Sitting in one of Heathrow’s pubs one glorious summers evening in 1993 on a 4-hour stopover en-route to Vancouver, I witnessed a bar maid performing a very unusual looking ritual, while trying to pour a beer into a glass. I witnessed it again 10 minutes later and again and again.
She was pulling a white ceramic lever with her left hand with what looked like a considerable amount of effort. As the lever arced downwards her entire upper body arched inwards towards the counter. In her right hand was a pint glass, which she was holding under a swan necked spout that was below the white lever. Into the glass was flowing some form of beer, strange looking stuff.
Being a good Irishman I had my national drink in front of me, but curiosity was really starting to get the better of me. What was the bar maid doing? What were the strange Englishmen drinking? So up I walked, asked the bar maid for a pint of “that stuff” pointing to the white lever. She duly obliged, performed the ritual and placed the pint upon the counter. I walked back to my seat, eyes to the ground, for fear of being spotted by another Irishman and getting the look, you know, the one that says, “Jesus what kind of muck you drinkin’ now”.
Back in my seat, settled in nicely, a good book in hand, sun shining in the window and a lovely red hue coming through the pint. I waited a few minutes before lifting the glass to my mouth and taking the first mouthful, the very first mouthful of real ale and the rest as they say; is History.
Cuilan with his medals from the Stockholm Beer Festival 2007
Hops in the snow
The Painful Learning years
On returning from Canada in 1997 I became aware of a new brew pub opening in Thurles, Dwan’s. Sure enough, I secured a job there under the watchful eye of brew master, David Jones. What I learnt from this man was a passion for brewing that has remained with me to this day. However, within 2 years Davy had returned to a job in Sweden and I was left holding the candle.
Six months later, my wife and I had done a deal with Bill Dwan to take over the brewing part of the Dwan’s brewpub. Over the course of a weekend we decided that the brewery would become an export only company. The beer market in Ireland was lightyears behind and showing no sign of potential. We started selling cask ale into the UK market, the first Irish brewery to do so, and it was an instant success. The next 18 months was an unbelievable success, we won dozens of awards at festivals all over the UK and the business was in full swing. The following 12 months however was an unbelievable disaster and we received the best business lessons we ever learnt. If you ever visit the brewery, I’ll tell you all about it.
In 2002 we had to move out of Dwan’s, which was closing, and we secured a deal to run Messer’s Maguire’s brewery (Now JW Sweetman) in Dublin. The next 6 years was a hard slog, commuting from Templemore every day and a total hand to mouth existence, in an Irish market that had very little interest. Several of the initial Micro Breweries had closed and the future of the industry was far from certain. On Holidays in Belgium in 2008 we made a decision, if we were ever going to make this work; we needed our own brewery.
THE WHITE GYPSY BREWERY
The brewery was commissioned by Pauliner in 1996 for a brewpub in Singapore. Shortly after arrival and commissioning in Singapore the Asian crisis struck and had a devastating effect on the many businesses in the region. The brewery had a very short life of less than six months.
The brewery was then purchased by the Kiley brothers from Kinsale. One of them had been working in Hong Kong and spotted the brewpub was for sale. So, the brewery undertook it’s second journey all the way to Ireland and was commissioned in a beautiful building in Kinsale town in 2002.
Despite a promising start to the venture the business went into a terminal decline in 2004. No reflection on the owners however as the Irish market was difficult nut to crack in the hay-days of the Celtic tiger. The brewery lay dormant for the next 4 years after 2 false starts.
On Return from our holidays in Belgium we struck a deal with the owners to purchase the brewery in August 2008. I remember driving down to Kinsale on the day that the government had issued the bank guarantee to collect the first pieces of the brewery and thinking, my God!! What have we done? What is with this brewery and recessions!
They say it’s a long way to Tipperary, well it is when you start in Germany go to Singapore then on to Kinsale and end up in Templemore. She has a loving home now and fingers crossed she’ll see her retirement here.
Well it took us the bones of a year to set up and commission the brewery and we finally did our first brew on August 18th, 2009. It’s hard to believe I’m writing this 10 years later and what a journey the Irish craft beer scene has been through in the meantime.
The recession of 2008-2011 had a huge positive impact on the industry. People had a lot less money and so spent it wisely which meant that craft beer was perceived as a better value product than commercial beer and sales rocketed. New breweries were opening, and the scene was flourishing and by 2015 there was nearly 70 breweries in existence.
Cuilan with polished sake rice from the Yamanashi Prefecture
Roll onto 2020 and well the world entered a new era of uncertainty and trepidation with covid. However, it did give us time to sit back and reflect on what we had achieved and where we wanted to go next with the brewery. One thing that slowly became obvious to us during this time was that our brand White Gypsy, was no longer culturally appropriate. We were sitting down one night during the first lockdown watching a re-run of Little Britain and we were watching it through our fingers. What we had laughed at that program with the kids 10 years ago, it was now embarrassing. Without realising it we had all moved on to a different and better place. Because we were so involved and so close to our own brand, we’d failed to see the wood from the trees.
And so we set about the slow arduous task of a full re-brand. Hence, Whitefield Brewery was born! Whitefield is a local townland where we used to get our water from for all our brewing (we now have our own on-site well) and we decided to focus on local names and characters as the basis for moving forward. Everything else remains the same, the high-quality balanced beers, the commitment to a sustainable future for small businesses like ours, working directly with farmers to source the best ingredients, 70 hour working weeks, family rows!
One thing is for sure, we’ll always aim to be honest and to give the best we can. I’m sure there are a few twists and turns left in this story yet but when did a straight road ever make for a good story! It’s hard to put over 24 years of brewing experience into 2 pages of words but one thing we can do is to give a very heartfelt thank you to all of you who ever bought a beer that we brewed. Without you, none of this was possible.
”Go raibh mile maith agat”
10HL steam fired capable of full decoction mashes
6 x 10.5HL + 6 x 21HL single skinned
Bright beer tanks
4 x 10HL independently cooled
6 x 11.5HL open, flat bottomed fermentors ind. cooled