9 White Deer At Home In Ballyvourney. And On The World Wide Web

9 White Deer At Home In Ballyvourney

And On The World Wide Web

Brewery team (l to r): Gordon, Donal, Iain, Sinead, Eoin

Smaller business sometimes question the value of being on social media. They should have a word with Gordon Lucey, co-founder and director of Ballyvourney’s 9 White Deer.

Take their 20 litre kegs for home consumption as an example. “The shift to home entertaining was happening, even before Covid,” he told me during last week’s visit. The kegs were first introduced by Guinness and Gordon was keeping an eye on it on various internet sites and forums. Quite often people had questions about setting up and so on and Gordon often came in with expert help.

And those interventions paid off, big time, when 9 White Deer started their own keg offering and, with Covid also happening, there was more demand for it especially from outdoor gatherings at homes. Due to his previous form, Gordon and and the brewery already had a trusted foot in the door. “The stout demand exploded. We couldn’t make enough of it, couldn’t cope.” They had to set up regular order-time windows on the Internet. Two hundred kegs would go on offer at 1.00pm on the day and eight minutes later all were sold!

The home kits are still going strong, not as high as at the peak, but “online is still a big thing for us”. 

During that hectic time, Gordon did a condensed diploma course in food manufacturing and management at UCC.  He has nothing but good things to say about it and the people behind it: “It is a great course..it changed my view… The knowledge I got from it helped us through tough times and helped us grow the business.”

Even the brewery’s name came from the big wide world of the net. They found a suitable site and started a competition, with a €500.00 prize. The suggestions rolled in in their hundreds. “Three people came up with the 9 White Deer and the first up won the five hundred. The name was perfect.” So apt, that Gordon and company were a little embarrassed: “So close to it and still we couldn’t see it!”. They took the long way around to find the deer, just like Gobnait (now, if only that saintly woman had Google!).

Thanks to all at Fia Bán for the céad míle failte!

While taking refuge in Inisheer in the Aran Islands during the Middle Ages, Clare-born Gobnait was visited by an angel who told her she should look for a place where she would find nine white deer grazing. She found the exact number of white deer in Ballyvourney and here she lies. She founded a religious order, raised bees, helped the sick and even saved the village from a plague.

Gobnait and the white deer.
Sculpture by Seamus Murphy RHA

The brewery was founded in the Gaeltacht village of Baile Bhuirne (Ballyvourney) in 2014 by Don O’Leary and Gordon (the first brewer). Donal Carey, still with the company, built the first brewery unit and importantly that included a bottling line. In 2020, Don stepped down to concentrate on his other business interests, and Gordon’s partner Sinead stepped in and they now own it and are the directors. Sinead has a strong financial experience and, according to Gordon, “keeps us on the straight and narrow” and helps out in a host of other ways.

Gordon and Sinead don't agree on everything!

Currently, they produce six beers regularly. Stag Bán, Stag Stout (green barley and oats are key ingredients), Stag Kölsch, Stag Rua are regarded as core. Black Lightning, a high ABV IPA, is a regular but not quite core, “a bit of an outlier” according to Gordon. 

They had a very busy opening period in 2014 for a variety of reasons. Common sense was used. They didn't go and try to make every style of beer in a hurry but carefully followed what people were drinking (lager and stout) and concentrated on those at the start. Contract brewing was an earner and they also did packaging for other breweries until demand grew for their own range of beers. The brewery enjoys great relationships with other brewers.

Changing faces of their bottles.

Their Kölsch, their most popular beer, grew from those early days, with help from the local water and a famous German brewmaster. We got a very good idea about the water while visiting St Gobnait’s area close to the village, quickly getting soaked during a "soft" shower. 

Soft is the operative word here as the water, from the Cork and Kerry mountains, is really soft, just perfect for lager style beers. And the guidance they got from Roland, then brewmaster of the well known Munich brewery Augustiner and still a friend of the Ballyvourney brewery, could not have been bettered. Kolsch and 9 White Deer were on their way.

The brewery is not noted for doing specials. But that could be about to change, at least to a degree. Just before Christmas they launched their Export Stout collaboration with West Waterford’s Blackwater Distillery and had a lot of fun doing so. I think it is just a brilliant stout and Gordon confirmed that it is going down very indeed with their customers. 

Plans are afoot to do a Bohemian style Pilsner in a few months time, one that will spend some ten weeks in one of the nine tanks in their packed Fermentation Hall before release. They don’t rush their beers here and the quality is all the better for that policy. Watch out too for their monster Mexican Imperial Stag Stout, chilis included in this 13.5% bad boy. Looks like current brewers Eoin Layton and Iain Mooney will be kept very busy!

So how do they get all these superb beers out there? They look after all draught sales themselves through Donal Carey. And you’ll see them on the shelves of many SuperValu and Centra Stores. Gordon: “Musgraves have been great for us, very supportive.”

And he is equally full of praise for their distributors Classic Drinks (via Sysco).  I had asked him had they thought of canning? “We had that bottling plant from day one and we’ve stuck with it as bottle sales have increased year on year with a huge amount of credit for that going to our distributors Classic Drinks.” By the way that trusty line can fill 1.5k bottles in an hour!

So now, all the beers are in place. How do you spot them on the shelves? 

“A few years back we went to an agent for a brand refresh and that was very helpful. Now we have taken on Fintan as a marketing person full-time. He has been and is a huge help in planning, designing, responsible for the recent Export badge and the new labels.”

9 White Deer Kolsch is widely available.
I enjoyed this pint in Bantry's Maritime last year.

If you look closely at the label you’ll see the words Gluten Free on everything they do. “We got help from Coeliac Ireland who worked with us in our quest to give people more choice - it was possible at the time to get GF lagers. We offered our first GF beer in 2015 and the whole brewery turned GF in the next year.’’ It is perhaps the one thing that makes the Ballyvourney outfit stand out from other micro-breweries.

How does 9 White Deer connect with the local area? “We try and do business locally as much as possible. We use Mid Cork Pallets who are just 4 kilometres away. We use local transport from the village. And we sponsor events, particularly those of a charitable nature.” If they can’t get something in Cork or Kerry, they’ll go further afield but try to keep it on the island of Ireland. Their glass, for instance comes from Encirc of Northern Ireland.

We mentioned environmentally friendly and sustainability. Gordon: “These are hugely important to us, in the areas of packaging and transport and energy. We are looking at solar and may be able to raise 40% of our electricity in that way.  We are working with Donal Quinn of ENSO to help with sustainability and ongoing monitoring. Our progress will be posted online for all to see. It is a great idea and does away with greenwashing.”

So there you are. No beating about the bush and no hiding behind it either in Ballyvourney. I reckon Gobnait would approve, might well barter a little honey for a little beer!

 Check out our feature on. Ballykilcavan Brewery, Cop. Laois.