Portadown-based craft brewery McCrackens Real Ale has invested in a new brewery and canning line, with the aim of quadrupling production to meet local demand in Northern Ireland and develop export opportunities.
Owner Ryan McCracken developed the new brewery with a manufacturer in China, to position the small business for faster growth beyond the current pandemic.
With 80% of the island’s craft beer and cider revenue streams shut off virtually overnight, McCracken was forced to switch from on-trade to off-trade and online sales.
“I had started reviewing my options for upgrading our brewery in response to a growing demand for our beers in December 2019 but decided to put everything on hold due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “I decided instead to pivot our strategy to sustain the business by building up our online presence.
“This was the best way to keep some cash flowing while bars, restaurants and hotels, our biggest market sector, were shuttered. There was scope too to develop more contacts in retailing here and further afield especially in Great Britain. Sales are now growing again from the lifting of restrictions in hospitality.
“We picked things back up again in the summer of 2020 and decided to review the operations and experiences of brewhouses all over the world to enable us to weigh up our options for the future. I saw an opportunity, for example, to expand our retail sales and was encouraged to gain a listing last year on Ocado, the biggest online store in Britain.”
Identifying the need for a new brewery with bigger tanks and kit, McCracken settled on a manufacturer in China’s Shandong province as the best match.
“But purchasing a brewery from afar was always going to be challenging,” he said. “With the world in various stages of lockdown we were, of course, unable to visit any of the factories and to see the equipment they were producing.
“Our concerns, however, were alleviated once we spoke with some breweries around the UK, including one in Northern Ireland, which already used brewing equipment from the same manufacturer.
“Shaping a brewing system remotely was really quite a challenge. It’s certainly not an easy way to shape a brewery. Our objective was to create a fully bespoke system that was a perfect fit for our aim of quadrupling capacity, increasing efficiencies whilst reducing comparable power and water consumption.
“There are many advantages of craft beer in cans. They are lighter, better for the environment, easier to store, and ideal for exports. The increased label area has given us the opportunity to update our brand and base it on something that is intertwined with our rich heritage.”
The brewery is continuing to supply its range of beers in bottles and kegs as well as cans, while increased capacity and versatility is enabling the introduction of new beers.
McCracken's Real Ale now offers a very broad range of pale ales, Irish pale ale and chocolate and vanilla Irish stout.