In December 2016 Labour party TD Alan Kelly proposed a bill which was to become known as the craft drinks bill in the Dáil. Having brought visitors on a tour of the White Gypsy brewery, he was astonished to discover that the proprietor, Cuilan Loughnan, was unable to sell beer to the visitors as they left. Cuilan explained, like all of us brewers had to do repeatedly, that the law prohibits brewers from selling alcohol in volumes of less than 20 litres. A case of microbrewed beer usually holds 6 litres so customers would need to purchase at least 4 cases of beer when they visited breweries.
Fast forward to March 2018 and Liam, along with a few colleagues from the independent beer sector, found himself greeted by Alan Kelly at the gates of the Dáil. The group were ushered through security and brought to a holding room outside the Dáil chamber. They stood together as familiar faces from the political world passed on their way into the famous room, Varadkar gave them a nod, Coveney stopped for a brief chat, Charlie Flanagan, the then Minister for Justice gave a thumbs up. The Craft Drinks Bill was about to be signed into law. This was the culmination of over the years hard campaigning by the group of brewers. The bill had the potential to be of enormous benefit to all small alcoholic drinks producers. Still, to get the bill through the house, several amendments meant that producers would have to invest heavily in order to open a taproom serving the public in their breweries. There was a feeling amongst some brewers that the goal of being able to serve fresh, tasty beer directly to visitors was as far away as ever…Liam got Alan Kelly to sign a copy of the bill for posterity and threw it into the back of a filing cabinet. The Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Act 2018 was signed into law by President Higgins on 22nd July 2018.
When the first lockdown hit Ireland in March 2020, there were few businesses left unaffected. Here at St. Mel’s Independent Brewing Company, our change in circumstances caused us to have a long hard look at our business model. 70% of our route to market had been forced to shut overnight, and the clamour for precious shelf space in off licences was intensifying by the day. One thing we did have was a lot of goodwill locally. People in Longford have always been incredibly supportive and dare we say it there was a bit of local pride in seeing an identifiably Longford brand holding its own on the national stage. One of our aims starting out had been to put our home county on the map by brewing brilliant beers, and many locals had bought into this idea. And then we thought of that piece of paper with Alan Kelly’s signature on it; there’s a subsection in the act that allows for a producer to sell directly to the public for consumption off the premises without the licence holder having to invest in all the infrastructure that would be required for receiving visitors to consume on the premises. If could get our ducks in a row we could become an off-licence selling our own products only. That was all we needed. A few weeks of bureaucracy lead to a trip to court, the judge was amenable and boom! Our brewery shop and off-licence opened on 31st July 2020.
Over the weeks that followed, the shop has gotten busier and busier. We love to chat with visitors, particularly about our favourite subject – beer and new release days are full of excitement with people phoning the brewery to see if they can come and get one of the first cases off the line. If you are passing call in, whether you’re buying a single bottle or a keg for a party, it’s hard to beat brewery-fresh beer!