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Changes brewing in Northern Ireland's craft beer industry

By John Mulgrew

Published 03/11/2015

Enjoying a pint of Mourne Gold, one of the brewery’s core beers, is master brewer Tom Ray (left) with Connaire McGreevy, founder of Mourne Mountains Brewery
Enjoying a pint of Mourne Gold, one of the brewery’s core beers, is master brewer Tom Ray (left) with Connaire McGreevy, founder of Mourne Mountains Brewery

A decade ago Northern Ireland had just a handful of small independent breweries.

Now, two dozen craft beer makers scattered right across the province are vying for market share.

And those taking up the brewing mantle include a PhD candidate, a former a councillor and the son of television and broadcaster Eamonn Holmes.

Connaire McGreevy is a former SDLP councillor for Newry and Mourne District Council, and is also founder and managing director of a successful engineering firm Cts Projects, which he set up aged just 24. He also runs Mourne Mountains Brewery.

"Craft beer is something I've always had a passion for - travelling around, discovering new beers all the time and then coming back home, where the options were low," he said.

"I spotted an opportunity in the Mournes to boost tourism. That was my passion, and why I was in politics too. I want to see the area do well."

The brewery can produce up to 1,600 litres at a time, and sells three core beers - including a red ale and golden ale - along with several specials, which includes a pumpkin beer, just in time for Halloween.

And Connaire said he's not worried about the sheer number of producers already out there.

"There's room for more - it's an island market, especially for us on the border," he said.

Northern Ireland's oldest independent brewery is Hilden, located outside Lisburn.

It's been producing ales for the last 34 years at its picturesque site.

Along with other bigger craft producers, such as Kilkeel's Whitewater, it's managed to break into the 'multiples' - selling beers in the big supermarkets, such as Tesco.

And drinks industry veteran Niall McMullan set up the Hercules Brewing Company in 2014, producing Yardsman lager.

Declan Holmes (26) is one of the latest beer company owners - son of Eamonn Holmes - setting up his Gallopers brand.

After eight years in the drinks industry, he said both a "passion for beer and the dream of working for myself" helped create the business, alongside a little help from his father.

And he said competition was "good" for the craft beer market.

It's almost hard to keep up with the sheer number of producers adding their name to Northern Ireland's increasingly positive beer credentials.

Some of the newer additions include Glens of Antrim Ales in Co Antrim, Farmageddon from Comber and Lacada in Portrush.

The latter was another producer which turned to crowd-funding to raise the necessary cash to get going.

Lacada's chairman, and one of its founders, Laurie Davies, said there could still be room for additional breweries here.

"The new wave of beer has finally arrived," he said.

"Sales have been very good. We have had excellent feedback, and on our labels, which are illustration-led.

"I think there are nearly two dozen breweries here now. But Guinness and Tennent's rule the roost, and you can't get a tap in anywhere.

"Northern Ireland could support more microbreweries."

And at the end of last year, Belfast man Matthew Dick left academia behind to start Boundary Brewing in east Belfast.

He raised more than a £100,000 in just a few days, and since then has gone on to produce a range of beers, including India pale ales and stouts.

He's also collaborated with brewers such as Galway Bay in the Republic and Mad Matter in Liverpool.

Darren Nugent formed Pokertree in Carrickmore, Co Tyrone in 2012.

Following a time working in public relations in England, and finding craft beers on his travels in the US and Australia, he felt Northern Ireland was missing out.

"We aren't that different from the rest of the world, we are just a bit behind," he said.

"When I came home, that's what I wanted to do. We then built the brewery and developed beers."

"We want to put Northern Ireland on the map as a beer destination. I think the more brewers there are, the more people will be exposed to good beer."

But where do these up-and-coming entrepreneurs sell their brews?

Pubs and restaurants across Northern Ireland are slowly coming round to the idea that consumers want both choice, and something a bit different.

Bars such as Brewbot on the Ormeau Road, Woodworkers on Bradbury Place, while outside Belfast, spots like the Brewer's House in Co Tyrone, and Kiwi's in Portrush are flying the flag for craft beer. This huge rise in interest both here, the Republic and Great Britain has also garnered the attention of the world's biggest breweries and beer companies.

Diageo, which owns Guinness, launched its Brewers Project series, while Molson Coors bought Cork brewery Franciscan Well in 2013.

And SABMiller - which is in the middle of what could be the world's biggest beer deal with AB InBev - took over London producer Meantime earlier this year.

Find out more about Declan Holmes' new craft beer at

Belfast Telegraph

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