Belfast's Boundary Brewing owner speak of 'a revolution in craft beers'
There has been a surge of interest in new beers in Northern Ireland. So much so that the public here is crowd-funding a new venture by Matthew Dick, called Boundary Brewing. John Mulgrew reports
It seems the public has a growing thirst when it comes to beer in Northern Ireland - judging by the success of one Belfast man's crowd-funded brewing venture. Matthew Dick offered the public a chance to own a stake in Boundary Brewing just last week - and within days, he'd already exceeded his initial target of £70,000.
The 30-year-old head brewer and co-founder put a PhD on hold, before moving from home brewer to professional with Northern Ireland technology firm Brewbot.
Now he's at the helm of Boundary - a brewery owned and run by its members.
And with the capital under his belt - he's ready to get brewing in Belfast.
"We are planning to begin brewing in February, and start selling beer into the world by March," Mr Dick said.
"We are looking for bars who are interested in stocking the beers to get in touch."
Run and owned by its members, Matthew Dick offered would-be investors a stake in his company for as little as £100, through a co-operative share offer.
"It's amazing. We were confident of getting the £70,000 over the five weeks it was open - but this speed just shows how interested the public is," he said.
So far, he has over 300 new business partners - each investing anywhere between £100 and £1,500.
"We were told 60% of people would only put £100 in each, but that hasn't happened. It's an average investment of £230.
"I expected a few big investors, my family and friends circle is very wide.
"But at least 75% of the people who are investing are people I've never met.
"Most are from Northern Ireland and are people who are shouting about this business from the rooftops."
Mr Dick raised his start-up cash through a community share offer, rather than avail of the web-based alternative.
Northern Ireland firms such as Brewbot and bike light firm See Sense both used Kickstarter to get their businesses up and running.
"People have invested, then they have come back and invested more," he said.
"Although this is potentially the worst time to ask people for money, some people have been buying an investment as a Christmas present."
Mr Dick's interest in brewing came about after a five-year stint living in the US - as well as several trips to Belgium.
"After I came back from the US, we noticed a big gap in the market.
"Boundary is going to produce beers inspired by the US and Belgium - offering something different into the market in Northern Ireland.
"There's a craft beer revolution going on at the moment, and we are only on the crest of a wave.
"It's getting much bigger in England and Scotland, with breweries such as Kernel, Brewdog and Beavertown among those showing just how popular good beer is becoming."
He's also been running Beer Club Belfast - a monthly group of hop heads.
With some 15 breweries in Northern Ireland, he's striking while the iron is hot.
He now plans to embrace modern brewing styles and techniques - producing beers such as fresh and hoppy India Pale Ales, and deep, warming, full-bodied stouts.
It seems the growing interest in craft beer in Northern Ireland has already filtered down to the region's pubs - with dozens featuring a solid range of all things hoppy.
Just last week, one of Belfast's best-known family-owned pubs, Lavery's, opened the Woodworkers - specialising in a rotating range of guest beers on draft.
A number of others - including the Sunflower, Hudson and Bittles - have also gone to considerable efforts to widen their beer ranges.
Mr Dick has now extended Boundary's funding target to £100,000.
"The investment means we can get things going. We are finalising our location with the East Belfast Partnership, with the help of Maurice Kinkead.
"We already have the brewing equipment ready to go, and coming across from the Isle of Man.
"The additional funding means we can do more as a brewery.
"We are hoping to get wine barrels across and begin producing some sours - we'd be the first in Northern Ireland doing that."
Of course, it takes more than an interest in all that's malt and hop-based to make a business.
During his time working with beer technology firm, Brewbot, he spent several months in the US as part of the business start-up accelerator programme, Techstars.
"We were involved in Techstars when I was working for Brewbot - it helped me envisage a business plan," he said.
"I thought out an idea for Boundary, how it would work, how it would be funded, and who I could get involved. So far, it's been very successful."
Boundary Brewing initially plans to sell its wares throughout its home city - before expanding sales throughout Northern Ireland and beyond.
"We'll be selling around Belfast, and we will also have distribution in Northern Ireland with plans for sales in the Republic, also," he said.
"We are confident people will become fans straight away, and will wish they would have invested when they try the beer.
"There is also a possibility of extending the option of membership for a bit longer, to allow more people to get involved."
And if the word wasn't already out there about Boundary, there are plans to give the brewery some cultural and celebrity kudos.
"There are plans to do a beer with Bangor musician Foy Vance," he said.
"I've given him his brewing homework, and hopefully we can come up with something - we could even put his moustache on the bottle."
Once the brewery's core range is established - which will include a pale ale, India pale ale, and export stout - Mr Dick plans to produce a raft of radically different beer styles, compared to those traditionally found in Northern Ireland.
"There are also plans to do collaborations with different breweries - the first would be with Galway Bay in the Republic.
"It's going to be an exciting few months for everyone involved in the company," he added.