Raise a glass to Wexford's special brew
David Tucker raises a glass to Yellowbelly Beer who have grown from a 200 litre operation to a 6,000 litre brewery in little more than a year
Innovative and creative, the youthful team behind Wexford's Yellowbelly Beer is riding the crest of a wave into 2018, exploring new export markets and underpinning their position as one of the top and fastest-growing breweries in Ireland.
'None of us know everything, but collectively we know a lot,' said director Nicky Lambert, who started the brewery with his brother Simon and then-barman Danny Trappe in the basement at Simon Lambert and Sons in Wexford town two years ago with a 'home-made brew kit'.
The mark II version of the kit is now part of Yellowbelly history and sits at the new brewery, dwarfed by two, 6,000 litre stainless steel fermenters - four more are on the way, and serves as a reminder of how the 200 litre brewery grew to a 6,000 litre brewery in little over a year.
Since its early days, Yellowbelly has grown incrementally and is now based in a 9,500 square feet brewery at Whiterock Hill, in Pembrokestown, where it produces its award-winning beers.
Not content with that, the Yellowbelly team is planning a tap room restaurant and a visitor centre as part of a wider drive to draw attention to its products and to keep tourists in town and county. Food-based tourism is seen as a growth sector at the moment and Yellowbelly is well positioned to add value to the Wexford tourism product.
Yellowbelly is very much a Wexford product and of the 12 people directly employed, 11 were born within 10 miles of the brewery, something that is a great source of pride to all the team.
None of them had any brewing experience when they began their venture, with their craft honed over the past two years of sometimes frenetic work and many long hours of experimentation.
'Every one of us is self-taught,' said Nicky.
'We're very proud of what we've achieved over the last couple of years,' he said, adding that Leader and council-backing was important for the development of the product.
To go from obscurity to not far short of being a household name in such a short time is no small achievement, helped in no small way by creative director Paul Reck's wonderfully distinctive artwork and Yellowbelly comics which can be specifically tailored for foreign consumption.
But the product has to be good as the packaging. A suite of awards over the past year prove the brewery is in a class of its own. Recently Yellowbelly's Citra Pale Ale won the accolade of being one of the Best Beers in the World, the latest in a number of awards for its products.
With a saturated home market, Yellowbelly is keen to export more, with a recent success in Italy facilitated by former mayor Cllr George Lawlor - a Yellowbelly fan - during a recent visit to Wexford's twin town of Lugo. Paul Reck's Italianate adaptions, by the way, went down very well, as did the beer.
'When we contact a potential importer the first thing they ask is how are you doing in your home market and if you're not doing well, there's no point in trying to export. Fortunately we are doing very well, both locally and nationally and have great support,' said Nicky.
2017 has been a hectic year for Yellow Belly: The opening of the new brewery, the installation of the new brewhouse, once owned by Scottish craft beer legends BrewDog; the addition of a state-of-the-art Wild Goose canning line, and the commencement of YellowBelly Beer exports to Northern Ireland, UK and Italy.
Among plans a little further down the line are a collaboration with a major Scottish brewery and in February a collaboration with a major player based in London.
Danny Trappe, who takes care of the exports, is also looking to new markets to a range of countries in Europe, including Finland, Holland and Germany.
Head Brewer Declan Nixon releases a new small batch beer per week and one new limited edition 330ml can a month, continuously evolving their product range and offering beer consumers something new.
Having its own water source and the ability to strip back and refine the water to suit different beers, means Yellowbelly can tailor tastes to different markets.
The latest innovation at Yellowbelly is a Beer Club that gives members access to exclusive member-only beers carefully curated by Declan Nixon and Paul Reck.
'As part of our commitment to constant innovation and creativity, these beers will be our most experimental yet. We've ripped up the recipe books and brand guidelines - we're treating each beer as a blank canvas,' said marketing manager Seamus Redmond.
'We look on the beer as a living product.. we don't pasteurise,' said Nicky, adding that the brewery's green credentials are impeccable with little and in some cases no waste, with Bord Bia Origin Green certification.
Wexford has had a long association with the brewing industry, although its last brewery, Wickhams, closed its doors more than a century ago.
A contemporary article, while Wickhams was still in business, comments that searches around local hostelries at the time, revealed that none stocked the Wexford's company's brews, preferring instead the mainstream products produced in Dublin and further afield.
How times have changed - local craft beers are widely available and popular.
Using their skills and innovation, the team at Yellowbelly have revived and revitalised a long-lost Wexford tradition with a firm eye on the future, both at home and abroad.