16 December 2016

Has anyone seen Bill?

The biggest piece of Irish beer news for 2016 landed on 23rd November when Labour TD Alan Kelly published his private member's bill, the Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill 2016. If enacted, this simple little piece of legislation will permit brewers and other drinks producers to sell their wares from their premises without needing expensive add-on licences. It's a particular unpleasant curiosity of Irish law that brewers are effectively locked out of the retail trade, with a detrimental knock-on effect on tourism as well as the breweries' own sustainability.

The Bill has been put together in consultation with the microbrewery umbrella group the ICBI and has been very positively received so far. It was introduced to the Dáil on 30th November and is currently awaiting the all-important second stage, when we get to hear what the government makes of it. Under normal conditions, private member's bills stand zero chance of getting passed, but we've been living under The New Politics™ since February's general election and a couple of recent PMBs have progressed further than might be expected, so just perhaps this one could actually move forward. I'm particularly interested to hear what the publicans' lobby makes of it. They wield considerable political clout and have form when it comes to scuppering consumer-positive licensing reforms, even ones proposed by the government. The Bill's backers assert that pubs have nothing to fear from this one: brewers want to be turfing out their visitors before 6pm, into the loving care of the local hostelries.

Last week the ICBI hosted an evening for politicians and the media in Lillies Bordello, above Porterhouse Central. Deputy Kelly explained the Bill and there was a panel discussion on its advantages to the various sectors of Ireland's artisan drinks industry. The attending brewers donated beers to the party resulting in a festival-grade line-up of choices. It gave me the chance to try our host's new Rusty Amber Lager. It's a dark copper colour and has a nice lagery smoothness and cleanness, the dark malt lending it just a touch of toffee as well as a slightly wheaty cereal quality. The main feature, however, is the big waxy hop bitterness, a signature move of the Porterhouse range, stemming from their adherence to Galena and Nugget hops. The end result is punchy, but very drinkable with it.

It's hard to overestimate the seachange that the new Bill could bring about for drinks tourism in Ireland. I'd be particularly happy every time an American emails me asking which breweries to visit to not have to explain that visiting breweries isn't really a thing here and you need to make an appointment if it's something you really want to do. If the reform doesn't go through on this bill I hope the government will give serious thought to putting its provisions into a bill of its own in the near future. Meanwhile, congratulations to all who have managed to get this onto the agenda, and best of luck for the subsequent stages.

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