Costello’s Brewing in Kilkenny offers food for thought

Not only is Costello’s Brewing Company in Kilkenny selling 95pc of its beer locally and is now eyeing its export potential, the company is reviving traditional methods with a focus on diet and natural ingredients.

The co-founder of Costello’s Brewing Company Gerald Costello is very clear in his answer when I ask him why he wanted to go into the brewing business with his wife Gabrielle. “It was food.”

When we think of beer we think of it as a beverage. But when Gerald thinks of beer he thinks of diet and natural ingredients and natural form.

“Brewing is 100pc science. Everything is a chemical reaction”

In a previous life Gerald served as a financial director of various businesses and enjoyed many years playing rugby. During a coaching course with the IRFU in Dublin he noticed how professional players saw a ten-fold improvement in their performance by simply getting their diet right.

“I believe that across the board, if we all ate better quality food we would be healthier as a nation and globally as well. The biggest problem is the food we eat today is highly processes and not in its natural state. So we brew beer on the principle that eating the apple, for example, is better for you than drinking the juice that is squeezed from the same apple.”

To illustrate his point, Costello points out that white bread is not real bread in its natural state; instead coloured white to meet a generally-held aesthetic required in the market.

He is a wise man who invented beer – Plato

Man standing with a bottle of beer in front of beer kegs.

Gerald Costello, co-founder of Costello’s Brewing Company. Image: John Kennedy

So when it comes to beer, Costello believes that the market has been miseducated and that reviving beer in the way it was made for millennia is the correct course.

The hunch has paid off in careful attention to detail the whole way from the malt to the grist, thee yeast, the fermentation and the final conditioning of the beer.

After helping turn a local business around financially to the point where it was profitable, Costello wanted to work on something that fitted his passions. In doing so, he has helped to revive Kilkenny’s traditional beer-brewing industry once led by local Franciscan friars and popular brands like Smithwicks.

“I knew it was going to be a food-related business. The local brewery was closing and we did our research and realised there was a huge opportunity around Kilkenny’s history of brewing. After eventually finding a premises we started brewing beer in 2014 and our first beer was a red ale.

“We produce three types of beer throughout the year. Our method is akin to how you would produce wine in that its about minimal intervention.”

Another opportunity came when Gerald discovered he had a natural resistance to wheat in his diet and started investigating other ingredients such as spelt instead of wheat.

“What we discovered was that spelt operates in completely different ways to wheat and what it does it reduces the sugar content in the beer, resulting in what we believe is the lowest calorie beer in the country.

“Brewing is 100pc science. Everything is a chemical reaction – the grains, the enzymes, fermentation – original brewing emerged as a way to cleanse water and make it drinkable.

“We pride ourselves on only using natural ingredients and brewing beer naturally. It means a longer lead time – six weeks to brew – compared with the mass market equivalent which is probably less than a third of that time.”

It is fascinating to note that to date 95pc of Costello’s Brewing Company’s produce is sold locally in Kilkenny, but that could be about to change as the founders explore opportunities to sell their beer with local supermarket chains as well as markets in Russia, Germany, France, the UK and more. The first exported products will ship in February.

The brewery was a supplier to the recent Bank of Ireland National Enterprise Town Awards in the nearby Lyrath Estate.

“Their mottos is ‘it takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a country to raise a brewery’,” said Deirdre Shine, branch manager for Kilkenny City & County at Bank of Ireland. “It is amazing that Gerald and Gabrielle sell 95pc of their products locally to the Kilkenny Community. They are very much involved with Taste Kilkenny where Kilkenny food producers band together under the ‘Taste Kilkenny’ brand to collectively market the county’s food products.”

Costello maintains that food is his passion and fostering the local food producer ecosystem in Kilkenny is a top priority. He sits on the steering group of the Kilkenny food strategy group.

“I believe there is a huge opportunity for Kilkenny’s food producers as well as hospitality providers like hotels, restaurants and bars to increase business around getting local products consumed. The region has great food from beetroot to trout to beer, bread, spirits and meat. If you had to define Kilkenny for anything, it would be its food.

“There are hundreds of food producers in Kilkenny. If you ask me what lit the fire for me, it was the farmers and the land.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 19 December, 2019