Has Cork become Ireland's craft beer capital?

Brewers still think that there's plenty of room for the industry to continue to grow

craft beer, winning back the high street, business

Franciscan Well / Facebook

There has been a threefold increase in the amount of craft beer sold in Ireland since 2010 - at times it feels like there are new products coming to market on an almost weekly basis.

Ireland now has at least one brewery in every county - and Cork has more than anywhere else.

On Saturday Down to Business travelled to the Rebel County as part of the show's Winning Back the High Street series. Jonathan Healy was joined by Shane Long who is a director of Cork’s own Franciscan Well, and Ernest Cantillon who owns two iconic Cork social spots, Electric and Sober Lane.

Franciscan Well was part of the first wave of Irish craft brewers who launched during the 1990s - it is now one of Ireland's oldest smaller brewers, alongside O'Hara's and Porterhouse.

Mr Long says that he got into the industry by accident - his pub on Cork’s North Mall quay had a license to manufacture on the site. He tried brewing and hasn't looked back.

The company was bought-out by Molson Coors during the summer of 2013. After negotiating with a number of firms he says that he went with the US company because it would allow him to "keep the beer the way it was" and to maintain creative control. The company is currently building a new brewery to expand its capacity.

Ernest Cantillon says that his bars "only got into the craft beer space because of the demand" - his premises operate under a loose rule that if three or more people ask for something that they do not have - they order it in and see if it sells.

He is now involved in developing a new drink, partnering with other Cork publicans to launch Kinsale Gin - a craft spirit which will be available in the new year.

Franciscan Well has also become involved in the spirit business. After meeting a Jameson distiller for a drink, Shane decided to borrow some whiskey barrels to store stout in - creating Franciscan Well's Premium Stout aged in whiskey casks. Jameson then put finished whiskey in those casks to create Jameson 'Caskmates.'

While the Irish craft beer landscape has become increasingly crowded, Shane Long thinks that the "pie is getting bigger" as Ireland's drinking culture changes people are exposed to new tastes, meaning that there's still room to grow.

In the Irish industry craft sales make up only close to 1% of all beer sales. The corresponding figure in the US, where the industry is more mature, was 11% in 2014 according to its Brewers Association.