A Clare Woman, A Kerryman, Some Antrim people walk into a bar in Beirut…Craft Collaboration Comes to Life in the Middle East

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Welcome to Beirut

Co-Opetition is a ridiculous word. Its one of those words that some consultancy was paid a ton of money to come up with and now dines out on. It appears in trend reports and Government body Industry powerpoints all the time. Words, however are powerful, and even though this one is a bit of a Frankenstein, I’m all for what it stands for in spirit. Any Indie drinks producer worth their salt is too. It is on the back of co-opetition that I’m writing this post from seat 36A of a Middle Eastern Air flight en route to Beirut. A dozen rows ahead of me are the forward-thinking disruptors from Ireland Craft Beers Bringing up the rear (due to a late connection via Dublin)  are 3 other Indie spirit & beer producing houses from all around Ireland. We are in Beirut for St. Patricks weekend together. If you work in the Irish Spirits Industry St. Patricks Weekend is a bit of a thing, it’s a great marketing opportunity a 48 hour period when everyone is Irish and everyone wants a little piece of Ireland in their glass.

Lebanon has a long winded, complicated relationship with Ireland, this is due to our armed forces  involvement with U.N. peace keeping. My brother served there several times as did many people from the parish of Cooraclare. Chateau Musar, one of Lebanon’s great wine houses exports a disproportionate amount of wine to Ireland.  The soldiers serving in Lebanon over the years there picked up a taste for it and carried that back home.

Now it seems The Leb is ready to reciprocate. Independent Irish Beers and Spirits are a bourgeoning sub-category in this part of the Middle East. The affluent nightlife driven consumers in magical Beirut want to know our stories, hear about our approach to production and at this time of year, they want a few authentic Irish People around. Who better than a bunch of irish beer, gin and whiskey makers to tip up to your St. Patricks Day celebration? It does not get much more authentic than that. We are here over the weekend meeting buyers, and media, hosting events and getting to know our distributors. We all came as a block you see, because there is power in numbers. For new independent brands opening export markets is expensive and logistically challenging. I have quite a few contacts from the old days that I use to kick down the doors of various markets, but even that is finite.

When an opportunity arises to enter a market under the Umbrella of ‘Independent Irish Beer and Spirit Producers’, you can be sure as hell I take it. Going into a market like this as a group does two things, first of all it validates the independent producer scene in Ireland, it provides a platform for all of us to launch from, its up to us whether we sink or swim in the long run but that platform is vital.

Second of all it distinguishes us from the Old Guard and the multinationals that own 98% or so of the market. I always make clear to people that Jameson and Tullamore Dew and those kinds of brands are NOT in my competitive set. I can’t compete over there with them, and neither can the rest of the Indies. But we can put up a decent fight as a sub category  . Everyone loves Jameson an they will always drink it, but there will come a time when they want to branch out of the Jameson, Bushmills, or DEW universe and that is where the Indie sub category kicks in.

I’m over here with the other indies and we are slowly growing our 2% market share and eeking it out between us. Establishing sub- category awareness and appreciation of Independent Craft Production is vital for that share to have any chance at growth. That is why quite a few or us get Testy about transparency and honestly with new brands. We care a lot about the reputation of Irish Whiskey and in particular the contribution new brands make to it, if there are a few bad apples in our cart someone could end up tearing down the proverbial Lidl with a stolen forklift if you get what I’m saying. All of here in Beirut this weekend are representing that sub-category we are not promoting Flaming Pickle Back Shots ,Guinness Hats and leprechaun outfits, we are promoting the provenance of the liquids we have given our heart and soul to produce. We tell the stories of where they are from and evoke all that is special about Ireland’s independent spirits. We have a louder voice and make more of an impression if we do that together.


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