By SAM BUTLER
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.
The founder and managing director of McCracken’s Real Ale, he had invested in the brewery before lockdown and continued to keep the small operation going through off-sales and online 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.
“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 reopening of wet bars on 21 September will be another boost for the business,” he adds.
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,” he adds.
Several craft breweries, including McCracken’s, have also achieved worthwhile sales abroad. McCracken’s is a Food NI member company.
McCracken’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 online.
“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 online 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,” he adds.
“I received firm orders from beer lovers throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland,” he continues.
“This was very encouraging because I had been planning a trip to Britain to help me to pinpoint potential distributors.”
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.
n All McCracken’s Real Ales’ range will be showcased during Armagh’s Food and Drink festival on September 19.