Belfast Telegraph

Maiden City's thirst for fine beers quenched by new breweries

By John Mulgrew

You wait for one brewery for 30 years and then two come along at once. While Northern Ireland's second city has witnessed a renaissance and rejuvenation over the last two years, buoyed on by its UK City of Culture status, Londonderry's time in the spotlight has somewhat faded in recent months.

But now, the city is hoping for something of a reawakening, with two new breweries set to open up in the coming weeks - offering the city something it hasn't seen for three decades.

And both are going about it in very different ways.

While other areas across Northern Ireland have already felt something of a beer revolution - it's now the Maiden City's turn in the spotlight.

David Rogers of Northbound Brewery and James Huey of Walled City Brewery are bringing beer back to the city.

And they will be the first independent craft beer producers to open in Londonderry since the 1980s.

It's also a family affair for both entrepreneurs.

David Rogers (40) and wife Martina (37) are putting the final touches to their Northbound Brewery in the Campsie area of Londonderry - with plans to starting producing on their 2,500 litre set-up next month.

Mr Rogers - a manufacturing consultant who now divides his time between both careers - gained a love and knowledge about brewing when he lived and worked in Australia.

"I got a job working in a Sydney brewery, and started studying brewing while I worked there - I did a diploma before becoming a Master brewer," he said.

Originally from Scotland and his wife hailing from Fermanagh, they moved back to Northern Ireland from Australia, with their three children in 2012 - with sights firmly set on opening a brewery.

"The idea came about after I first visited a brewery - it's a good quality of life," said David.

He's now hoping to begin selling within the city from March onwards, with further plans to export across Ireland and beyond.

"The beers will be a pale ale, a lager and a German kolsch ale-style.

"I hope we will be expanding as soon as possible - exporting really good beers across the globe.

"I have good business links, and you really get your eyes open when you travel.

"The feedback on the beers we have produced so far has been very positive."

But for James Huey (37) it was a different business path into brewing.

And as the old idiom goes, necessity in this case really was the mother of invention, after losing his job at Ireland's largest brewery forced him to look at other career options.

He was made redundant from his post in Dundalk, after Guinness owners Diageo announced they were centralising their brewing to Dublin.

And as a result, he decided to go his own way, and is now the man behind the Walled City Brewery - set to open at Ebrington Square in the coming weeks.

"I started off with the idea in January 2014 after I left Diageo," he said.

"I didn't want to do the bigger model and first wanted to aim at selling within the city, because Londonderry is still at the early stages in regards to beer.

"With the brewpub model, you can really tell a story."

The new brewpub is set to include a restaurant - with the project being helped along by Mr Huey's wife Louise, and his two sisters.

"We are planning an opening in March and will be selling three core beers - our Boom Pale Ale, an India Pale Ale and a lager," he said.

And he's already been testing his beers out the city's palates - selling his brews at the Christmas village at the site of the former Army barracks.

"We had a very positive response at Christmas with our flagship beer - it sold out every day," he said.

"People have wanted something permanent in Ebrington Square for some time - people are champing at the bit to get something there."

The latest breweries on the scene are jumping on what's becoming an increasingly full bandwagon - with more than a dozen micro-breweries up and running in Northern Ireland.

Londonderry has been without an independent brewery since the mid-1980s when Maiden Oak operated in the city for a time.

And the public appears to have a growing thirst when it comes to beer, 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 and within days, he'd raised £100,000.

Boundary will be only the second brewery in Belfast - soon to be based in the east of the city.

And as far as competition between the new players in the Northern Ireland scene, David Rogers said there's more than enough room for several new breweries, in what's now a rapidly expanding industry. "It doesn't worry me and I would expect somewhere like Londonderry to have a few breweries," he said.

"It's tough going, stress wise, but I don't worry about it.

"I think there is plenty of scope and space for a few breweries," added David

The crop of small, independent operations has more than tripled in a decade - with around 10 having opened up in just a handful of years.

Leading the way on sales and growth is Kilkeel's Whitewater Brewery - which has an annual output of around 350,000 bottles, while Hilden - based outside Lisburn - is Northern Ireland's longest running.

Belfast Telegraph