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luxury converted

Meet the Celtic Tiger builder with a micro-brewery in his swimming pool

As the downturn took hold, Liam Doyle realised his family swimming pool was a luxury he could no longer afford. He found a novel use for it.

THERE ARE, NO doubt, dozens of private swimming pools lying idle around Ireland — their owners having temporarily abandoned them to cobwebs and blowing leaves, as they await the economy’s return to full bloom.

The one attached to Liam Doyle’s detached home in rural County Wexford wasn’t empty for long, however.

Doyle — a former builder, based just outside the village of Blackwater — realised soon after the crash that keeping his pool was “a luxury I could no longer afford”.

Rather than simply pull the plug on the self-built structure — he found a novel new use for it. As of this month, it’s (probably) the only swimming-pool based micro-brewery in the country…

Beoir Ireland / Flickr Beoir Ireland / Flickr / Flickr

The brewery — located down a country lane just south of the village of Blackwater, and based in-and-around Liam’s family home — trades under the name ‘Jack Doyle’s‘.

“My youngest son is Jack. My father is Jack. My grandfather is Jack. So that’s where we got it’” Liam explains, as he shows around his smaller ‘test-brewery’.

When I named young Jack — it was because there was boxing in my background as well. There’s also Jack Doyle — the boxer from Cork — who would have been a hero of mine.

“You could say I went from a boxer to a builder to a brewer.”

It’s an exciting time for the nascent craft-brewery — the brand is already available in “15 or 16″ outlets around the county, including all local Supervalu stores and well known-restaurants like ‘The Yard’ on Wexford’s Main Street.

But, despite the recent surge in demand for craft-beers across the Irish market, the company’s been trying to stay “under the radar” prior to the completion of the larger, pool-based brewery.

We’re actually struggling to keep supply going to those outlets based on the small system…  We’ve been using what you’d call a starter brewery.

brew2 The bar at Jack Doyle's Beoir Ireland / Flickr Beoir Ireland / Flickr / Flickr

Though originally from the area, Liam grew up in London, where he ran his own sub-contracting company — at one point employing around 50 people.

He decided to move back around 20 years ago to raise his family, bought the plot of land near Blackwater, and — until the collapse of the Celtic Tiger — worked in the concrete industry, on a self-employed basis.

“We were very, very busy right up to the start of the crash. We ended up working 8 days a week — and then nothing, within a few months”

I just said, it’s not going to come back soon… Time for Plan B.

Once out of the building trade — it didn’t take much research for Liam to decide on what to do next.

At my age I said — well, no-one will employ me for a start because I’ve been working on my own since I was 21 or 22. So I thought I’ll have to start a new business.

“I thought that construction in this country was definitely gone within my lifetime.

“I started looking into different stuff…. I remembered in my youth in London, microbreweries were very popular in the early 1980s.

I’d also seen the fact — which is quite widely known now — that microbrewers get a 50 per cent rebate on duty… So I said, ‘right this has got to have legs’.

Doug Taylor — a friend who also has a background in construction — came on board to help set up the company, and they embarked on the project together.

“We didn’t have much money, so we decided to teach ourselves to brew.

I went on a short brewing course, then myself and Douglas and Jack went on one.

They decided to brew on the small system as they tested their products — eventually doing deals with local outlets to get their beers to market.

From the start, however, the plan was to move to a larger production space…

For a lot of people, scaling-up is a problem… So we said — so to speak — we’ll try and scale-up before we start if we can.

Instead of a weekly output of 400 litres, Jack Doyle’s will will be brewing 6,000 a week in the new, pool-based facility.

Long-established Wexford company Lett’s  has come on board as a distributor, and Liam says they’ve had “tonnes” of support locally from the likes of Wexford Rural Development, Wexford Local Enterprise and Enterprise Ireland.

It’s all taken a little longer to get going than Liam and Doug would have hoped — but, with the completion of the new system, the pair expect to be hiring up to seven people within the next year or so.

“It’s taken four years to get off the ground and get the big one done… We had taken on a few people before but we had to put them on temporary lay-off.”

Beoir Ireland / Flickr Beoir Ireland / Flickr / Flickr

Fortunately, they’ve been able to use that time to build up their brewing skills.

Neither Liam nor Doug had any experience in the area before venturing into the craft beer sector — but they were able to quietly make their mistakes in private, before sending their product out for public consumption.

Says Doug, “It’s a logical process… It’s similar to construction in a way. You have to have your foundations right, and then you build from there… It’s following recipes, times and temperatures.

“When you’re finding a new recipe, that’s where some of the fun comes in, with different hops and things like that.

That’s the advantage of having the smaller system —  we can use if to test brews of 250 litres or whatever before moving production next door.

The company will be stepping up output in 2015 as their pool-based system swings into production.

And — as Liam notes — the choice of location isn’t as bizarre as it might initially sound.

It’s entirely practical when you think about it — it’s excellent for drainage.

Read: Five Irish Christmas brews — reviewed by people who don’t normally do this sort of thing for a living

Read: Have a Hoppy Christmas! Some beers to try over the festive season…

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