Farmhouse beers from Donegal

Offset closes the gate to independent Irish craft breweries

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In a world of Davids and Goliaths, little guys like us must choose our battles wisely. That’s why we, as a small independent company with a non-existent marketing budget, make our decisions about sponsorship very carefully indeed.

The Dublin-based design conference, Offset, seemed to be the perfect sponsorship match for us. Offset is Irish and independent. As it says of itself, “Offset has fast become one of the world’s most inspirational, educational and vocational conferences for the design and creative industries. Representing industry at all levels, Offset’s speakers are key disruptors and influencers in their field…”

Offset too seemed to think its audience was a good fit for us – ideal for us to support 2016’s new Offsite fringe festival. They agreed to a small and mutually beneficial sponsorship package. Agreed, that is, until they dumped Kinnegar on the rubbish heap and waltzed through the “Open Gate” to an exclusive* sponsorship deal with Big Beer at Diageo.

In doing so, Offset has deprived its audience of a pretty good story. It’s the story of how two people first ran a small, well-respected design practice and then opened a small, well-respected brewery. It’s about being independent and committed and entrepreneurial, about having vision, about rejuvenating a dying beer tradition of which Ireland can again be proud.

And what does all this say about the ‘Open Gate’ approach to producing craft beer? For decades, Guinness and Diageo played a central role in the death and decline of brewing in Ireland. Now, after feeling the collective pressure of the little guys, they’ve suddenly discovered their craft beer soul.

For us, craft beer is about being open and transparent, it is about being part of an independent, free-spirited community of beer brewers and drinkers. The Open Gate approach to removing all other beers from the landscape sounds to us like a Big Beer approach to craft brewing – it sounds exactly like the type of practice that led to the death and decline of brewing in Ireland.

There is of course a design story in there too — the story of how branding and design is used to bamboozle an audience into believing that Diageo is an authentic little craft brewery breaking the boundaries in its experimental workshop. We know Offset’s audience to be smarter than that.

How nice it would be for visiting speakers to discover something new in their VIP goody bags. How radical it would be to offer visitors to fringe events beer that doesn’t come from St James’s Gate. How stimulating it would be to hear more than one side of the Irish craft-brewing story in panel discussions on the third stage at Offset.

Offset says it believes in giving an equal platform for the best-established and next generation of local design practitioners. Apparently, they don’t feel this applies to the field of brewing.

*Offset have subsequently pointed out to us that the exclusive nature of the arrangement was insisted upon by Offset, not The Open Gate.

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