Hops and Dreams meet Skills and Savvy Planning – The Hope Beer Story
Once upon a time, there was a young Irish pirate who was too handsome for his own good, a notorious highwayman from Drogheda who some compared to Robin Hood, and rumour had it, the mere mention of a pig on a ship could bring the nastiest of weathers.
These three colourful bits of Irish history were dug up by Wim de Jongh with the help of local researchers in North Dublin and nowadays grace the labels of Hope Beer’s first three brews: Handsome Jack, an IPA that “takes no prisoners”; Grunt, a Saison Beer inspired by “Walloon farmhouse brewers”; and Passifyoucan, a well rounded Blonde Beer.
Before Win de Jongh, owner and founder of Hope Beer, told us about his background as executive and manager in European transnationals, as well as his experience in the packaging industry, we were able to infer by the slickness of his branding and the shininess of his new brewing equipment that behind all the hope, there is a man who knows a thing or two about business.
And as he toured us through Hope Beer’s brewery in Sutton, Wim mentions that the 600 square metres brewery and head office opened on the 15th of June this year. They have a current capacity to produce 350,000 litres per year, but thanks to smartly chosen state-of-the-art-equipment and a large area with plenty of storage space, the figure has the potential to comfortably reach 800,000 litres per year. And they’re going for it, with 60 stockists listed on their website by the time we were writing, they’re on the fast track to become one of Dublin’s most popular craft beers.
More than Numbers
Wim, who is originally from Holland, has worked in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. As he proudly invites us to touch malted barley from an open bag, he points out that 80% of the malt they use is Irish and the rest comes from countries such as Germany or France, “these are specialty malts that we don’t get in Ireland at the moment” he explains. He then grabs a bunch of hops, we smelled them, and then he tells me that they have a water filter that reduces the hardness in water to zero and after using it they can adapt the minerals to the type of beer they want to make.
As he walks through Hope Beer you can feel the visionary’s spark in his eyes, it soon becomes evident that this project is more than just an intelligent investment. There’s love. What compels an experienced executive to trade the suit and tie for a t-shirt and start up in the Irish craft beer scene?
The idea begun brewing about one and a half years ago when Wim got “to that stage where you want to be your own boss.” He and a friend where thinking about doing something together and despite loving beer, neither of them had previous brewing experience. “I wanted to do something more fulfilling with the rest of my career” says Wim, and although he looked at consultancy, “that didn’t rock the boat.”
Once they decided to go for it, they developed recipes with the help of Canadian beer expert Derek Walsh, sourced the design in Holland and, in the beginning, outsourced the manufacturing. This last move allowed them to build a customer base and when they finally brewed their first batch in Sutton (presented as recently as at the Irish Craft Beer Festival in the RDS last month), they were able “to hit the ground running” says Wim, who points out that they are the only working brewery in Fingal and that the county has been very supportive.
“We are not just passionate about beer, we are passionate about our business,” they have to be, as it represented an investment of approximately €1 million.
When the Heart and the Brain Work Together
“Most craft beer people are passionate only about beer”, but that is only half the battle. In fairness, many relatively young professionals have the same realisation but lack the funds, and with ingenuity and hard work they manage to start up with second hand equipment in a more modest location but unless they have a proper business plan, talent and luck can only get them so far.
Hope Beer not only attracts the craft drinker by offering them great tasting beers made locally, they appeal to restaurants and off-licences that can rely in the brewery’s consistency both in quality and in their ability to supply volumes.
Another important difference is their presentation, 330 ml bottles instead of larger and more usual serves. “Restaurants love the 330 ml bottle” Wim knows, and as format matters, the pairability of the beers with food is another important factor in their proposition. Their first three beers all come with suggested food matches printed on their labels and instead of the typical triad of styles -a pale ale, a red ale and a stout- that debuting breweries tend to launch when opening, Hope went with three very food-friendly types, the aforementioned IPA, Saison Beer and Blonde Beer.
Wim is already working on Hope’s next three beers: a session IPA, an unfiltered lager and a sour. “We’re working on a stout, but not yet” he adds. They’re currently in selected SuperValus as part of their Food Academy range and have recently entered Cassidy Wines’ exclusive Cassidy Craft Collection. Wim is confident these moves will help them expand both in retail as well as in menus.
Regarding exports, at this point that’s just something to think about for the future. “I’m a firm believer that we need to establish ourselves first in our own home market” says Wim.
When asked about what trends does he identify in the craft beer market, Wim is quick to point out that “there seems to be very little brand loyalty” and as consumers are always eager to try new things, “brands have to come up with new beers all the time.” In tune with this, Hope Beer has recently launched two beers labeled limited edition, an unfiltered lager and a session IPA.
“People go the off-licence and ask what’s new… this summer was all about sours, autumn is usually more stouts. That’s why we hope to get a stout in November.”
Another trend that Wim acknowledges is a growth in the appeal of craft beers, which according to him, “are reaching a larger crowd”. Now it’s not just “the hipsters, but a guy like me, a 52 years old who loves beer” and who might not be mad on going on road trips to the next beer festival, but wants to find great tasting craft beer in a good restaurant.
Finally, he points out two diverging trends regarding alcoholic content. On one side, the wider public who asks for tasty, lower alcoholic beers between 4% and 5%, and then “the hardcore craft beer fan”, who goes for beers with 6% to 8% ABV.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.