By Clare E. Bonnyman
** This is a long-form journalism feature that I completed as a part of my multimedia collection produced for the Armagh Project 2014 and ieiMedia. I studied in Northern Ireland for a month and produced audio, visual and print work about the craft beer revolution and the rise of microbreweries.
LISBURN, Northern Ireland – It’s the most beautiful day Northern Ireland has seen in months, but Lisa Maltman has no time for that.
She is in charge of global sales and marketing for the Hilden Brewing Company, Ireland’s oldest independent brewery, established in 1981.
Being a small brewery in Northern Ireland is a struggle, with a large percentage of the market controlled by multi-national companies like Diageo and InBev – which run Guinness and Stella Artois, respectively.
Maltman’s office, much like the rest of Hilden Brewing, is a constant flurry of activity to keep the company’s product on the market and in the game. Her desk is covered in Post-it notes, graphs, business cards and bottles. In the midst of a craft-beer revolution in Northern Ireland, Hilden is using every opportunity to grow.
“We brew every day, and we are at peak capacity at the minute,” says Maltman.
“I’ve just remembered about seven different things I have to do,” she says, typing away furiously.
In recent years craft beer production and microbreweries have taken off internationally. Government-licensed alcohol vendors and bars across the world are serving more and more microbrews and craft beers, usually locally sourced.
In North America in particular, the craft beer market has boomed. In 2012 in Canada craft beer sales grew by over 30 percent, in contrast to relatively flat sales of wines and spirits.
This of course pales in comparison to the growth of microbreweries in England, where the microbrewery movement began in the 1970s. That was when a new generation of small, focused breweries started to produce cask-conditioned beer, also called “real ale.” From 2002 to 2012 the number of microbreweries in England doubled, making one brewery for every 50 pubs. There are well over 1,000 microbreweries in England today, and the number is growing by hundreds each year across the U.K. mainland.
But as of the summer of 2014, only 14 microbreweries are active in Northern Ireland. There are a number of reasons why.
Being in the U.K., it’s not hard for Northern Ireland to import a variety of microbrews to add some craft-style diversity. There are also very few bottling plants in Northern Ireland to service new microbreweries. This of course doesn’t even go into the politics that make it difficult to start a brewery in Northern Ireland.
The modern craft beer revolution has reached a crucial point for Northern Ireland, as more microbreweries pop up and fight to survive.