Barry & Fitzwilliam – 40 years of constant change

On its 40th Anniversary Barry & Fitzwilliam's Managing Director Michael Barry looks back at B&F's first few years before bringing the story up-to-date.


The early 80s were a time of recession in Ireland.

In retrospect starting a drinks business back at that time was rather foolhardy – but I was an optimist then and still am now.

In our embryonic years we traded as Barry’s Wines & Spirits Ltd and even though 90% of our sales were spirits and even though we focussed initially on the Munster market, I would think that 75% of our business then was on-trade and 25% off-trade.

The most important products at the time to the publican were Paddy, Powers, Smirnoff, Hennessy and CDC. Jameson was seen as a Dublin whiskey at the time. In my first month I remember opening an account with Ballymaloe, Aherns of Youghal and Treacy’s in Youghal – all of whom still trade with us today. Longneck bottles were unheard of at the time until we started to import Corona.

Wine sales in pubs were miniscule and the most popular house wine was probably Pedrotti. Harp and Carling were the big lager brands. Heineken was only coming into the market having bought Murphy’s Brewery out of receivership in 1983.



The hospitality landscape has changed dramatically since then – there was no such thing as Cocktail culture – which is so important these days – except maybe in the five-star hotels.

Now, almost every bar has a mixologist. Every hostelry in the country has a wine list and many of the gastropubs are serving better food than some restaurants.

Back in the 80s you went to a disco which was probably held in the function room of a hotel for a late night out. It was very rare that a bar would have a licence extension for a late night. Then we got a nightclub scene where you could only buy wine: Kojak’s in Cork and maybe a dozen on Leeson Street in Dublin.

In the off-trade the important products were the same few spirits that I mentioned earlier as well as Teachers and Black & White Scotch.

Harveys, Winter’s Tale and Sandeman were bigger sellers than most wines except for Le Piat Dor, Blue Nun and Black Tower. Today most off-licences will have a few hundred different SKUs of wine, numerous craft and world beers and the idea of being able to buy a ready-chilled beer or bottle of wine in the 80s was absolutely unheard of.

So, the drinks market today has become a very sophisticated market. As a company we’re seeing phenomenal growth (both in the on- and off-trade) on products such as Bols Liqueurs, Tia Maria, Disaronno and Passoa.

White Claw Hard Seltzer, which we launched in May 2020, now has 62% of the Hard Seltzer category and Brewdog Punk is now the Number One Craft Beer SKU.

In the wine market we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the sale of celebrity wines such as Graham Norton, Kylie, Sarah Jessica Parker, Gordon Ramsey and Gary Barlow.

The one takeaway from all of the above is that change is constant.

Our next project will be the launch of Obolon beer from the Ukraine which we hope to have on the market for Christmas.

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