Ireland · Northern Ireland

Where’s Your Beer Really Brewed?

Something jingled my jangles recently.

There I was, with Mrs W in The Cloth Ear bar in Belfast when I started to peruse its craft beer menu.  After I’d stopped laughing hysterically at the pricing, I noticed a number of contract brews were on the list including Clearsky and McGrath’s.

Clearsky has Fulcrum, Rowlock and Tidefall in its range and has a business address in Dungannon but is brewed by Hilden Brewery near Lisburn – some 40 miles away.

McGrath’s (part of Clanconnel) business address is in Craigavon but is brewed by Rye River Brewery in Celbridge, Co. Kildare – much more than 40 miles away.

Yet here these beers were, in the middle of the touristy Cathedral quarter of Belfast, (aside from the other 6 quarters of the city?) with what I would class as at-least misleading info.
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When The Cloth Ear was informed about the situation, the person in charge at the time agreed it should be changed… yet when I returned for a nosey a month later the menus were still on tables giving duff information.  So cheers The Cloth Ear, you obviously don’t give a rat’s ass.

This led me to investigate the bottles themselves.  Despite McGrath’s being brewed and bottled in the Republic of Ireland, the label states it is a product of Northern Ireland.  Wrong.  The idea may have come from NI but the physical beer itself most certainly does not.  Why the need to lie?

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At the moment there are 6 contract breweries registered or having correspondence addresses in Northern Ireland.  I mention them briefly in a previous blog post but in short – 1 has its beer brewed in England, 2 from the Republic of Ireland and 3 in Northern Ireland.

Clearsky isn’t as bad as McGrath’s – simply saying crafted and bottled in Ireland.  It’s brewed by Hilden but why can’t contract breweries be 100% voluntarily transparent and say this on the label?

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Gallopers/Night Cap doesn’t do much better – simply stating it’s produced and bottled in the UK.  It’s actually brewed by Sadler’s Ales down Birmingham direction.  The postcode on the label isn’t much use either as it’s an office postcode beside Belfast City Hall.  A couple of minutes of online investigation work leads you to other registered addresses in South Belfast and Manchester.

Sailortown is a contract brand for Drinksology under the When We Are Giants title.  Again, no mention of a brewer – in this case it’s Carrig Brewing from County Leitrim.  But the label says crafted and bottled in Ireland by a company that has a Belfast postcode.  What does the public think that means?  Why not just say “Crafted and bottled by Carrig Brewing, Drumshanbo for When We Are Giants, Belfast.”

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The only chink of light in all of this comes from Heaney Farmhouse Brewing which openly states its brewing address.  The difference with this is that the owner is more of a ‘cuckoo’ brewer than contract brewer – ie, he does the actual brewing at Boundary’s gaff in Belfast’s Portview Trade Centre.  He is a brewer but uses their space for the time being so fair play for being so open and honest.

So all this talk about lack of transparency concerning where contract beer is brewed but what are the rules surrounding it?  Well, according to EU regulations and subsequent enforcements by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) the minimum required is simply to mention the country of origin.  If not it’s “likely to mislead”.  And that’s it.

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So McGraths information of ‘Product of N.Ireland’ is wrong as it’s brewed in County Kildare.  However there’s no mention of anything else in the EU/FSA regs pertaining to the inclusion of counties/towns/factory or brewery location.  Technically the Clearsky, Gallopers and Sailortown labels aren’t incorrect and the owners aren’t doing anything wrong.

My beef with it all is they aren’t doing as much as they could.

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2 thoughts on “Where’s Your Beer Really Brewed?

  1. I think there’s a more boring reason why labels don’t usually have the sort of information you are looking for. Labels only have a limited amount of space and breweries have to prioritise. Some tasting notes might help people choose to buy. So they make it in. Legal stuff like BB date and alcohol percentage and contents and number of units have to be there. Allergy labelling information, and information in different languages all take up space too. Breweries need to spend some words making their pitch and giving a point of difference and that takes up space. The people who really care about provenance are relatively few and for contract brewers the details of how the beer got there are more involved. Maybe they plan to brew on their own premises in the near future and don’t want to make the label obsolete?
    At the end of the day, I don’t think busting the balls of a few contract brewers is a fight worth fighting. Contract brewers are still microbreweries, and their existence provides a revenue stream for other microbreweries. Go after the big guys pretending to be craft.

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