Cantillon: raising a glass to the success of craft beer producers

Call for further support for microbreweries should be heeded

For years, Irish drinkers had little choice when it came to ordering a pint so they have warmly welcomed the craft beer revolution. New figures show the number of microbreweries here has soared to 63 with a sharp rise in production to boot.

While this is great news for those who love a beer and for those who enjoy making it, questions remain as to how sustainable the sector is given the population.

According to a report just published by the Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland (ICBI), the number of Irish microbreweries has trebled since 2012 and is expected to increase even more. Nonetheless, we still lag behind many other countries that also consider beer drinking a national sport. The stats show Ireland had about five breweries per million population in 2013, half that of the US, one-third that of Denmark and less than one-quarter the rate of the UK.

Given this, it's not surprising to hear Séamus O'Shea, chief executive of the Carlow Brewing Company, one of the country's biggest independent breweries, suggest there's room for everyone here.

"The US market has over 3,000 breweries but a lot of these are quite small and this shows that there is space for those who want to keep things local," he told The Irish Times, adding there are many microbreweries in Ireland that have little or no interest in export markets.

The Government decided to raise the ceiling below which microbreweries can benefit from a 50 per cent tax rebate to 30,000 hectolitres in the last budget. This has has undoubtedly helped to encourage smaller players to follow their dream and get into brewing. The State in turn has gained from increased excise duties and a jobs boost as breweries take on staff.

But with many of the biggest players looking to win back drinkers and with craft beer producers from other countries also looking to cash in on our renewed love of a pint, microbreweries may well find it harder to compete in the coming years.

The ICBI is calling for a higher ceiling to be introduced to further support the sector in the next budget. Will the Government take note or leave microbreweries at the risk of ending up punch drunk?