Lucky me. Last night Diageo threw open the doors of its soon –to-open €168m brew house at St James Gate in Dublin. Once up and running the new facility, which looks more like a futuristic space station than a brewery, will produce something like a billion pints of Guinness a year. Sadly, the company would not allow me to take pictures inside the building but believe me it’s HUGE. Guinness plans to centralize its countrywide production of beer into a single facility – allowing the company to close four antiquated breweries. The high tech brew house will also produce Diageo’s other beer brands such as Harp Lager, Kilkenny and Smithwick’s – the first time pale and dark beers have been produced in the same Dublin facility. Diageo also produces massive quantities of Budweiser and Carlsberg under long standing license arrangements. Guinness master brewer Fergal Murray says that this is only the fourth brew house in the history of the company which was founded in 1759. “I’ve worked in the last two,” he explained. “But naturally I wasn’t around when the first one closed.” The Guinness site covers 50 acres and is so enormous that a special tunnel (pictured) had to be constructed so that employees could walk from one side of the plant to the other. Despite the high tech nature of the new plant, Fergal still describes Guinness as a craft brewer. “For the first 100 years we brewed under candlelight,” he said. “That was simply because we didn’t have access to electricity.” Maintaining this sense of heritage is important to Guinness and evident everywhere – not least at the famous visitor centre which last year attracted 1.1m people, making it Ireland’s top tourist attraction. Our visit to St James Gate finished with a hosted dinner in the Gravity Bar. This is without doubt one of the world’s great beer experiences. If you’ve never been, book your flight to Ireland now.
Saturday, June 28
Ireland: Are we paying too much for craft beer? Should aluminum cans replace bottles? Could microbrewers do more to create local employment? These were just some of the ideas canvassed on the first day of the Beer Bloggers Conference in Dublin. About 120 brewers, marketers and citizen bloggers (mostly from the US, UK and Europe) flew into the Irish capital for the two-day event which is being hosted by the Independent Brewers of Ireland, with generous support by Molson Coors and Guinness. Apart from drinking fantastic craft beers, including Galway Hooker and Rye Beer from N17, we’ve been given an overview of the independent Irish scene which is still tiny (less than 1 per cent of the total beer market in Ireland) – one presenter reckons this country is at least 10 years behind the United States. Estimates vary but there are roughly 50 craft breweries in Ireland (both Southern and Northern Ireland), with at least another 12 about to come on stream. Despite their proximity to the UK and Europe most Irish brewers here say they do not have the capacity to export their wares. Aussie brewers will be pleased to know that their Irish counterparts share most of the same concerns: punitive government excise, small profit margins, unfair competition from the big players, lack of retail outlets and indifference from publicans about serving craft beer. A big thanks to the guys at McLaren Beer Company which has sponsored my trip to Ireland and to The Marker Hotel for providing luxurious accommodation in the ritzy Docklands area of this great, great city. Happy days!