Local Connections Are Key At Templemore’s Whitefield Brewery
“One thing we’ve always tried to do is work with local farmers to grow barley for us. While that in itself is easy enough, getting the barley malted was the trickier part. Minch Norton in Athy malt the barley but the smallest batch size they can malt is 75 Ton. So over the years it took a bit of too-ing and fro-ing to get a system in place that we could achieve this,” said Cuilan Loughnane of Whitefield Brewery in Tipperary as he spoke about their connections locally. The subject is something extremely important to him and his wife Sally, the brewery co-owners.
“Now all our base malt comes from Minch Norton and is grown by local farmer Tim Connolly. What underlines this process is the price we pay the farmer. For too many years farmers were treated like dirt in this business and if you’re going to make great beer then you need to start with great barley. So, we agree a sustainable price with Tim before he even gets out his plough. That way he has an incentive to grow a great crop knowing he’s going to get paid well for it.”
”That’s how a small brewery like us connects with the community, by being willing to pay above the odds to ensure we all make a decent living and keep trade in the area. It’s up to the consumer then to do their part by purchasing the beers made by the local brewery, that way we have a sustainable cycle and a community that can thrive.”
“Our main focus has always been the local pub. It hasn’t always been easy in these places! Getting the right beer and trying to get the publican behind it is not a task for the faint hearted, but we’re getting there! Us selling a 4.3% bottle of pale ale to a supermarket is just not financially viable, our brew length is too small, our costs are too high. So, pubs and restaurants are always going to be our bread and butter and hopefully as the years go by as local as possible.”
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In the beginning….
Cuilan started work in Dwan Brewery in Thurles in 1998 and got an opportunity to take over the brewery in 2001. “So my wife and I set up the Shelta Beer Co. on the 29th of August 2001. We operated under the Dwan brand for a number of years before we had to leave Dwan’s premises and we relocated to Messer’s Maguire’s (now J.W. Sweetman) in Dublin city centre. We spent the next 6 years operating out of there during extremely difficult times for the Irish Craft Beer industry.”
“An opportunity to purchase the defunct Kinsale Brewery equipment came about in 2008 and we decided to bite the bullet. We found a premises in Templemore and finally opened the doors in August 2009 where we’ve been since.”
"I have always been the brewer, maybe not such a good idea from a business perspective, but we pride ourselves on the fact that we’re a beer led business."
What stands out about the brewery, your beers? Is there something unique? ...
“We make no bones about the fact that we brew traditional style beers and are not into all the latest fads! Our brewhouse was originally commissioned by Pauliner, so it is designed as a wheat beer brewery. The fermentation tanks are low, wide and flat bottomed to help maintain consistent flavour profile while using a volatile yeast. So it comes as no surprise that our best sellers in both draught and bottle are Weiss beers. This makes it tricky to brew drier hoppy beers, so we focus on the malty styles of beer with plenty of sweetness.”
Our core beers tend to be traditional, southern style German Wheat and lager beers. We like to put a small twist in them like adding a portion of Rye malt to our Weiss beer to help bring about a slightly drier flavour or using Saké rice to increase the alcohol content. But our favourite here has always been our Traditional Irish Stout in the 750ml bottle. It represents everything we think here about traditional brewing from an Irish perspective.
Any new beers in the pipeline?
We want to take Irish Stout up a notch in alcohol but I’m a sucker for balance. Too many beers have wonderful first, second and third sip-ability but completely lose their balance after that and become hard to finish. I think we still have a lot to learn from the wine industry in terms of balance, so we’ll tread carefully while developing this recipe.
What’s your typical day like?
“No such thing when you own a small business, although I tend to stick to everything involving the brewery itself. My wife Sally focuses on everything outside the brewery and Micheál works between the two of us. So overall it works pretty well, the biggest discussions (arguments!) are always about future decisions and how they will be funded. Money is always tight in a small business so every decision will have an impact good or bad.”
Tell me about one time when things went wrong. How did you learn from that failure? Can you look back and laugh about it now?
"Luckily a lot of what I saw going wrong was when I joined Dwan’s. The concept of the Brewpub was fantastic but the people had no idea what it was or how to react to it. So it was an idea way before it’s time and as a result just failed. So much money was spent on all the wrong things but for all the right reasons and I got to see all of that without it costing us a penny.
So when we took over Dwan’s, we immediately made the decision to stop selling beer in Ireland and focus on the cask market in the UK. (we were the first ever Irish Micro-Brewery to sell cask beer to the UK). And that decision was an immediate success! It laid the foundations for our future at poor Bill Dwan’s cost.”
Early lessons well learned as anyone who drinks Whitefield’s terrific beers will readily acknowledge. Off to try a couple now!
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