Last month, the business media reported that two of Ireland's larger and more established craft breweries had merged. One partner, BRÚ Brewery, was already the product of a previous merger, when last year the owners of Carrig Brewing in Leitrim acquired BRÚ, adopted its brand and moved beer production to BRÚ's facility in Meath. The deal also brought the five Dublin venues owned by BRÚ and Carrig under one umbrella. To this has been added the current eleven pubs run by Galway Bay. That includes The Oslo in Galway where the brewery began in 2009, though it now runs a full-sized production brewery in Oranmore. Brewery mergers and takeovers are usually not good news for beer consumers, coming as they do with the baggage of closed sites, retired brands and loss of choice. Shortly after the news broke, I caught up with Jason O'Carroll and Andy Byrne of Galway Bay in the group's newest opening, The Beer Temple in Dublin, and a week later had a quick chat with James Dunne of BRÚ, to find out what will happen to the brands, the pubs and most importantly the beer under the new arrangements.
Question one is: does the new company need two breweries? BRÚ under Francesco Sottomano and Galway Bay under Tom Delaney are both highly regarded operations with talented brewing staff and either of them would be missed hugely. Jason says there are no plans to close either of them. Although they both make canned and draught beer, the emphasis is different, with BRÚ concentrating more on the packaged product while Galway Bay sells mainly through its pubs. This difference in approach to the market is enough to secure their continued separate existence.
Both companies have their roots in the hospitality trade before they ever made beer, and both have shown a highly practical approach to the business over the years, leasing premises when good opportunities arise and letting them go when they're not working out. We can expect this fluidity to continue, and The Sunday Business Post reported that they plan to expand, including opening venues outside Ireland. 25 is given as the target number. One difference we will see with the existing eleven is that the entire estate will be rebranded as Galway Bay. In The Beer Temple (formerly The Oak, The Ivy and Thomas Read) Jason remarked that his company is unused to spending that much on a fit-out. All of the existing Galway Bay premises are due to receive a refresh.
Jason, Andy and James have all committed to the continuance of the 50c voucher scheme which Beoir has been offering to members since 2013. As the bars are rebranded, the Beoir team will work to ensure that the staff are familiar with the scheme. We are also delighted to announce that, for the first time, Beoir tokens can be redeemed at Galway Bay's Northern Lights in Belfast, to the value of 50p for any full measure of a draught Galway Bay beer. We encourage members to make use of their vouchers: the best way to ensure the smooth running of the scheme is to make sure bar staff see them regularly!
The new arrangement looks to be bringing the best of both worlds for the breweries and fans of their beer. One thing we might see suffer is the selection of guest beers in Galway Bay pubs, now they have two house ranges to support, but at the same time it remains to be seen how this section of the trade will bounce back in general following the era of Covid closures. The Beer Temple at least has space for several guest taps and we hope that will continue across the estate. Most of all, this appears to be a move to ensure the longevity of the brands and put them on a secure financial footing. In the often precarious world of Irish microbrewing, brewery survival is paramount for securing choice for consumers. I look forward to seeing both brands flourish under the new arrangement.