Irish ‘Craft’ Beer Festival?

The Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival is coming up in a couple of weeks.

Image courtesy of ICBCF Website

Image courtesy of ICBCF Website

There’s been a bit of chat going around (exemplified by this open letter to the organisers on Reddit), which has made that bloody annoying craft/not-craft argument rear its ugly head once again.

For those not fancying reading the above (lengthy) diatribe, I’ll summarise: the author isn’t happy that the organisers are allowing The Franciscan Well Brewery to bring their beers to this year’s festival. Why? Because (in the author’s mind, at least) the Franciscan Well aren’t ‘craft’ enough for our craft festival.

The author has a point, I suppose, as the Franciscan Well was recently bought out by global corporation and peddlers of light lager, MolsonCoors. Following in the footsteps of Sharp’s Brewery across the water in Cornwall, Cork’s leading brewpub sold up around Christmas time, in order to get a significant slice of MolsonCoors’ megabucks to drive their expansion plans. Now, this has certainly ruffled the feathers of a fair few Irish beer fans; people have gotten their knickers in a right twist about the Franciscan Well now having an unfair advantage over their independent competition and being no better than the middle of the road stuff churned out by their MolsonCoors bedfellows, Blue Moon.

In the USA, Franciscan Well would no longer be known as being a producer of craft beer. The Brewers Association over there have clear guidelines detailing what exactly constitutes as craft and what doesn’t: a craft brewery must produce less than six million barrels of beer per year, be less than 25% owned/controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not a craft brewer, and have at least 50% of its brewing volume in either all-malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance, rather than to lighten, flavour. So, Blue Moon (owned by MolsonCoors) = not craft. Goose Island (AB-InBev since 2011) = no longer craft. Widmer/Kona/Redhook (32% controlled by AB-InBev) = you guessed it, non-craft filth. I joke, not being craft doesn’t mean not being good (has anyone had a Goose Island IPA recently? Joyous gear), it just signifies that the brewery no longer pertains to the ethos of indie brewing. Now, unsurprisingly, ‘non-craft’ enterprises aren’t always too upfront about their ownership structures, so they’re often referred to as ‘crafty’ beers. The bitchy world of beer, eh?

Right, this is all very well, but here’s the issue: we’re not in the USA. There’s nowt in Ireland stopping breweries calling their beers craft. The closest Franciscan Well has come to being shunned by the Irish beer community is them being de-listed by consumer group Beoir, which explicitly supports only independent Irish breweries. MolsonCoors have their big brash Irish marketing campaign going on at the moment called ‘The Craft Collection’ – everyone’s realised that ‘craft’ has become a major buzzword and can generate some serious cash. Don’t believe me? Look around the world of beer advertising: even bloody Fosters have got in on the act, with their lager allegedly being “crafted” to perfection. Jesus.

The organisers of the Irish Craft Beer Fest obviously realise that branding the event as ‘craft’ will be pretty attractive to Joe Public, but they evidently don’t care about the term ‘craft’ in its American sense. What they want to do (rightly so, in my opinion) is to showcase the best of the Irish beer scene. There’s no doubting that Franciscan Well have been a massive part of Ireland’s beer revolution, making a decent core range of brews, some exciting specials, and mentoring many of the country’s new crop of brewing pros. They still employ the same passionate Irish staff and the bloke in charge is still the same fella he was a couple of years ago – he’s just got a bigger brewery and has to arse about with corporate marketing teams. Sure, they’re going for a more mainstream market segment now and are unfortunately being piggybacked onto the Blue Moon wagon by MolsonCoors’ branding department. Yes, they may well be treading on the toes of some of Ireland’s ‘proper craft’ breweries in the wider market. But that’s another issue. In terms of the festival (where each exhibitor has only a small stand with a few tap handles to work with), shouldn’t the drinking public be exposed to the best beer Ireland has to offer?

Here’s a thought: let’s get round this problem by simply changing name of the festival. What would be wrong with “The Great Irish Beer and Cider Festival”? Sounds alright to me and there’s nothing bloody ‘craft’ in sight.

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About beermack

Tech is the day job, but beer's the first love. Clean and hoppy wins the race. Great to have lived in Dublin through the Irish decent beer revolution, now back in the UK plying my trade in the Big Smoke.
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6 Responses to Irish ‘Craft’ Beer Festival?

  1. Andrew Moore says:

    It’s always great to see Will and Paudie at the festival. I guess that I, like a lot of Irish beer fans have mixed feelings over the takeover. My main concern regarding MC is their aggressive policy of pushing out Irish Craft taps in favour of their own brands; I was recently told by one bar that they had replaced their Porterhouse Red tap with another “craft” beer Molson Canadian.

    Ultimately the choice is going to be down to the bars and the consumers. If the bars are savvy enough to understand what MC are up to then they can opt not to sell their products. Also if consumers are concerned then they can opt not to buy the beers. In both cases a certain amount of education is required.

    As for the question “What is craft”, I always view this in the same vein as “What is art”, to which my answer is “Do I want to hang it on my wall?” The same approach to “What is craft?” would be “Do I want to put it in my mouth?”

  2. The Beer Nut says:

    Well said, sir. If Franciscan Well’s beer is somehow inferior then fewer festival-drinkers will buy it. If it’s just as good as everything else then it would have been a mistake to deny them admission — punishing the customers more than the multinational.

  3. It’s all about the beer, always has been, always will be. Shane, Paudie and all the lads at the FW will always do their best to produce the best, and deserve our support for that reason alone

  4. The Gargler says:

    Well I for one reckon that the Irish festival scene would be the loser if the characters of the Fran Well were no longer to participate. Not withstanding the fact that the FW led the line in Cork for manys the year right on Heinekens doorstep. Surely that has to count for something? Credit for achievements past, posthumous VC’s, an’ all that. And don’t forget who run the only “craft” beer festival in Ireland at Easter, an otherwise barren beer period for lovers of the finer beers in life.
    Molsen Coors for their part are loaded but are at least throwing a bit of cash into Irish breweries (well 1 anyway).
    Damn the begrudgers, I say! The Well is dead, long live the Well ! Heroes, take the money and run”.

  5. Joe Pellegrino says:

    The evolution of craft acquisitions by the macros here in the US has been interesting. The big boys put their hand on the stove early on with Red Hook, Widmer, and others: they hoped they could follow their existing model and dilute the offerings of their acquisitions, slap a craft label on it, and the average craft consumer wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. They were wrong, and their acquisitions lost cache. They learned from their mistake, just look at G-I. If anything, they’ve made their most innovative beers post-acquisition.

  6. John says:

    Perhaps the terminology should be “craft” and “micro”. Franciscan Well is still a craft brewery and unless they stop making Rebel Red etc and start pumping out extra Coors Light they will continue to do so. However, they probably can’t be called a microbrewer given their ownership.

    Thus, people who like beer for its taste can say that they like “craft beer” and those who are interested in it being from a small company can say that they like “micro-brews”.

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