Bad For The Optics



Peter Mulryan, of the Blackwater Distillery

It’s not only in craft breweries where you can’t buy a drink.

Peter Mulryan, of the Blackwater Distillery, Co Waterford (makers of gin) writes:

The other day here on Broadsheet, Joe Kearns from The White Hag Brewery in Sligo wrote about something close to his heart. How you can visit his brewery, but you can’t buy a drink, which is a bit like being allowed to visit a library as long as you don’t take out any books.

The same holds true for Ireland’s burgeoning craft distilleries. We can make the stuff, but we can’t sell it. With our licence to distill, comes a wholesales licence, not a retail licence.

So what counts as wholesale? I’m glad you asked, because I did and this was the response I got: “not less than two gallons or one dozen reputed quart bottles.” A quart by the way is two pints. Not that we even sell spirits by the pint.

By now you will I hope, realise that most of law governing alcohol in Ireland pre-dates the State. So it’s pretty much the same legislation than helped drive the Irish whiskey industry off a cliff 100 years ago.

Back then distillers didn’t sell direct to the public, they did what we are still forced to do today. Sell to that stalwart of Irish drama “The Middle Man”. Distilleries distilled. Brewers brewed. They didn’t sell. It was the bars and the bonders that bottled Jameson whiskey and Guinness beer and in doing so took the lion’s share of the profit. By the time distilleries and brewers woke up to this fact, it was too late. Most had been driven out of business.

Nowadays multi-national brewers and distillers have the best of both worlds, they can sell to middle men or directly to the public. How? They have deep enough pockets to buy pub licences. And that is the core of problem, the system that governs the sale of alcohol in this country is as out of date as the a-fore mentioned quart bottle.

So why not (as a commenter to the original article asked) charge for a tour and give a free drink? Many breweries do just that. But what if you don’t want a ‘free’ drink, what if you’re driving? What if you want to take a bottle with you? What if you’re sick of yet another Irish solution to an Irish problem?

So here’s an idea. Why not let brewers, cider makers and distillers sell what they make (and nothing more) on the premises where they make it?
We’d be taking trade from pubs? Good point. Forget about JD Wetherspoon, the real threat to the traditional Irish pub is actually a small industrial unit just outside Cappoquin.

Having lived in Scotland I know what whisky tourism there does for rural areas. If we’re serious about our native brewers, cider makers and distillers – let’s support them. Let them add a tourism offering but if you think the current model is working you’re a fool. Probably the kind of fool who visits the vineyards in the Rhone Valley and buys all their wine at a Carrefour on the Périphérique.

The Blackwater Distillery

Previously: An Absurd Brewhaha

25 thoughts on “Bad For The Optics

  1. Pip

    Do you remember that guy from the Licensed Vintners Federation back in the boom years, busy defending the pub trade. Gone now, but he did far more harm than good – he was ghastly, mincing on about ‘PEBS’ and defending horrendous prices.
    Like a sailor in a holed boat moaning about the rain.

  2. irishstu

    What’s the counter-argument to this? It seems like a brewery or distiller being able to sell their wares without having to pay an exorbitant fee is good for the business and good for tourists, and shouldn’t really be detrimental to the local off-licence or supermarket.

    1. Joe cool

      They are whining about it because it’s an ancient law that stymies business. Business is about progress and this ain’t progress

    2. edalicious

      The cost of the license is far higher than any profit than they’d make from it, I think. Not a problem for offies and pubs because all they do is sell booze all day long whereas a brewery or distillery will probably only have tens of people per day doing a tour and then buying one or two drinks.

  3. The Beer Nut

    I’d be reasonably sure that charging for a tour and offering a free drink is illegal. If money has to change hands in order to get the drink, then that’s selling the drink, regardless of the phraseology around it.

  4. DubLoony

    Seems very sensible, 2 in 2 days.
    Recent budget increased support for small breweries, next steps need to be taken to support these small local industries.

    France & wine tours, Scotland & Whisky tours are well established tourist offerings.

  5. Nilbert

    “Probably the kind of fool who visits the vineyards in the Rhone Valley and buys all their wine at a Carrefour on the Périphérique.”

    *raises glass of Boeuf Bourguignon*

  6. Anne

    Aren’t a lot of TDs moonlighting as publicians, as well as being landlords. All our liquor laws have them in mind.

    There used to be a time you could buy a bottle of beer in an off license up to midnight, then it was 11pm, now it 10. I think the idea being that come 10pm you won’t be able to get a drop anywhere , so you’ll put on your glad rags and head to the pub. I don’t think so.

    It’s ridiculous, you’re queuing up at Tesco at 9:55pm with your few messages and you think a glass of wine might be nice. It’s a Friday, shur you’ve worked hard all week. By the time it’s your turn at the check out, the wine gets scanned at 10.01pm. You can forget your glass of’ll can take all your messages but not the wine. And I’m still not going to the saying all that drink is really a scourge in society.

    1. Nilbert

      except its not 9:55pm on a Friday is it? Its 12:01 on a Tuesday morning. And its not a glass of wine is it? It’s an 8-pack of Galahad export. And its not Tesco’s is it? You’re in your pyjamas in Lidl.

  7. Charger Salmons

    Hard to feel sympathy for anyone making any ” craft ” drink in Ireland when they demand top dollar for what is often experimental home brewing.
    Six yoyos a pint for over-hopped,cloudy murk ?
    Take a hike, beardy hipster.

    1. Cup of tea anyone

      Obviously craft beers do not have the purchasing power or economies of scale of the big brewers. so their product will be more expensive to produce. But instead of getting a nice bottle of p1$$ water that is made to offend the least amount of people as possible, You can purchase a beer that is made to have a particular taste so you can find one that suits you.

      Think of it as the difference between getting a burger at McDonalds and making your own at home just the way you likeit.

  8. Frilly Keane

    Well fair play to Peter Mulryan
    And his Blackwater Distillery

    I’ve long pondered about the hidden benefits of Gin meself
    One being the potential, if applied correctly,
    to turn a sod’ah turf into the next Margaret Atwood
    Or a blah inta Lady Gaga
    And that must be a savage blend you’ve got dripping there Peter
    ‘Cause that’s one hell ov’a letter

    The best seen around here in ages

    Next time I’m around Cappa
    I’ll test it meself

    For research purposes like

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