Irish Craft Drinks in Lockdown - and Beyond

Aoife Carrigy asks how have Irish crafts drinks producers, purveyors and consumers been responding to the lockdown – and finds a buzzing scene of innovation and imagination. 

As we ramp up our national exit strategy after recent months of lock-down, the extent to which we will re-embrace our old habits of social drinking remain to be seen. Whether we flock back to the pubs, however, or prefer to tipple at home, many drinks producers and purveyors have forged new consumer habits that may sit alongside if not replace the old ones. From Corona-era cocktail hour, complete with kit deliveries and online demos (as per the Celtic Whiskey Shop’s Cocktail Tour, a collaboration with Oisin Davis of Great Irish Beverages) to virtual pubs like (the dreamchild of Doug Leddin of Dublin’s Ohana tiki bar and, and with plans to sell food and drink and host live music sessions), home drinking is being reimagined and revolutionised.

Missing the magic of a freshly poured pint of the black stuff? You can have it delivered to your door, via a growing number of mobile bars that act as community outreach arms of the pubs they belong to. Want a margarita cocktail with that margherita pizza? No problem, the Blind Pig Speakeasy has it covered via Deliveroo who – along with Just Eat, UBER Eats and drink delivery services such as The Beer Club and Press Up’s new Siopa Vino – are moving in on market share.

With everyone from distributors to retailers, publicans and restaurateurs to home delivery platforms getting in on the act, it’s no surprise that some savvy producers are finding ways to reach consumers directly. The Irish craft drinks scene has been fast to respond: when a sector is as young as our craft beers, cider and spirits scene, innovation and imagination are well-toned muscles.

Take our craft brewers, many of whom have set up webshops with nationwide delivery. For me, nothing beats going into a specialist independent off-licence like Redmonds of Ranelagh or Bradleys of Cork or any number of craft beer champions across the country, browsing the shelves and picking up some old favourites along with something new to me. Not all beer lovers have such Aladdin’s Caves on their doorstep, however, and while some of indie off-licences such as Craft Central have been early adaptors for online sales, it didn’t take long for breweries to forge direct routes to market.

In mid-March, beer blogger Wayne Dunne, aka The Irish Beer Snob, asked on Twitter whether there was a list of Irish breweries with online set-up to sell beers, who fans could support with sales. Within weeks, there were several dozen brewers from all around the country for him to highlight. (Check out the handy list on his pinned tweet at @Irishbeersnob, while lists many breweries, retailers and off-licences who deliver.)

Some breweries are limited to contactless click and collect (Wicklow Wolf or Ballykilcavan Farm and Brewery in Laois) or restricted by licence conditions to a minimum order of three cases (12 Acres Brewing in Laois). Of those delivering, some are keeping it local, often with the option of mix and matching different styles of beer within a case (Limerick’s Treaty City Brewery), while many more are delivering nationwide, some with next-day delivery (Sligo’s Lough Gill Brewery). Some are offering free delivery locally (Dungarvan Brewing Company) or nationwide (Kinsale’s Black Brewery and Distillery) while others are collaborating for strength in numbers: Athlone’s Dead Centre Brewing launched in conjunction with several midlands breweries to offer a mix’n’match delivery service with no minimum order and a flat-rate of €6 for nationwide delivery (but the proviso that their courier service means that delays can be expected).

Other breweries are thinking beyond direct sales, and suggesting new ways that their customers can experience the beer at home: with suggested food pairings perhaps (Mescan Brewery website’s handy food pairing wheel) or via 5L mini-kegs for home-poured pints (Sligo’s White Hag Brewery, who have also been doing online launches of new beers and offer next-day delivery direct from the brewery). Others are taking part in online beer festivals such as Craic Beer Community’s Virtual Beer Festival (in early May and June) and the upcoming BeoirFest (28th June) which is pitched more to the casual beer drinker than dedicated ‘beer geeks’.

