“Excuse me,” a young woman, blonde of hair and fair of skin, came up to me. We were both stood on the north bank of the River Liffey in Dublin and had just crossed what might have been the Halfpenny Bridge. It was definitely a bridge. I know that much because I was very aware of the bridge I had just crossed. So too was half of Dublin and this particular young woman.
“Excuse me,” she said.
“Yes,” said I, full of cheer and vigour. I put my arm around her shoulders in a comradely fashion. I felt we were about to become good friends. Maybe soon we’d be drinking and dancing like lunatics in some Dublin nightclub, or Temple Bar perhaps.
“Please don’t ever do that again,” she said. Deadpan. Serious. With Formality, capital F on that if-you-please. I knew instantly what she was referring to. The bridge was a slender, modern metal affair and designed with a grippy, non-slippy surface. My leather brogues have grippy, non-slippy soles. If you drag and scuff said shoes on said bridge like I did, it creates a harrowing sound not unlike nails on chalkboard, a sound that was amplified by the bridge and echoed out across the river and Dublin as I walked its entire length.
Dublin was unhappy with me and one of its fine residents had sternly told me off. There was only one thing to do. I instantly and unreservedly apologised, probably in the most British manner possible. You see, I didn’t want Dublin to be upset with me. This was on Saturday night (or perhaps even early Sunday morning), at the end of three excellent days in a fantastic beer location.
From the outset, Dublin and its natives, as well as people from other parts of Ireland, made the attendees of the European Beer Bloggers Conference feel extremely welcome. The Conference traditionally starts with a pub crawl on the Thursday, typically organised by a local beer blogger, and it’s a cracking opportunity to see the heart of the city’s beer scene.
For Dublin, the crawl was organised by Reuban Gray, who is also the President of Beoir, an organisation that is essentially the Irish equivalent of CAMRA. Either through sheer local personality, presidential clout or a mix of the two, he managed to land us in several different pubs where we were treated to warm Irish hospitality.
It’s of no value talking about free beer this or free food that, the point is the pubs were very interested in us as beer bloggers. Right now the Irish beer scene feels young – they’re undoubtedly a few years behind the UK and US (the current craft beer scene in Ireland was described as being equivalent to the US in the 90s), having some 30 or 50 breweries.
Yes. 30 or 50. There was some disparity and contention over the exact number amongst various local authorities but everyone seemed happy with the statement that there will be another 20 in operation by the end of the year. That’s a phenomenal growth rate. Right now, the Republic of Ireland has fewer breweries than either London, or Yorkshire, or Wales. However, if 20 breweries do open up this year, it puts Ireland on a par with all those other places I just listed in terms of development.
One of the questions we kept asking of the Irish brewers was “why don’t we see your stuff in the UK?”. Seriously. It’s just not in any shops or online distributors. The answer we were given was fairly simple – whatever they make is quickly downed by the thirsty Irish, leaving nothing for export. (Well, some is exported but mainly to Europe, particularly Italy and Scandinavia.)
That’s a reassuring sign. It supports the statement that 20 more breweries will land on the Irish scene in 2014. Then, with a bit more competition, we might see some of them exporting to the UK.
Ireland may be behind the curve but they have several advantages, namely the foresight of looking at the US and UK scenes and learning from us, avoiding the mistakes we’ve made along the way, and possessing a hefty amount of drive.
The Irish beer scene is clearly keen and hungry, and ready to play the long game. When local appetite is sufficient to soak up anything the Irish breweries produce there’s arguably no need to engage with European Beer Bloggers; after all, as a Welsh blogger with a primarily Welsh focus, what’s the use in making me aware of Irish beers that may not reach Welsh pubs for several years? That goes for my Dutch colleagues or the Belgian bloggers and so on.
But they reached out, they impressed me, and when those Irish beers start to find their way into local bottle shops and bars I’ll be saying to anyone who’ll listen, “Drink those beers, they’re good.”
Alongside the brewers, there are several organisations that have developed a strong infrastructure in Ireland, including Beoir, the Vanguard Beer Collective and Beer Ireland. These are all organisations I’ll take a look at in more detail later on in other posts, along with both the beers and pubs I explored in the three days I was in Dublin. All in all, it’s a terribly exciting scene, and one whose youth and potential I’m slightly jealous of.