Guinness vs independent breweries

Guinness‘ latest product, Guinness Black Lager, gets a panning in the Irish Times today.

I’m not a fan of Guinness. It’s a good beer, but monotonous when it’s the only thing available. This, from the old Dublin Brewing Company website, makes some interesting allegations as to why that may be the case:

In 1996 the Dublin Brewing Company was set up in Smithfield, in the old James Crean soap factory. As the only other brewery in Dublin to Guiness, Dublin Brewing Company represented a small but real challenge to the Guinness monopoly. Initially [Guinness’] reaction was “it won’t work because, Irish people were brand loyal” and wouldn’t change to anything new.” However by November 1997 Guinness could see an increasing threat from a number of new microbreweries which were opening up around Ireland; it built its own microbrewery called St. James’s Gate Beers. In the words of their Weekly News No: 44 “the four unique and distinctive draught beers are designed to meet perceived demand amongst ale and lager drinkers over the age of 28 for a wider choice of tastier draught beers.”

The project team had spent 18 months conducting exhaustive R & D into the Irish drinking palette before the launch. This research included taking samples of Beckett’s and D’Arcy’s from public houses in Temple Bar and returning it to their citadel of brewing science for further analysis. Just exactly how do those “Fun Lovin Brewers” in Smithfield make beer? The code word for this return to basic brewing was affectionately known among company staff as “Operation Wolf”.

The Dublin Brewing Company, amongst other small breweries was going to be lambs for slaughter. Of course, when you have a virtual monopoly on tap space in most bars, it’s no problem launching no less than four beers in twenty pubs in Dublin overnight. Luckily drinkers in this country know what they want, and if they want a real beer they support the increasing number of microbreweries in Ireland, not a monopoly brewer masquerading as a small producer. The attempt at what was called “full taste” beers turned out to be a disaster. By October 1998 the operation was quietly closed down. However, now that St. James Gate is no more (£3-5m expenditure), we have its latest treat, Breo, being launched with the usual bravado Guinness display on these occasions – 10/15 kegs of beer free for every publican that takes it in. The pub gets the higher number of kegs if they take something else out. As the only other brewery in town, the Dublin Brewing Company is back on the firing line. The Dublin Brewing Company would like to dedicate D’Arcy’s Dublin Stout to the memory of those old Dublin breweries.

Sadly, whether due to Guinness’ tactics or not, the DBC appears to be no more. There are a few microbreweries around Ireland, but generally, the pub taps in this country are dominated by low-quality lagers, and Guinness. At least Paulaner is becoming widely available on tap, imported by Heineken…

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One Comment

  1. Simon
    Posted March 26, 2010 at 15:43 | Permalink

    And Porterhouse beers seem to be popping up around the place.

    It’s hard to see Diageo, Heineken or Anheuser-Busch InBev ever producing a nice new beer. Instead you get a ‘new’ style (IPA, Black Lager, Red Ale) attached to a brand name, and diluted by focus group or industrialisation into something like Guinness Black Lager or Leffe Red.

    The conspiracy nut in me thinks they must be spoilers, saying to publicans, “Here, we’ve invested in some of that new beer you wanted, but nobody wants it. Stick with the proven hits.”

    Still, if the publicans want to leave it to Deveneys, Drink, and the other great offies, they can continue to blame everyone but themselves for lost business.

    If you’re stuck in a brandname only bar, and sick of the tap selection, have you tried bottled Guinness Extra or Smithwicks recently?