Irish cider producers got a nice shout-out in early May at what was the world’s biggest cider tasting, hosted on InstaLive by Gabe Cook, aka The Ciderologist. Cork’s unique Stonewell Tawny Cider represented Ireland in this whistlestop global virtual tour of international cider producers and style.

Plenty of savvy publicans have been quick to pivot their business. Left with barrels of their own Two Sides Brewing Co. ‘Shop Local’ IPA (a collaboration with Brickyard Gastropub), Maire Ní Mhaolie and her husband Geoff Carty of 57 The Headline were among the first publicans to keep their doors open, starting with click and collect for lucky locals but ramping up to nationwide delivery of wine, Irish spirits and cases of craft beer.

The Big Romance on Parnell Street proved that there was an untapped market for growlers, which are an integral part of craft beer culture in north America. These refillable glass containers, typically two litres, are filled to order with fresh draught beer. The Big Romance told Irish Central in late April that they had hired three delivery drivers to meet demand, and interestingly had noted a broadening of their customers’ age demographics, with a slightly older customer base now enjoying fresh beer at home. More and more pubs around the country are embracing the demand for freshly tapped beer in growlers: Tullys of Waterford have delights like growlers of Yellow Belly's Castaway Passionfruit Sour and Metalman's Fracture Rye IPA (as well as branded jam jar's of Gin Bramble featuring Blackwater Gin); Bierhaus in Cork has an impressive range (including minikegs of interesting stouts and sours); while Dublin's Urban Brewing are offering ‘crowlers’, aka large cans filled to order with the draught beer of your choice.

Others are packaging their venue’s experience: the ever-innovative pub and entertainment group Bodytonic offer a €125 'Pub In A Box' delivery of drinks, glasses, pizza, snacks, a board game, t-shirts and playlist, while Dublin 7's L. Mulligan Grocers are hosting regular online beer tastings on a local click and collect basis, as well as selling weekly cocktail kits and growlers. Bar 1661 is selling pre-batched bottles of some of their favourite cocktails, such as the 'Brother Hubbard', featuring butter-washed Mad March Hare poitín with Longueville House cider brandy from Cork, fresh Irish strawberry syrup, vanilla and a Regal Rogue rose vermouth – available through their own website and the likes of Decent Drinks Club from the folks behind Dublin 8's Luckys and The Circular. In Galway, the ever-imaginative team behind The Twelve Hotel are offering delivery of their vac-packed Brown Bag cocktails, with specials such as their Afternoon Tea for Two, featuring Hennessy and Irish Mist with jasmine tea, Sliabh Aughty heather honey and citric acid apple.

The distilleries have been no less adaptable. Besides those who followed the lead of Listoke Distillery, who were one of the first to produce hand sanitiser, many of them are embracing the growing potential for online engagement. Blackwater Distillery welcomed over two thousand viewers to its June bank holiday weekend FacebookLive launch of their new Velvet Cap Blended Irish Whiskey, and had doubled those viewings by the following weekend. Clare-based whiskey bonders, JJ Corrys Irish Whiskey launched a new online ‘Crowd Sourced Blending’ initiative to create The Lock In blend, for which participants were sent samples and invited to vote on proposed blends. Lough Ree Distillery are offering Sling Shot Gin School at Home deliveries of DIY kits to allow you to blend your own 350ml bottle of gin at home, complete with distillates like elderflower, spruce and black pepper alongside classic gin botanical flavours like juniper, coriander, angelica and citrus. And several Wicklow-based distilleries such as Glendalough Distillery have teamed up with fellow Wicklow Naturally network members, Wicklow Way Wine, to develop cocktail recipes promoted online (see Santina’s Irish Food Tales on Instagram).

Of course, there are many for whom nothing beats the connection of social drinking in the familiar setting of their local pub. But it does look like home drinking has just gotten a whole lot more social – and more flavoursome – as a result of this new normal that we find ourselves in.


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