City boy returns home to expand family business
Branding is important but new quality niche products can be successful if effectively marketed. That is the strong message from The Brewer's House, a gastropub and restaurant in the Co Tyrone village of Donaghmore, near Dungannon.
Although the Brewer's House is an 18th century hostelry and one of the oldest pubs in Ulster, it is moving forward by launching its own micro-brewery.
"Northern Ireland is always touted to be a very brand-driven market where it is difficult to introduce new products or concepts without huge marketing campaigns," explains owner and manager Ciaran McCausland.
"However, in the first year of running the Brewer's House we have found that if the quality is there, the public really enjoys trying something new or different."
For Ciaran, running a gastropub has marked a sharp change in career direction.
"I returned to Tyrone three years ago after spending almost 10 years in London working in finance, including trading equities at Lehman Brothers and lastly running a small hedge fund," he says.
"I met my wife in London and after we got married we decided we would like to bring our children up in Ireland. I am an only child and we decided to return to Tyrone to take over our family business, which consisted of a bar and bar/restaurant that had been leased out. While living in London, we loved the many great gastropubs and felt the concept was not really prevalent in Northern Ireland.
"We decided that when the bar/restaurant fell back into our hands we would develop it into a gastropub, focusing on locally sourced and seasonal produce.
"We also wanted the quality of the drinks to be just as high as the food and we set about trying to put together the best beer list available."
That approach of focusing on quality is helping the business to succeed, as has the support of the local Camra - Campaign for Real Ale - branch.
"We have had a successful first year, culminating in winning best gastropub in Ulster at the Restaurant Association of Ireland awards, taking the title from last year's all-Ireland winner, Harry's Bar in Donegal, a place where we have taken inspiration from".
Ciaran adds: "They source all their produce from the Inishowen peninsula. We have started our own kitchen garden, growing many of our own herbs and some vegetables.
"We plan to expand the garden next year. We also look to source our meat and poultry as locally as possible, but quality is paramount.
"The next step is to brew our own beer. Before the dawn of the railway, Donaghmore was home to one of mid-Ulster's leading breweries. However, when the railway was built, cheaper ale came in from the cities and led to the demise of the Donaghmore brewery.
"We will initially begin small, looking to brew two different beers for our bars and then expand once we have got a following. The brewery will be called the Red Hand Brewing Company and while the name ties in well with both our county GAA team and Ulster rugby, the logo comes from a hand painting my son made for me!"
With the move into brewing, the business hopes to increase its employment beyond the current 12 staff. It also wants to assist the local tourism sector, by encouraging more visitors to the village and county. One of the intended projects to support this will be brewing workshops, to train more people in the traditional skill.
The Brewer's House can be found on Facebook and via its website, www.thebrewershouse.com