Patrick McAliskey tells Emma Deighan he hopes his new brewery, Spadetown, will bring pride to the people of his home town
Former Novosco managing director Patrick McAliskey is on a mission to boost job, manufacturing, and export opportunities in his home town of Lurgan.
The accomplished entrepreneur is driving forward new craft beer brand Spadetown’s business plan with the goal to make it a source of employment and opportunity for those living in the town.
He also plans to open the business brewery to the public. He has also filed plans for a distillery near Lough Neagh which will produce gin, poitin and eventually whiskey, all of which will become part of the Spadetown drinks family.
Patrick is co-founder of the company, having joined it in May.
His role there comes after a distinguished career in IT — most notably his position at the helm of cloud tech business Novosco, which he sold to Cancom in 2019. It is now owned by Telefonica Tech which purchased the business for more than £300m last year.
“You would think I would need to slow down having run a company of more than 300 people for many years but I came to a conclusion that I never want to retire,” he says.
“I want to stay active and always have a challenge. It’s as if my brain needs to work hard.”
Patrick’s background has always been in IT.
The father of three left school at the age of 17 to join the RAF where he honed his skills in electronics as an airfield technician.
“Any equipment that gets the plane off the ground, I worked on it. That started changing using more and more software, which I then got into and afterwards, when I came home, I joined FG Wilson.
“Then I started Novosco,” he says.
Today, despite his involvement in Spadetown, he is still regularly called upon for his experience in multi-million-pound acquisitions — a background that came about as part of his goal to run his own business.
“My dad was a civil servant and my mum worked in a hospital,” he says. “Dad then became a postmaster so there was no real family business, I just always had this dream to run my own business.”
Last year Patrick was approached by one of the original founders of Spadetown as the company was trying to get its products “off the ground during the pandemic”.
He describes the challenge of supporting that launch as “a bit of a head wreck,” adding: “But today we’re on sale in over 25 off-licences around all counties in Northern Ireland and we hope to get that number to 50 by March.”
Spadetown currently brews three craft beers. They are “the easy to drink” Long Face Lager, the "stronger German beer style” Po Face Pils and an Indian Pale Ale (IPA) for the “beer nerds”.
Distributing these products to most off-sales outlets here is just a small part of the Spadetown strategy and a fraction of the geographical terrain it wants to be part of.
The end game is creating employment opportunities in Lurgan and expanding distribution to include international listings.
He’s hopeful they can add to the product line of beers and introduce spirits through Lough Neagh Distillers.
The brewery will also become part of the Historical Society’s walk in the area and will eventually open as a visitors’ centre under soon-to-be introduced taproom rules.
Those rules will allow beer producers to serve their produce on site between 4pm and 10pm.
Asked if the craft beer market has room for growth, Patrick believes so. He says an interest in provenance and a story will support that growth.
And he believes society’s awareness of nutrition, product composition and a demand for purer ingredients will be key in selling Spadetown into other markets.
He says: “If you consider the craft beer market, it is only a few percentage points of the total drinks market and today people are more educated about what they drink and what goes into those drinks. They want clean products and if you look at beer produced in large volumes, what starts to happen in that process is the addition of chemicals to speed things up. It means the beer then is not as clean. So, people look at other products.”
He says Spadetown, the locals’ name for the Lurgan Park area, named after the dour facial expressions of workmen digging Lurgan Lake in the 1900s, is to ensure the brand stays loyal to its roots.
“We have a strategy around our growth. We don’t want Spadetown to just be a lifestyle. We want it to be a commercially viable part of the DNA of Lurgan.
“Everyone involved in Spadetown is from Lurgan and we want to create a business that we can be proud of, a business that employs local.
“Everything about it is local, from the artwork in the building to the joiners who helped build it.
“We are very happy to attach our name to the town and all the associated taglines that come with that.”
Spadetown’s launch saw it become the first alcoholic drinks manufacturer in Lurgan since the 1800s.
The initial planned investment of over £2m is expected to create around 55 jobs by 2023, with the venture also being led by Patrick’s fellow Lurgan-native Vernon Fox, who has been involved in the drinks industry for almost 30 years.
“We have our challenges, and we know that but the best thing to do with that is to create jobs, good jobs and create a buzz.
“We have big plans that will support everything local here; from charities to other small businesses.”
Supporting local has been a theme throughout Patrick’s career. The father of three is a passionate Gaelic sports supporter.
He was chairman of Lurgan Swimming Club and he sits on the board of governors of St Ronan’s College, which is an amalgamation of St Paul’s Junior High School, St Mary’s High School and St Michael’s Grammar School, in the area.
When completed St Ronan’s will be one of the largest schools here.
“I want to help, I always want to help,” says Patrick on that lengthy CV of extra-curricular work. “It keeps the brain active.”
As well as the latter activity, Patrick is also behind a coffee roasting firm in the same building as his brewery.
“Everyone loves a really good coffee and if you do it locally you hope to create a high premium quality product. We’re bringing manufacturing back to Lurgan with the drink production,” he says.
The swerve out of IT into that sector is by no means a permanent departure from the world of tech, he says.
Patrick retains his role as part-time chairperson at Decision Time, a business management software firm which he describes as “one of the really bright stars here”.
“I’ve had a 25-year career in IT which started when I founded Real Time Systems. I’ve been through seven or eight mergers and acquisitions which still allows me to help someone else scale.”
He says his involvement in Derry-based Elemental Software — a social prescribing firm — was key in its acquisition by digital software provider Servelec.
His biggest acquisition to date has been the deal he and his fellow directors at Novosco signed off back in 2019.
German-based Cancom bought the business for £70m in 2019 and then, last summer, it drew the attention of Spanish firm Telefonica which acquired it for €398m (£339m).
“I’m still interested in doing both and while creating a legacy of exporting and manufacturing businesses in Lurgan. Variety is the spice of life,” he says.