Brewing up a storm

Business | Fri 17 Oct | Author – Anne Whelton
Niall Phelan and Alan Wolfe, McGargles

Since establishing Rye River Brewing Company in 2013, co-founders Niall Phelan and Alan Wolfe have been on a roller-coaster ride, scooping awards and prestige at every turn.

Niall Phelan and Alan Wolfe have extensive experience working in the drinks industry having set up the Molson Coors Irish business in 2009, growing it to 85 people in just three years.

In October 2013, it was time for a new challenge, and with €1.5m seed capital, the duo invested in building a brewery in Kilcock, Co. Kildare, on a site that goes back to 1595 for brewing, and established Rye River Brewing Company which brews the craft beer McGargles. “The brewery is built in its entirety in Ireland, so as well as being the oldest brewery in Ireland it’s the first commercial brewery − to our knowledge − built in Ireland in over 100 years,” Phelan explains.

Now, 12 months on from start-up, and the Rye River/McGargles brand is thriving. The company currently provides employment for 17 people with plans to fill an additional 13 vacancies in the coming months, and is stocked in all major retailers and off licences around the country. Rye River has also won a number of awards recently, including seven silver medals and one bronze at the International Beer Challenge in London.

Standing out from the crowd

McGarglesAccording to Phelan and Wolfe, a key to the success of McGargles has been the strength and memorability of the brand. “The McGargles brand is based on a dysfunctional Irish family, so every beer in the brand is a character,” says Phelan.

“During the design process, we were very clear about how we wanted it to look; it was important for us that the brand stand out on the shelf. It’s something we’ve also carried through with our beer taps in pubs. So while a lot of beers have tall, chrome, stylish taps, the McGargles tap is wooden and looks a bit ridiculous, but because it’s the opposite to everything else on the counter, it stands out.”

Of course it’s not just about the look of the beer that matters, and because all McGargles beers only use four ingredients − water, hops, barley and wheat − the beer has a distinct and natural flavour.

At home and abroad

Brewing in Ireland is booming from both a national and export perspective. Phelan attributes this to Irish people getting more in touch with who we are as a nation. “Over the past three or four years, I think we’ve realised that buying local is important and creates jobs, and from our perspective you can see that coming through with retailers and publicans. In brewing in particular, we’re seeing an explosion of micro breweries and it’s good to see these new businesses getting support.”

Assisted by this positive culture at home, it wasn’t long before Phelan and Wolfe decided to dip their toes into international water. Luckily, this leap into the unknown paid off and McGargles now exports to the UK, Europe, and the US.

So now that they have established a strong national and international brand, what’s next for Rye River and McGargles. “We’re in the process of developing five or six new beers and are currently matching these new beers to McGargles family personas,” says Phelan. ”We also plan on inceasing our tap numbers and have plans to develop a museum at the Kilcock site for beer enthusiasts.” Busy times indeed for the entrepreneurial duo.