While tucking into antipasti, Siobhan Scullion tells Joris Minne how a hunger for good-quality food and excellent service has seen her family’s micro-brewery prosper
Gender-busting jobs have become commonplace. Journalism, medicine, law, and even hairy old engineering are now largely level playing fields which are attracting more women.
One activity, however, matches the priesthood for its exclusively male workforce: brewing. So it’s a bit of a surprise to find that after 30 successful years brewing and distributing beer, the Hilden Brewery in Lisburn is in the hands of two sisters and a brother.
Siobhan Scullion, her sister Frances and brother Owen are based in the grand old Hilden House, which once belonged to the Barbour textile kings.
On the grounds of the house are the old stables and other infrastructure where the brewery and bottling plants are housed.
Back in the 1980s, the temporarily Kent-based Scullions, led by dad Seamus, decided to come home and bought the estate outside Lisburn with a view to introducing the same micro-brewery business model that had been such a hit in and around the south of England.
Today Owen is the brewmaster, Frances runs the onsite bar and conference facility, and Siobhan is the business development and sales and marketing person. Siobhan says that, actually, they all mix in — Owen is the ideas man and Frances is the stabilising force ensuring day-to-day business reliability.
For Siobhan, the brewery has been a wonderful step back into Irish life. She was only eight years old when she returned here with her family. Growing up with the smells of the brewery, the mature parkland grounds and the house itself provided not just a glorious backdrop but the core of the family’s existence.
Siobhan and I are having lunch at the tiny Chubby Cherub in Belfast. She says she has always loved good food. This love, never quite fulfilled by the brewery, blossomed 10 years ago when she opened Molly’s Yard, an award-winning bistro housed in a Victorian coach house at the top end of Belfast’s Botanic Avenue.
Siobhan looks at Chubby’s Italian menu and compares restaurant life to the holy orders. “It’s a life of dedication and commitment,” she says fervently.
Her desire to create a restaurant, which would be the perfect outlet for Hilden’s beers as well as a place that serves quality food made from local produce, came about as a result of visiting hundreds of restaurants selling Hilden.
“I wanted to open a restaurant in Belfast which reflected the ideal, intimate, informal and comfortable experience with affordable prices and excellent food and service,” she says.
We happily tuck into antipasti with excellent woodstone bread and some Prosecco.
For a woman who studied urban conservation to a masters degree level, the move into catering doesn’t seem obvious. But then the concept of regeneration relies as much on human activity as it does on well restored buildings.
“The infrastructure has to be there, but it takes a good restaurant to breathe life into an area,” she says. “Look at Cathedral Quarter and the restaurants popping up around St Anne’s Square and you’ll understand.”
Siobhan and her brother and sister have always been ideas people. The Hilden Music Festival in August is now a well-loved fixture on the summer gig calendar — it also helps keep Hilden’s brand alive. “It’s tough as an independent brewer to make it in a world of corporate giants and the festival is a popular reminder that small is beautiful. Thankfully, thousands share this principle and help us stay in business,” she says.
Antipasti x 2: £13.00
Orzo and prawn x 2: £17.90
Sparkling water x 2: £4.40
Coffee x 2: £4.00