Downstream: The Future Is Beer

Ireland Craft Beers are utilising Blockchain technology to allow customers to see a clear, concise record of exactly how their beer is created. We had the pleasure of interviewing their CEO, Shane McCarthy, who talked us through the whole process.


An increasingly crowded market in any area of business always gives rise to a host of new ideas, introduced by those looking to stand out from the crowd and things are no different in the ever-expanding craft beer industry. The rise in popularity and, more importantly, options when it comes to IPAs and other unique beers over the years has caused brewers to get creative and think outside the box on ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, Enthusiasts are always looking for something fresh, something unique. One of the latest ideas on how to deliver a distinctive experience comes from the brewers at Ireland Craft Beers, who have recently developed a world-first: Downstream IPL, a beer placed on a “blockchain” platform for the first time ever.

“Consumers these days are much more interested in what goes into, not just their food, but also their drinks.”

For the uninitiated, a “blockchain” platform creates a digital chain of events throughout the whole production process and tracks every single bottle of the new IPL as it travels “from barley to bottle”. This digital record – created in partnership with technology firm arc-net – allows consumers to fully trace the product’s ingredients from source. Each bottle comes with a printed label bearing a QR code that, once scanned by a smartphone, will take drinkers directly to an online experience that presents to them the whole production process, showing exactly what ingredients were used and the journey to the bottle held in that drinker’s hand. The importance of documenting that journey was explained by CEO of Ireland Craft Beers, Shane McCarthy:

“One of the big advantages to using ‘blockchain’ is the transparency and accountability of it. Consumers these days are  much more interested in what goes in to, not just their food, but also their drinks. They are walking in to supermarkets these days and seeing row after row of craft beer and are being asked to trust them. Capturing and sharing the production process with them enables us to show them how authentic our beer is.”

This digital tracking not only provides the customer with quality assurances, however, it could also prove invaluable should any problems arise with a specific batch of the beer.

“There’s still a big problem with recalls [of craft beers] right now and it can take as long as 6 days to figure out in which batch the problem was, with all the records having to be looked through manually. By using the ‘blockchain’ platform we could locate the problem instantly, making it far easier to correct.”

Such an emphasis on openness is a clever way to form a connection with your customers in this day and age as it reassures them that there is nothing to hide whilst simultaneously highlighting the amount of hard work and pride taken in the brewing process.

Besides drawing a completely open line from the brewery to the ultimate consumer though, the pairing of this technology with this craft beer also provides its makers with other opportunities to impress; giving a glimpse behind the brewery curtain affords the company a unique way of incorporating storytelling into their brand identity.

The beer is brewed by Warrenpoint’s Mourne Mountain Brewery and extending drinkers a virtual invitation to come inside the building and witness the production process adds another layer of engagement for customers. Also, given that beer is over 90% water, the team – who are from very nearby the brewery – are also keen to highlight the purity of the water used in their local area.

Offering their customers a unique visual experience to accompany their drink is more proof of Downstream standing out by opening up. So why haven’t other brewers thought to reach out to customers this way?

“Well, we have been quite slow to adopt the QR code in the West. In China and Japan, they use it far more, they use it to pay for their shopping for instance. We decided to use the QR technology after a recent iOS [Apple operating system] update that let users scan the codes by simply placing their phone over them. There was a lot of potential to do something creative there.”

The Irish brewers have certainly tapped into some of that potential and have already seen success with their latest venture, but innovation leads to imitation and now that they’ve laid the foundations there’s a good chance others will follow in their footsteps.

“Being first to market definitely helped with the success we’ve seen so far and I think you will soon see others follow suit and use the technology,” concludes Mr McCarthy, “but we’re planning a wider range of IPLs in the future – maybe ones with less hops – for our drinkers and there are other things we can do with the QR code as well so, we’ve got some plans.”

Whatever the future holds for the craft beer industry at large, with 60% engagement from the initial batch produced, the potential for Ireland Craft Beers’ transparency-minded Downstream IPL is crystal-clear.

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Words by Iain Galbraith. Originally published in Issue 19 of Flavourly magazine.

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