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FOR a business that started just four years ago, when two guys with a shared passion for craft beer quit their jobs, Eight Degrees Brewing has done quite nicely for itself, thank you.

New Zealander Scott Baigent, a former engineer, and Australian Cameron Wallace, a former accountant, started their brewery in Ballyhoura, County Cork because they lived and breathed craft beer and lamented the lack of it in Ireland at the time.

A good move, it seems; just a few years in, and they are in the midst of a hugely ambitious expansion to keep up with a demand that has been growing by 40-50pc each year. They have purchased the equipment from a dismantled brewery in Mauritius, and are shipping the whole lot over.

"It will mean a tenfold increase in production capacity, and moving to a new site in Mitchelstown," explains Baigent. "In Irish craft brewing terms, it gives us quite a significant capacity."

Almost more important, he adds, is the fact that the new equipment is pretty much the best that you can get. "It's the same system used by some of our heroes in the brewing world, such as Sierra Nevada in the US. So it will lift the quality bar."

The two employ six staff as well as themselves, and hope to begin construction at the new site in early summer, with a view to being operational by end of year.

"This system will future-proof us for quite a few years, and give us an opportunity to focus more on export," says Baigent. This is vital given that demand from the UK, particularly Northern Ireland, is on the up. The company also exports as far afield as Canada, Singapore and Australia.

CROWD FUNDING

In terms of financial support, the pair initially got a small amount of LEADER funding and, for its current expansion it has secured loan facilities from Enterprise Ireland. But it also sourced €40,000 in crowd funding for the new equipment.

"We managed to build the story behind what we were trying to achieve, and give people an opportunity to be part of it and get a decent return. Unlike some crowd-funding, it wasn't a handout or a gimmick; some investors would be getting 8pc interest."

Baigent's overriding tip for anyone starting out in this sector is to love what you do. "It's as much a passion as a sensible, commercial undertaking. You won't get immensely wealthy, but that passion will get you through the stress, the sleepless nights, the difficulties."

Last year saw a massive endorsement of the company's product in the form of a bronze medal at the Denver Beer Olympics in the US. Baigent says it's something of which the business is extremely proud. "Sometimes people have the impression that imported products are somehow better than home-produced; this showed our product has been assessed to be among the best in the world."

Visit www.eightdegrees.ie

Irish Independent