Craft brewer Ryan McCracken is gearing up to grow sales of his beers especially in markets outside Northern Ireland through an investment that will triple production at his small brewery in Portadown.
Ryan, the founder and managing director of McCracken’s Real Ale, had invested in the brewery before lockdown and continued to keep the small operation alive through off-sales and on-line business particularly in Britain.
While the relaxation of the regulations on bars serving food helped sales, he admits that “we are still a long way off from where we should have been by this stage”.
He continues: “Times are really tough for craft breweries with limited resources. The lockdown came as we were exploring business in Britain and were developing our network of hospitality customers across Northern Ireland. Everything was looking good for our beers. Lockdown hit the sector really hard,” he says.
“Thankfully we are still growing and gaining new outlets. However, I’ve found there is still a lot of apprehension particularly in restaurants about taking new ranges on in case they are forced to close again and are left with a lot of stock they cannot do anything with. The continuing closure of the so called ‘wet’ bars is another serious problem for smaller breweries.
“We had invested in a new kegging line prior to lockdown and are finding the continued restrictions with ‘wet’ pubs have had a considerable impact on growth in this area.”
The planned upgrade of his systems, he continues: “Will essentially triple our production and allow us to expand into other markets and minimise any potential risk
in certain sectors of having to close down again”.
He hopes to be able to hire an additional three people in brewery: “Once we begin producing to our maximum volume we will be able to offer further opportunities. We just need some certainty in the market. Opening the wet pubs would be an important step in the right direction for the industry.”
Many wet pubs have long been an important springboard for Northern Ireland’s enterprising craft beer industry, offering opportunities and feedback to more than 40 small breweries producing a broad range of beers, many of which have won awards in national competitions. Several, including McCracken’s, have also achieved worthwhile sales abroad.
Ryan’s first business in Britain was in fact secured in the early stages of the lockdown with help from Rademon Estate, one of our craft distilleries and the
producer of the multi-award winning Shortcross Gin.
Ryan, who founded the brewery in September 2018, responded to an offer from Shortcross to include craft beers and other beverages on its successful e-commerce site.
He explains: “I contacted Shortcross in response to an offer from the distillery to include smaller drink producers on their e-commerce shop during what was a very challenging time for us all. It was a very generous gesture and I was delighted when they subsequently put my seven strong range of beers on-line. This was a tremendous boost at a time when my sales to local hotels, restaurants and bars had stopped because of the lockdown.
“Unfortunately, licensing laws in Northern Ireland don’t allow craft brewers to sell on-line or to callers at the breweries. This approach is inhibiting the industry’s growth. The listing on the Shortcross e-commerce shop was a real breakthrough for us.
“I received firm orders from beer lovers throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland. This was very encouraging because I had been planning a trip to Britain to help me to pinpoint potential distributors. The Shortcross shop linked to my website which provides more detailed information about my business and the beers. It was great to see cash starting to flow again at such an early stage of the lockdown,” adds Ryan
Contacts made in Britain have continued to place orders.
Ryan, an IT manager, set up the brewery in a specially converted building at the home he shares with wife Nicola and family. He began brewing as a hobby in 2014 when Nicola gave him a home brew kit as a Christmas present!
The brewery has a broad range of bottled-conditioned ales and had begun supplying ale in cask and keg form. He has also extended the range hand crafted in the brewery with his four-strong team to include an American Pale Ale and a German Hefeweizen. They will all be showcased during Armagh’s Food and Drink festival on September 26th.