rejected – the @TheVFI_IrishPub reckon craft beer is a “phase that will die out” and objected on behalf of 5 local pubs who feel we would detract from their business during the fleadh, with 300k people in town! Thoughts?

Twitter and Facebook roared in to action, especially when covered it. The issue wasn’t that they had been turned down for a licence – it’s questionable whether they should even have applied, I would have thought it was up to the festival organisers to take care of that. The issue is also not about the VFI objecting on behalf of their members, which is their right to do. The real issue is that an organisation heavily involved in the “support your local” campaign might have used that statement as an argument in court.

The VFI were quick to release a statement of support for local breweries. I think I might disagree with the notion that there are “sufficient licences in Sligo to cater for the expected demand at the Fleadh” when there’s an expected 300,000 people expected to attend, however that’s not the issue I want to address.

So, is this a phase?

There may indeed be a general perception that craft beer is a phase, a fad, a temporary hipster thing. It has seemingly come out of nowhere to the general punter on the street. Many of us know better, though.

The fact is, everything in life is a phase. The very existence of humans on Earth has been but the blink of an eye in its long history. Beer has been around for over 5,000 years, about as long as civilisation itself. The very notion of industrial beer is a new one. Bass was the first trademark the world has ever seen. That was in 1876, a mere 138 years ago. I think that pretty much proves the point that “Big Beer” is actually the phase we are going through. Let’s analyse it a little further though.

What is ‘craft beer’? 

There are many definitions for what craft beer is. As Ireland’s beer consumer group, Beoir defines it the same way the government does. Independently owned, less than 20,000HL per year. It equates to small batch brewing rather than the industrial line brewing (macro) most people drink. That’s what the rest of our 5,000 year love affair with beer was.

“The craft beer revolution”, as some call it, started in the US in the ’70s and the UK shortly afterwards. Ireland was already devoid of small breweries with only three large brewing companies well in to the ’80s, down from over 150 a century beforehand. Our own craft brewery movement didn’t come until the late ’90s and was very tenuous indeed and many didn’t survive.

It was 2005 when things changed. After years of begging and lobbying by the few remaining small breweries, the government introduced a duty rebate for independent breweries. This allowed our remaining breweries to invest and grow and it saw the start of our current craft beer boom with the first new brewery in a decade to open up in 2006 called Galway Hooker. Since then, then number of Irish breweries has risen from a handful in 2006 to 40 physical breweries with nearly as many contract brands, many of which are awaiting their own premises.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the number of outlets selling Irish craft beer. Beoir has always kept a fairly accurate record and we can look back and see that in 2010, Ireland had 27 pubs serving Irish craft beer. That has steadily risen each year and there are now over 650 pubs and about 350 restaurants where one can avail of local Irish beer.


The US and UK continue to enjoy a serious rise in their craft beer scene so there’s no reason we will not enjoy the same thing in Ireland for many years to come. There will be a normalisation at some point. Breweries will consolidate or be bought by others but I don’t think we will ever see death of independent brewing in Ireland like we saw at the beginning of the 20th century. Craft beer is here to stay. Get used to it!

Reuben Gray is a freelance and beer writer. He is the author of and is also the Chairman of Beoir, Ireland’s beer consumer group.

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Read:  (Micro)brewing up a storm: How Ireland’s craft beers are making their mark

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