Peter Mosley, a Director of Porterhouse Brewing Company, is also Chairman of the Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland which, it was announced recently, has joined forces with its European brethren to form the European Brewing Group.
“This is going to give small independent microbreweries in Europe, who face a number of challenges – some of which are market-specific to the regions they’re operating in – a united voice,” he explains, “Some issues are more universal such as access to lines and to market. The European grouping gives us a chance to raise those issues on the European stage and have them addressed.”
But the EBG should not be confused with Brewers of Europe which represents larger commercial brewers with very different issues.
“There’s some overlap but there are other issues that we have that we wouldn’t be able to have addressed in that format,” he says, “One of the issues is route to market and the perceived powers of large brewers to restrict access.”
Getting small independent-brewed beers accepted by the on-trade since they emerged onto the market in the 90s has not been an easy journey.
“There was not a lot of interest in having other beers on the bar counter over and above the standard range,” he recalls, but then the small independent breweries started selling limited amounts into a few bars locally in the early 2000s.
“But this was never a particularly large volume of beer and as the market has changed and evolved into an international market for such beers the small independent has started supplying more beers as this has become progressively easier.”
But as demand has grown, recent years have seen larger brewers release an increasing range of beers, some of which may be targeted at the emergent craft beer drinker. This obviously has the effect of reducing the number of taps in an outlet available to small independent brewers, he believes, “From a consumer point-of-view it can be hard to identify what actually is a craft – or more correctly, an independent beer,” he says.
In another move, major brewers are acquiring small independents and that’s one of the big issues facing the small independent brewing industry.
Peter joined the pioneering Porterhouse Brewing Company in 1996, just three months into the adventure and has been Head Brewer there ever since.
Before that he worked in the UK brewing industry having taken a Brewing & Distilling degree at Herriot Watt University.
He also helped set up the Dingle Distillery with former LVA Chairman the late Oliver Hughes and with Liam Laharte in 2012. Today he oversees production there too.
The proliferation of beers from small independent breweries has made people more aware of beer and beer styles, he agrees.
“Since we began brewing ourselves, we’ve always encouraged others into the industry as we believe a rising tide lifts all ships,” he says, “People are much more open now to the idea of calling for an alternative beer to their normal brand and they like to try local.”
Because of the dominance of major brewers, Ireland has been very much a brand-driven market.
“Now, people are more aware of the whole raft of beer styles available out there,” he says, “The different lagers, sour beers, IPAs etc – this is now driving the small brewers onwards.”
The public perception is that small brewers are doing really well, that it’s a great market and a great experience and it’s easy to sell beer etc but ‘craft’ only accounts for 2-3% of the beer market compared to other markets, he points out.
And he’d agree that there may yet be a diminution of small independent brewery numbers in the years to come as some ventures fail to succeed in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
“There have already been some closures of small brewers this year,” he says, “That’s the way the market operates though.”
Making beer is a fraction of the job compared to distributing and selling it.
Often the production of beer exceeds demand in the marketplace and so it takes some time to catch up.
“At the moment we’re going through quite an extended period of growth in brewery numbers and thus the market is due a contraction in numbers at some point. That’s just the cycle of brewing.”
As an industry small independent brewers are generally focused more on local domestic beer sales and it’s important that brewers don’t get carried away with exporting beers as it’s a very time-consuming process, he warns.
“They should be focusing on their domestic sales, local sales within a short distance of their sites of production.
“Fulfilling local provenance is an element of that but when you start selling beer at some distance from the site of production you tie-up resources and if you’re marketing yourself as a sustainable brewer you should be backing that up with actions.
“A successful brewery is as much determined by people repeatedly buying your beer as people tasting it for the first time somewhere else.
“It’s important to establish your local credentials first.
“Some are doing this very successfully such as the White Gypsy Brewery, St Mel’s or the West Kerry Brewery who – rather than focussing too much on selling beer to Dublin – focus instead on getting their beer accepted in the local trade. It’s also less fraught,” he adds, “And by working in the locality in which you’re based, you often bring jobs and employment to the area.”
In last month’s 1&1 interview, Bernstein Brokers’ Beverage Analyst Trevor Stirling stated that craft beer here will never reach the market penetration of that in the US as we’ve a greater diversity of beers brewed locally in the UK and Ireland.
But the growth of US craft beers to around 12% hasn’t been an overnight process, points out Peter.
“It’s taken well over 30 years, possibly longer, to get to 12% of the beer market there,” he explains, “In that time we’ve seen a whole generation of drinkers start drinking craft beer. In the UK they started at a similar period in time but they’re coming from a position that regional brewers were quite strong and well-established.
“People travelled from one part of the country to another and would expect to see a different brand of beer in the bars.
“That climb will take a lot longer in Ireland as it will take so much longer to educate the consumer,” he believes, “I think we could potentially get to 12% but it has to be put into perspective in Ireland since Ireland has only been doing it for the last 10 years. It’s too soon to make a sweeping statement about such a thing.”
The recently-passed Public Health (Alcohol) Bill requiring a cancer warning label for Irish beers is bad news, true, but it still has to go back to Europe and to the World Trade Organisation, he points out.
“There’s nothing more we can do about it now,” he says, “We must simply await the decisions from Brussels and the WTO.
“But what’s concerning for us is that the legislation will add to the cost of our Irish products through having to provide an export label and a domestic label.
“From a domestic consumer’s perspective a boutique beverage business abroad is now going to be in a position where it’ll be reluctant – if not dead against – supplying the Irish market, so we’re likely to see a considerable reduction in specialist ranges of beers, spirits and wines.”
So apart from the shrinking choice of product for the consumer that should be good for the independent microbrewery here, right?
Alas, the outlook for the small independent brewer who’s in a difficult market already is only going to get harder in the next few years, he believes.
Even though there appears to have been a growth in beer sales by small independent brewers, it’s only marginal, he says, “The market is still very challenging for small independent breweries to get into, to access.”
Whether or not this will change is, perhaps, the real question.