Paddy’s family have been farming for generations in Killeshin, Co. Laois. The tradition goes on as the barley from their home farm is used to produce their own craft beer called 12 Acres Pale Ale. It was their great-grandparents, John and Annie McDonald, who added the 12 Acres field to the family holding back in the 1920’s and it has been farmed by their family ever since. In fact, John and Annie are featured throughout their branding and labels.
Paddy became familiar with craft beers during his trek around the world in 2008. After 18 months around the world with his then girlfriend and now wife Aisling, they decided to come home in 2010. Unfortunately, the economy was still in the doldrums and Paddy felt he needed to do something different and he looked to the farm for inspiration. He discussed some ideas with his three brothers Rory, Barry and Ian as to how they could utilise the valuable raw materials right in front of them. They now have followed in their family footsteps and the four brothers set up the 12 Acres Brewing Company where they produce an award-winning fine Pale Ale.
Paddy is a qualified brewer after attending an intensive training course run by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. He began developing his own recipes testing them out on family and friends. The 12 Acres Brewing Company is the only craft brewer in Ireland who sources the malted barley for their Pale Ale directly from their own family farm in Killeshin. Water makes up 95% of the raw material in any beer and they source their spring water from their very own underground aquifer, a deep underground well with a natural filtration process. “All of this adds to the unique taste of the 12 Acres Pale Ale”, says Paddy. “You can really taste the difference”. The 12 Acres Brewing Company is also the only brewing company in Ireland that can give traceability for the malting barley used to brew their beer. They have a unique partnership with Minch Malt, Ireland’s leading malt producer, who agreed to malt their barley separately for 12 Acres making a truly unique Laois product.
Paddy raised the start-up funds from a combination of personal funds, loans from family, a small bank loan and a start-up grant from The Local Enterprise Office, which was used for creating branding material. There are plans to set up their own microbrewery on the farm in Killeshin in 2016. However, in the meantime they brew their beer in small batches at a microbrewery in Cork using their own malted barley and spring water.
When Paddy started the Brewers Training Course the first thing the Master Brewer told them was that brewing is about three things; Sale, Sales and Sales’. Paddy recalls now how right he was because in his first year it was all about selling their product. To take in a draft craft beer into a pub means that they have to remove another draft beer and there is real selling involved to make this happen. Paddy knocked on a lot of doors around the Laois, Carlow and Kilkenny area and he said what motivated him to do this was his belief in his product. Paddy’s persistence paid off as he is now listed in over 50 Pubs and Restaurants and over 80 Off-Licenses.
While Paddy is delighted with this success in just one year in business, they are never complacent. “We are still only starting out and have a long way to go to get fully established, “says Paddy. “But we have had a great start so hopefully things will progress from here”.
Being in a market, which is dominated by global companies, Paddy knew he had to invest in marketing and branding his product. He knew there needed to be a consistent message around the integrity of the products as you only get one chance to make that vital first impression. Paddy also loves meeting his customers and conducting in-store tastings where he has an opportunity to listen to their feedback. He finds that these work very well for increasing sales as people get to taste before they buy and they always buy once they taste.
One of the proudest moments for the 12 Acres Brewing Company was when they won the Bronze Medal at the Alltech Dublin Craft Beer Cup in 2015. Initially Paddy entered to get some feedback, as they were blind tastings carried out by Master Brewers. Their product was in the Pale Ale category competing with beers from all over the world so it was a massive achievement to win this award at such an early stage.
Introducing a microbrewery to the farm in the near future will increase their capacity as demand grows for their product and allow the development of a range of craft beer styles. While they will continue to expand in Ireland working with wholesalers, it is their intention to look at the export market, starting with UK and mainland Europe.
ONE piece of advice Paddy would give to someone just starting out. Be prepared for the knocks and challenges when it comes to selling. You need a lot of perseverance, patience and determination and it will pay off in the end.