Sitting in one of Heathrow’s pubs one glorious summers evening in 1993 on a 4-hour stopover en-route to Vancouver, I witnessed a bar maid performing a very unusual looking ritual, while trying to pour a beer into a glass. I witnessed it again 10 minutes later and again and again.
She was pulling a white ceramic lever with her left hand with what looked like a considerable amount of effort. As the lever arced downwards her entire upper body arched inwards towards the counter. In her right hand was a pint glass, which she was holding under a swan necked spout that was below the white lever. Into the glass was flowing some form of beer, strange looking stuff.
Being a good Irishman I had my national drink in front of me, but curiosity was really starting to get the better of me. What was the bar maid doing? What were the strange Englishmen drinking? So up I walked, asked the bar maid for a pint of “that stuff” pointing to the white lever. She duly obliged, performed the ritual and placed the pint upon the counter. I walked back to my seat, eyes to the ground, for fear of being spotted by another Irishman and getting the look, you know, the one that says, “Jesus what kind of muck you drinkin’ now”.
Back in my seat, settled in nicely, a good book in hand, sun shining in the window and a lovely red hue coming through the pint. I waited a few minutes before lifting the glass to my mouth and taking the first mouthful, the very first mouthful of real ale and the rest as they say; is History.
Cuilan with his medals from the Stockholm Beer Festival 2007
Hops in the snow
The Painful Learning years
On returning from Canada in 1997 I became aware of a new brew pub opening in Thurles, Dwan’s. Sure enough, I secured a job there under the watchful eye of brew master, David Jones. What I learnt from this man was a passion for brewing that has remained with me to this day. However, within 2 years Davy had returned to a job in Sweden and I was left holding the candle.
Six months later, my wife and I had done a deal with Bill Dwan to take over the brewing part of the Dwan’s brewpub. Over the course of a weekend we decided that the brewery would become an export only company. The beer market in Ireland was lightyears behind and showing no sign of potential. We started selling cask ale into the UK market, the first Irish brewery to do so, and it was an instant success. The next 18 months was an unbelievable success, we won dozens of awards at festivals all over the UK and the business was in full swing. The following 12 months however was an unbelievable disaster and we received the best business lessons we ever learnt. If you ever visit the brewery, I’ll tell you all about it.
In 2002 we had to move out of Dwan’s, which was closing, and we secured a deal to run Messer’s Maguire’s brewery (Now JW Sweetman) in Dublin. The next 6 years was a hard slog, commuting from Templemore every day and a total hand to mouth existence, in an Irish market that had very little interest. Several of the initial Micro Breweries had closed and the future of the industry was far from certain. On Holidays in Belgium in 2008 we made a decision, if we were ever going to make this work; we needed our own brewery.
THE WHITE GYPSY BREWERY
The brewery was commissioned by Pauliner in 1996 for a brewpub in Singapore. Shortly after arrival and commissioning in Singapore the Asian crisis struck and had a devastating effect on the many businesses in the region. The brewery had a very short life of less than six months.
The brewery was then purchased by the Kiley brothers from Kinsale. One of them had been working in Hong Kong and spotted the brewpub was for sale. So, the brewery undertook it’s second journey all the way to Ireland and was commissioned in a beautiful building in Kinsale town in 2002.
Despite a promising start to the venture the business went into a terminal decline in 2004. No reflection on the owners however as the Irish market was difficult nut to crack in the hay-days of the Celtic tiger. The brewery lay dormant for the next 4 years after 2 false starts.
On Return from our holidays in Belgium we struck a deal with the owners to purchase the brewery in August 2008. I remember driving down to Kinsale on the day that the government had issued the bank guarantee to collect the first pieces of the brewery and thinking, my God!! What have we done? What is with this brewery and recessions!
They say it’s a long way to Tipperary, well it is when you start in Germany go to Singapore then on to Kinsale and end up in Templemore. She has a loving home now and fingers crossed she’ll see her retirement here.
Well it took us the bones of a year to set up and commission the brewery and we finally did our first brew on August 18th, 2009. It’s hard to believe I’m writing this 10 years later and what a journey the Irish craft beer scene has been through in the meantime.
The recession of 2008-2011 had a huge positive impact on the industry. People had a lot less money and so spent it wisely which meant that craft beer was perceived as a better value product than commercial beer and sales rocketed. New breweries were opening, and the scene was flourishing and by 2015 there was nearly 70 breweries in existence.
However, having learnt painful lessons from the past, we decided that organic, local growth was the only future. We also knew that this strategy would be a slow burner but would build better loyalty in the long run. We also wanted to be a standard bearer for traditional styles of beer, to create a genuine portfolio of balanced beers to be enjoyed in any occasion. We weren’t that interested in modern trends sometimes to our detriment! But when you have a vision, you have to keep going even though you often find yourself alone.
From a business perspective our initial 5-year plan contained one word “survive” which we did! The aim of our second 5-year plan was to pay down all the loans associated with the purchasing the brewery and to purchase the building and surrounding land that we operate from. This would then provide a good (secure) foundation on which we could plan for the future. This we are delighted to say has also been achieved albeit the crazy hours, arguments and many sacrifices.
It’s hard to put over 20 years of brewing into 2 pages of words but one thing we can do is to give a very heartfelt thank you to all of you who ever bought a beer that we brewed. Without you, none of this was possible.
“Go raibh mile maith agat”
The one shining light in that whole dark period from 2002 to 2008 was the fact that as an industry we managed to persuade the government to implement a duty reduction scheme for small brewers. Oliver Hughes of the Porterhouse (God rest his soul) was the absolute key to this initiative. Without his work on this, it would not have been implemented and the Irish craft beer scene would not be what it is today such were the punitive taxes at the time.
10HL steam fired capable of full decoction mashes
6 x 10.5HL + 6 x 21HL single skinned
Bright beer tanks
4 x 10HL independently cooled
6 x 11.5HL open, flat bottomed fermentors ind. cooled