Barry O’Neill is one of three brothers who started O Brother Brewing back in 2011. Seven years on, he takes stock.
You had a “meeting of minds” back in 2011 and decided to chuck in the 9 to 5 in favour of craft beer. Do you still remember that moment and what was going through your heads at the time?
I think there was a real sense of excitement and adventure about our decision – with a little bit of fear sprinkled in too!! Craft beer in Ireland was really getting going, and as passionate beer drinkers, we were really starting to get excited, for the first time, about beers that were being produced by Irish breweries, rather than the US for example. We all had secure, comfortable jobs and while we were itching to get out and really be able to dedicate ourselves to something we passionately believed in we had no guarantee that it would work, or that we would be able to work well together.
Looking back, three years on from launch in 2014, it’s certainly been one hell of a ride! Even now every day brings something new, something interesting and we absolutely love it! And in this industry we get to work with some of the best people you could ever hope to meet, day in day out, which is amazing.
How was 2017 for you guys? What dominant and unexpected trends did you notice in the industry?
2017 was great for O Brother. It was certainly an interesting year for the craft beer industry, with the mega-breweries getting involved in an even bigger way, rolling out more and more faux-craft brands into the market, which puts increasing pressure on genuine, independent, micro-breweries in terms of getting shelf or tap-space for their own beer. We often joke that some of these ‘craft’ beers are coming from breweries who brew the equivalent of our entire annual production eight times each and every day! But it muddies the waters for the consumer, which is the intention of course. It blurs the lines between what is genuine craft beer and what is carefully crafted marketing from the big boys, and clearing that confusion up is something that small breweries have to focus more than ever on! We’re lucky – in 2017 we produced more new beers, and we’ve been under more pressure than ever to get beer out the door, and thankfully that only looks to increase in 2018!
How many beers have they brought to the market to date? Is the push to keep producing new beers something out of choice or market pressure?
Including our collaboration beers, we have released 23 beers over the past three years – which is actually relatively few compared with some of our more hyper-productive friends at other Irish breweries!
For us, we absolutely love the whole process of coming up with a new beer. It usually starts over a beer (no surprises there!), kicking ideas around for the style, what our twist on it will be, the recipe, the names and the characters for the artwork, the excitement of the first brew and then the wait to see how it all turns out at the end. And that’s only the start of it. Once the beer leaves the brewery and makes its way out into the world it starts all over again as people head out and experience the new beer for the first time. We have absolutely loved all the beers we have made, but there’s always that sense of holding your breath, waiting to see what all of our customers think of it, which is what really counts at the end of the day.
The push to create new beers is something that always drove us, and I think drives all of the passionate brewers we know. It brings energy and excitement and fun and it’s pretty much why we all got into this!
At the same time there’s always a time when you want to reach for a great straight-up go-to beer, so our core beers are our go-to’s.
We’re a small brewery so sometimes it’s tough to keep up with demand for our core beers which we have available in bottles, and we don’t have enough capacity to produce as many of the specials and one-off’s as we would like, but that’s part of it!
What is your target audience?
Everyone and anyone who loves great beer, and who is open to loving great beer!
A favourite Irish and international craft beer besides your range?
Wow, too many to name and certain to leave some important ones out here, but off the top of my head – YellowBelly, Whiplash, White Hag, Galway Bay, Eight Degrees are some of the top Irish breweries we’ve been drinking of late, and never fail to deliver. With the standard of beer being produced by the likes of these guys we drink pretty much exclusively Irish beer now…
What is your main focus for the year ahead?
Our focus will always be on the beer – how to keep making really great new beers and continually improving the beers we have. We have a tonne of really exciting new beers to roll out in 2018, and we will be running more events throughout the year too which will be great fun so keep an eye out for details of those events in the New Year!
Images: Alan Rowlette