The Sligo Brewery Heading the Irish Craft Beer Revolution – The White Hag Brewery Story
The White Hag Irish Brewing Company is an award winning craft brewery from Sligo, lead by a young team of Irish entrepreneurs and 2 brewers from Ohio, US. Since their beginnings back in 2014, they’ve grown rapidly and achieved recognition for the quality of their unique beers.
In just three years, they’ve managed to place their products in numerous pubs, retailers and hospitality venues across Ireland, as well as in 12 countries including Italy, the UK, France, Russia, Germany and China. Currently, 35% of their production is exported.
They’ve also achieve prestigious accolades including being voted the Best New Irish Brewery 2015 by Global ratings platform ratebeer.com and scoring 7 medals at the Dublin Craft Beer Cup in February 2016.
We recently spoke with Paul Mullin (MD) and Joe Kearns (Master brewer) of The White Hag Brewery about their craft, their story and the current status of the Irish craft beer movement.
Regarding the name of the brewery, Paul explains that “the White Hag is a mythical character and entity, who is essentially Mother Nature.”
They took inspiration in Irish lore and believe that “mythology represents Ireland and Irishness like no other aspect of our culture, and we see it as a credible way to present our brand of brewing and beers.”
As a proud member of the Sligo food and drink community, the company has strong local ties and is popular with visitors as well. “We employ local people, supply the local community and attract tourism to our area, as well as supporting local community and industry events”, says Paul.
Sligo is a fantastic area to be based in, and we have a lot of local support. The main reason for our exact location is actually the water from Lough Talt, which is just the right balance for making great beers.”
Regarding what makes their brewery special, master brewer Joe Kearns, who came from Ohio to become a core member of the White Hag team, points out how they’ve developed beers “that have their heritage in ancient Ireland but also beers that have their heritage in other countries, such as Kolch’s from Cologne, Belgian style beers and IPA’s.”
Our ambition is to be the best Irish Craft Brewery in the World, and we’re well on our way to achieving that having been awarded the Beoir Irish Brewery of the Year award in 2017.”
For Paul, the Irish craft beer scene has experienced a welcomed diversification over the last few years, “when Joe first got here in January 2014, most, if not all breweries, were extremely conservative. We’re seeing a lot more experimentation now, which is what this whole craft thing is all about really.”
Regarding the topic of big brands venturing into the craft beer world with varying degrees of transparency, Paul acknowledges its “a constant struggle with no clear answer” and he puts his hopes in craft beer drinkers to make the right decision.
We believe in true Capitalism – create a superior product at a reasonable price; be as transparent and ethical as you can, and hope the consumer has morals of their own.”
Where do you grab inspiration for new brews?
Joe: “Inspiration comes from all around. Travelling, trying new foods, new beers, talking to other brewers; collaborating with them, all of these things keep the creative juices flowing.”
He spent the last year travelling and learning about wine, wondering how to translate the wealth of sensations this drink produces into craft beer. Factors like the use of barrels, the influence of the terrain and the fruit variety are among the elements of wine that fascinate Joe.
How do you manage to create brand loyalty in a market that always wants to try something new?
Paul: “By consistently offering delicious beer, great experiences with our brewery and our people, and ensuring we have a range that appeals to everyone.”
When asked if the Irish craft beer scene is still in its expansion phase or if has it has reached a point where consolidating what’s existing becomes more important, Paul mentions that according to recent figures, craft beer accounts for just 2% of the total beer comsuption in Ireland. “That leaves 98% of beer drinkers left to convert.” With that in mind, he’s confident there’s still plenty of room.
What I believe will happen is what happens in any market: as more and more breweries enter the scene, which they will, competition increases and breweries will either make a superior product, or fail.”
How do craft brewers manage to balance cooperation and competition between each other?
Paul: “In general, the competition between craft brewers is imaginary. We aren’t competing against each other per se, we are competing with the large conglomerate breweries. They are doing everything in their power to crush this revolution. I think it’s important not to lose sight of this, and to continue doing what we have been doing.”
Joe: “We cooperate and collaborate with other small independent brewers all the time. It’s fun, and it helps each brewery get their name out there as well.”
What advise from what you’ve learned would you give to your “Day 1” self?
Paul: “Be patient! The brewery and beer world is about longevity… It takes time to brew a world class beer… it takes time to build a world class brewery!”
Both Paul and Joe agree on the fact that the biggest joy they take from their work is to see people enjoying The White Hag Brewery beers. Joe recalls being in Glastonbury this year, bumping into a group drinking White Hag cans and experiencing great happiness knowing that they were making his brews part of a memorable experience.
Regarding the biggest headache, they are aware they face the best of problems: “Managing the rapid growth of the brewery!”, says Paul, who also sees the situation as their biggest excitement but knows it’s not a hassle-free endeavor: “This involves things such as sourcing equipment for expansion, finding the cash required to allow it, hiring new employees and growing new markets.”
This year they’ll be focusing in growing their barrel programme. As we speak, they’re just a few days away from celebrating their third anniversary and the plan is to launch the first tasting from their barrels on July 29th at their birthday festival, better known as Hagstravaganza.
By the time you read this, the 23 breweries from 11 countries will be back home and the 60 beers never before tasted in Ireland will be in the attendees’ memory, but entering their 4th year, The White Hag Brewery will surely continue to excite craft beer lovers with innovation and world class quality.
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.