Dead Centre Brewing, based in Athlone, launched The Irish Craft Soda Company a few months ago, with a focus on using fewer, but higher quality ingredients. The Irish Craft Soda Company’s lemonade is made using only four natural ingredients, demonstrating that a refreshing soda can be void of unnecessary additives and still taste absolutely delicious. Headed by Liam Tutty, we had a chat with him about his experience in the industry and starting up The Irish Craft Soda Company!
Have you always had a great love of food and drink?
Actually, no. My interest in beer was born out of a stereotypical ‘right of passage’ trip to Australia in 2007/2008 and I wouldn’t have been much of a beer drinker before that trip. The range of beers and diversity of styles there, and in New Zealand where I moved to next, opened my eyes to a world of flavour I didn’t know was even possible in beer. From there, one thing led to another.
Can you tell me about your own background in the drinks industry?
It’s short, but pretty colourful in fairness! My background is in media and marketing having studied Audio Visual Communications in what was then ITT Dublin, Tallaght. After getting my BA, I worked happily for 10 years in radio before my homebrewing hobby started to manifest into a business idea. I made a pretty unique (and much talked about) application to Rye River Brewing in Co. Kildare which led to me joining them as their Head of Digital Marketing.
Really, I knew I liked the idea of beer as a business, but I was also aware I needed to learn about the business of beer and I was able to do that in Rye River. At the time, that business was having to make some very difficult decisions and during one of their rounds of redundancies, my name was on the list, so the timeline had to get bumped up.
I finished with Rye River in December 2016 and I registered Dead Centre Brewing with the CRO in January 2017. We released our first beer under contract in September 2017.
Although we started talking about branching out from brewing and producing craft sodas even before the pandemic, lockdown was the first time I had to look at recipe development, branding etc, and it took the guts of two years to get our sister soft drinks operation, The Irish Craft Soda Co. and our first release – a small-batch handmade Lemonade – to market.
What inspired you to set up your business? Did you notice a gap in the market?
The Irish Craft Soda Co. is something that, for me at least, just made perfect sense. Already having the brewery operational means that we have all the equipment we need to create a high quality and consistent product in-house. The closer I looked at it, the more I thought the category had little to no life in it. With craft beers, there are new releases constantly, beers made in collaboration with other local producers, beers made specifically to use seasonal ingredients and that just hasn’t been the case with soft drinks. It seems completely stagnant, and that’s where we hope to make waves and disrupt the status quo.
How did you set up the business and how has it been growing over time?
I set it up slowly. It’s been a very slow burner, because I wanted to do it right. Straight off the bat, with the very hard work of the guys in Taste The View (our Dublin based distributors) and being a part of SuperValu’s Food Academy programme, the soda has out-performed and through the great support of a fantastic network of stockists, has been flying off the shelves. I’m very grateful to everyone that has helped make that happen.
Where do you source the ingredients used to make your product(s)?
Well, there aren’t many ingredients! Just water, sugar, citric acid and lemon juice. The lemon juice is really the star of the show and we’re lucky enough to source our juice directly from Spain, from an area located very close to the fruit fields. This means that the quality of the juice is far better than anything else we had sampled.
Can you tell me about some of the benefits associated with your product(s)?
I think the clarity of what goes in is the primary benefit. You don’t need a phD to read our ingredients list. We use four ingredients and that’s it. Also, a huge benefit in our eyes is the fact that it’s Irish and a family-run business. A decision to pick up a can of our soda helps to support the guys who provide our labels (Impact in Limerick), our cans (Bevcraft in Mullingar), our Co2 (Donoghue Air Products in Athlone), our couriers (Quinn Transport Athlone), our boxes (CavanBox in Cavan) and countless other Irish businesses.
How important has social media been for you in spreading the word?
We’ve been very lucky to already have an established following through Dead Centre Brewing and while not all of those followers will have a common interest, they’ve been a great help in spreading the good word of The Irish Craft Soda Co.
What makes your product unique?
It’s simplicity. We’re not out here trying to trick your taste buds with artificial flavours or your eyes with artificial colourings. What you see is what you get. There’s no messin’, it’s a hardcore soft drink!
Where can people get your product (shops, restaurants?)
We’re in select SuperValus now as part of their Food Academy programme and a great selection of independent stores across the country such as: Good Fish (Carrigaline), The Grindstone (Dublin), McCambridge’s (Galway), Russborough House (Wicklow), The Stuffed Olive (Bantry), The Book Centre (Waterford), and lots more.
What, do you think, are some of the most interesting dishes that have been created with your product? Do you have any favourites?
Something I’ve really liked not just because of the flavour, but because it’s so versatile, is a simple lemon drizzle. It’s a very simple mix of icing sugar and our lemonade and can be used on top of cookies, buns, donuts. Easy peasy.
Are there any other small Irish food producers you admire?
Several. We’re lucky enough to do some work (via the brewery) with BiaSol. They take brewers’ spent grains, dehydrate them, mill them and put them back into the food chain as milled grains as well as using them in lots of other great and really nutritious products.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced since going into business?
A very quick, very easy answer – the pandemic. The pandemic came along before The Irish Craft Soda Co., but had it taken out Dead Centre Brewing, which felt possible on more than one occasion, we certainly wouldn’t be creating kick-ass sodas right now.
What do you feel is your biggest achievement to date with this business?
I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved in a really short space of time since launching the soda. It’s the very small things that make you say wow sometimes. I grew up in Hollywood, Co. Wicklow. Five minutes up the road we had the beautiful Russborough House where we’d regularly go to visit their maze or playground as kids. Seeing the soda on the shelf there really made me smile!
Could you ever have imagined doing anything else with your life?
I’m a bit of a dreamer at the best of times. Genuinely, I could have wound up doing anything, just ask my wife!
What does the future hold for your business?
I really don’t know but I feel very positive. We already have plans in place for additional flavours that will be available year round and multipacks as well as a range of seasonal/limited edition sodas. Let’s get those hurdles cleared and we’ll see where the journey takes us.
Anything further to add?
Just ice and a wedge of lime Ha ha!