This year could be a particularly good one for Irish microbreweries. And it all depends on one very small change in the law with huge potential impact for growth in the industry.
Under current legislation, it is illegal for breweries to sell their products on site. So when a group of tourists, for example, take a tour of the Killarney brewery in Co Kerry or Metalman in Waterford or any local brewery, if they want to buy a few bottles to bring home at the end, they can't. (Unless they buy the wholesale amount, which is roughly the equivalent of four cases.)
It's a little like visiting a vineyard in France and being told you're not allowed to buy any of the wine you tasted.
The Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill 2016, as proposed by Labour TD Alan Kelly, suggests removing this restriction with a change in licensing to allow breweries sell their wares on site between 10am-6pm.
Ireland has a reputation for being particularly good at brewing – mainly down to one well-known stout – and a record 1.5 million tourists visited the Guinness Storehouse in 2015. Imagine if some of these tourists could go from macro to micro, following brewery trails across the country, visiting taprooms, hop farms, meeting brewers and sampling fresh, locally-made beers.
It would offer an enriched tourist experience and a broader view of this rapidly changing industry and the innovation taking place with the rise of Irish craft beers. The change in licensing would also allow brewers to get feedback from customers, create more jobs and plan for more sustainable growth – many microbreweries in the US, for example, only survive by directly selling to their customers.
There are now some 64 microbreweries in Ireland directly employing 439 people – it’s a young but expanding industry that needs support.
The Dáil will vote on the Bill over the coming months, and with good sense it will get a resounding endorsement. It’s certainly on my wish-list for 2017.