Q&A: Downstream

We chat to Shane McCarthy from Ireland Craft Beverage about Downstream, the first craft beer brand to use traceability technology, revealing everything you want to know about your beer, its ingredients and brewing methods.

For those who don’t know, what is Blockchain?

In its simplest form, it is a chain of events put onto a secure audit trail, a bit like a spreadsheet you cannot change without everyone else who also has access to that spreadsheet knowing that the spreadsheet data has been changed.  So, it is a way of keeping data secure and keeping a clear trail of any changes in the data visible.

Where did the idea come from for a Blockchain beer brand?

Ireland Craft Beverages is primarily an export business for independent suppliers across rural Ireland. Over the years we have exported many of the small indie suppliers from across rural Ireland and noticed a lot were being squeezed in the domestic market by fake/pseudo craft beer and spirits coming in from commercial players.

97% of beer sales are from foreign commercial entities, accounting for most of the beer sales in Ireland, leaving indie breweries with a mere 3% to fight over, and one of lowest supported market shares in all of Europe. If consumers come to understand the detriment of this type of model, they would soon realise the majority of all Ireland’s beer expenditure goes to the shareholders of a very small number of PLCs, and begin to realise some of the pay-to-play tactics and underhanded practises that take place in Ireland from the largest participants utilizing of their large marketing budgets to continue to muscle out genuine, local family businesses.

The largest companies seem to champion mistrust and opaqueness with what they are allowed to market to customers, leading a mass market of consumers to believe they are buying a local craft beer. Most of the time, the support is all going to the same monopolised players in the industry that continue to pull the wool over consumers eyes on where the liquid comes from and what the product is made from.

For us, we wanted to champion transparency and consumer trust in the products we put out to market.

Coming from a Financial Technology background in the Finance Industry, I have an understanding on some of the more technically advanced solutions used in the industry for digital tracking.

One of these solutions, which is still evolving every year, is the use of digital event trails utilizing blockchain software tools; allowing a fully transparent audit trail from start to finish. To us, it made sense to give consumers as much information as possible, and there is only so much you can put onto a label; so we set out to make the world’s most transparent beer that could be easily verified by a phone camera. Pretty much like the fair-trade symbol used on packaging, but on steroids.

What sort of information can beer drinkers expect to find when they scan the QR code on the front of their Downstream cans?

First and foremost, they can verify it is a genuine Downstream product from us – every single can is digitally tracked. We then go into a more engaging story to show consumers the provenance and background of the beer and brewery itself and finish off with a video showcasing the landscape and packaging of the product.

There is also some information on the calories and carbon footprint of each can produced, alongside hops and mash bills information. We are trying to help the drinker understand what is in their can, how it got there, who was involved in the process and why it tastes so good!

We’re delighted to have both Token and Hybrid in our Beer of the Month, what can you tell us about these two beers?

Hybrid IPL is a Citra-forward hoppy Lager; coming in at 4%, this beer is aimed at consumers who enjoy their lagers and less hoppy beers. You can expect to get a very sessional lager, well-balanced with a nice kiss of Citra on the tongue.

Token Session Pale Ale, coming in at 3.5%. This is a very quenchable beer, even with the low ABV, it still packs quite the flavour kick with the hop bill on this one. A perfectly light and refreshing beer for the summer months.

The current range is brewed at Whitewater Brewery, how did you end up collaborating with them on Downstream?

We have been working with Whitewater for several years, exporting their premium range of local Irish beers around the world. They are very well known domestically for their great range of Ales, Stouts and IPAs. They have recently started canning on site, commissioning a new canning machine in their new brewery. This gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss a collaboration in telling the story of Whitewater, while collaborating on the Downstream beer range.

The brewery itself is also just down the road from my home in the Mourne Mountains, Count Down, so there were certainly some nice synergies working from the guys from home.

Finally, what does the future hold for Downstream? Any new brews we should be keeping an eye out for?

Certainly, expect to see new beers coming out from the range, along with some new collaborations so we can digitally tell the story of many more of the great independent breweries out there. You may also see continuous advancement in the user interface, depending on direct consumer feedback on other information they might want to know about their beer and its supplier.

Try Downstream here!

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