Maeve Sheridan of Western Herd talks about brewing beer on a hilltop in Clare, the inspirational Irish food and drink scene and how mistakes make you stronger.
This is how we started
I was working in Luxembourg for a large American bank in risk and compliance. I lived there for nearly seven years, and with Germany and Belgium twenty minutes away in different directions, I was surrounded by great beer and loved trying new styles and regional varieties.
Over a few beers at Christmas, my brother Michael suggested converting a haybarn on our family farm into a brewery. Michael, a civil engineer by trade, was managing a busy bar in Dublin after being made redundant from his engineering job during the recession and he could see how craft beers were growing in popularity.
“There is something unique about brewing beer on a hilltop farm on the West coast of Ireland using fresh farm spring water.”
We noticed that there was no one in Clare brewing beer. Nearly every other county had a brewery in 2014, and with Clare’s growing reputation as a foodie destination and with over a million visitors to the county annually, there was a need for a locally produced beer.
As well as being the only commercial brewer in Clare, there is something unique about brewing beer on a hilltop farm on the West coast of Ireland using fresh farm spring water as our main ingredient.
“We plan to open a visitor centre and tasting room so we can start running brewery tours and sell directly to the public from the farm.”
Funding the business and our growth plans
After seven years in Luxembourg, we had saved a bit of money. We approached the banks, but in 2014, no one was lending. We got a grant from the Local Enterprise Office in Clare, and family members got on board to get the doors open.
The craft beer market in Ireland is small and highly competitive. We knew we had an untapped market in Clare so with everything being sold within 50 miles of the brewery; we could focus on production without worrying about distribution.
We also focused on validating our product by winning two gold stars at the Great Taste awards and two silver Blas na hEireann awards, while building our reputation online.
Now we have a stable production and a proven market offering; we are ready to venture outside the county border.
We know we are not going to get a line in a pub, so we are looking at the off-license trade nationally, to begin with, and next year we will be looking to export.
We also have plans to open a visitor centre and tasting room so that we can start running brewery tours and sell directly to the public from the farm.
“Running your own business is tough. The highs are high, but the lows can be crushing.”
What helped us most along the way?
We received a lot of help from the Local Enterprise Office here in Clare. Not only have we received financial support, but we have also done a lot of their courses and availed of their mentoring services.
We also got great support from our family. Our father successfully ran his own business for years and had loads of practical advice. Then we have recruited brothers, sisters, spouses, and cousins in for everything from bartending, beer deliveries to bouncing.
“There are so many amazing people doing so many wonderful things in Ireland at the moment, you don’t have to look very far to be inspired.”
If we were to do it all over again, what would we do differently?
Maybe the question should be if we were to do it all over again, would we do it at all. Running your own business is tough. The highs are high, but the lows can be crushing. There are loads of things we would do differently. Some small mundane things, some big catastrophic mistakes but you learn from it, and all you can do is keep going.
Who inspires us?
We sought inspiration from anywhere and everywhere when we were starting off.
We were constantly watching Nationwide and Ear to the Ground to see what other people were doing from Sandra and Joe with their vegetable crisps to the Lynchs making Irish buffalo mozzarella. There are so many amazing people doing so many wonderful things in Ireland at the moment; you don’t have to look very far to be inspired.
We completed the Food Academy with SuperValu and made some great friends who inspire us all the time. They own local businesses who experience the same struggles balancing work and family. Sometimes all you need is a friendly ear and cup of coffee, and things don’t seem so bad.