Brewer Ryan McCracken is learning some key phrases in Italian in the hope of being able to organise a business trip to Milan as soon as it’s safe to do.
He’s keen to visit the capital of Italy’s northern Lombardy region to expand a recent export deal that’s resulted in his craft beers on the shelves of bars and cafes there alongside Italian favourites Peroni, Lambrate and Nastro Azzurro.
“I am keen to work with customers there on promoting my bottled beers in what is my first significant business outside the UK and Ireland,” Ryan says. “It’s a marvellous boost for my craft brewery especially in this very difficult time when the awful Covid pandemic and Brexit difficulties are overshadowing everything. It’s also important to the business because exports are key to our growth strategy. It’s immensely encouraging to be on sale in the city where Italy’s craft beer movement was born nearly two decades ago with the launch of beers such as Lambrate.”
McCrackens and other craft brewers across Northern Ireland have experienced severe difficulties during the lockdowns of bars, restaurants and hotels especially over the past four months. While sales generated by supermarkets and off licences have helped with some much needed cash, it’s been a long and difficult four months for an industry that was flourishing before the pandemic.
“The decision on opening of many parts of the hospitality industry for outdoor food and drink came as a tremendous relief,” he says. “We look forward to the business boost that will flow from a decision to allow all outlets to return to normal activities. Like many businesses we encountered challenging times. Thankfully we were able to diversify somewhat and concentrate our sales efforts on the off-sales trade and through our website.”
He secured the significant export sales for his eight-strong portfolio of beers following a direct approach from a leading distributor based in Milan. Ryan explains: “At the end of January, the Italian distributor reached out to us through our social media channels where he had come across our range of Irish craft beers. The distributor liked our beers and was impressed by our position as a traditional, independent, family-run brewery producing quality and award-winning beers in relatively small batches.”
The distributor, he continues, had been sourcing beers through similar breweries in Britain but found supply threatened by Brexit and decided to look for an alternative supplier in Northern Ireland, the part of the UK remaining within the European community.
He adds: “We quickly discovered that we were a right fit for each other and after some further discussions around our range we received a confirmed initial order for a couple of pallets. We had previously developed a new Irish stout, ‘McCrackens Black’ and had been planning on introducing it later in the year. It was good timing as the distributor loved the idea and we ended up bringing our plans forward a few months. The distributor embraced our Irish beers in our range and has ordered our IPA – Irish Pale Ale, Red – Irish Red Ale, Black – Irish Stout and Gold – Pale Ale.”
The Irish craft beers will be distributed to a network of outlets initially across northern Italy from Milan.
McCrackens Real Ales has won several UK awards for outstanding taste and has also supplied customers in Great Britain by means of social media in particular.
Ryan, a telecommunications specialist, set up the craft distillery in September 2018 and began developing the range of beers from his own recipes. He had started brewing as a hobby. The small brewery now employs five people and sells its beers in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The beers are also listed by Amazon, the successful on-line retailer.
What made him become a craft brewer? “It’s simple. I love brewing and everything about it, from taking an idea of a recipe, turning it into reality, taking the first sip and then seeing other people really enjoying something I’ve created. I also love my sales days where I get out and meet new perspective customers and feeling that sense of achievement when I’ve made a sale. It’s also really rewarding building up relationships with our existing customers.
“I am certainly looking forward to meeting our new customers in Milan and other parts of Italy in due course. Italy has also suffered tough times due to the coronavirus pandemic. I really hope that we are now in the final stages of the pandemic,” he concludes.