Tuesday 20 March 2018

The art and craft of making beer in a bustling market

The launch of the Stag Rua craft beer, the company's latest brew.
The launch of the Stag Rua craft beer, the company's latest brew.
Sarah McCabe

Sarah McCabe

Gordon Lucey (44) and Don O'Leary (47) are founders of 9 White Deer Brewery, a fast-growing craft beer company based in the heart of the Gaeltacht at Ballyvourney, Co Cork. Gordon tells their story.

"We are the perfect marriage of brewing and selling. I have been brewing beer since 1999. I started out at home with a 100-litre nanobrewery and went from there.

Don is the salesman - he owns The Mill Inn, a very popular pub and restaurant nearby.

That has been a huge help. In our business you really need to know local publicans and understand how they operate.

Uniquely, we built the brewery ourself as I have an engineering background. Our competitors tend to buy their kit in from abroad. Building it ourselves has allowed us to be really innovative and try new things.

We have equipment that you would only see in very large breweries. We opened in June.

We are now served in about 25 outlets in the Cork/Kerry region, in a smattering of pubs and restaurants around the country and in independent off-licenses and specialty food stores. You can find our stockists on our website.

We have deliberately gone for them rather than supermarket chains. We are trying to be selective about where we are sold, to protect the brand. Our preference is to be on tap.

Competition is really difficult on shelves; it is very hard for the customer to know what to pick with all the different bottles clamouring for attention.

But if you are selling on draft you are right there in front of them.

Getting into pubs has been our single biggest challenge. Beer reps for the three big mainstream manufacturers are fighting hard to hold onto their taps so it is very difficult to get counter space.

We have two beers on the market - Stag Ban and Stag Rua - and brew for four other companies as well, who are only starting out and don't yet have their own breweries.

Stag Ban and Stag Rua are great introductory beers for people who are new to craft brewing. Stag Bán was our first, an easy- going beer brewed at lower temperatures to create a cleaner profile. The malt profile is an uncomplicated design to give some body to the beer without being heavy or cloying.

We haven't set out to appease critics, we have made something that is easy and tasty to drink.

Stag Rua is a beer with big malt flavours, it's our impression of a perfect Irish Red Ale. The body is moderate, meaning not a heavy beer, with an alcohol content of around 4.2pc.

Anyone can make a really rich, strong, hoppy beer that critics will love but we wanted to make something that the 95pc of the market who don't yet drink craft beer will enjoy.

But as the company grows we are looking forward to bringing out other more interesting and extreme brews that we can win prizes with. We have no intention of just making a couple of beers and sitting back, there's no fun in that for anyone.

Our brand plays on our Gaeltacht home and Irish heritage. The white deer have strong links to our village.

Another thing that makes us different is our use of local suppliers. From the very start, we have always tried to buy locally.

Our glassware comes from Quinn Glass, our barley comes from Cork farmers, our cardboard boxes come from a company two miles down the road.

Every time someone buys our beer they are putting money back into our local community and supporting a staff of five.

We are about the fourth of fifth largest microbrewery in Ireland now.

We have financed the business through a couple of different sources.

We got a €150,000 grant from the West Cork Development Partnership LEADER fund, which targets rural development. AIB in Ballincollig was great to us too, supportive the whole way through.

The level of planning we put into the business helped.

We took a couple of years to develop our idea and research the market and spent about 12 months on our business plan alone, it was very thorough and we had it independently assessed.

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