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Facebook/Wicklow Wolf Brewing Company

'We started with no customers and a limited supply of beer and staff': How Wicklow Wolf became a homegrown success

And how they spread the ‘gospel of craft beer’ along the way.

IF YOU’VE EVER held a can of Wicklow Wolf’s Locavore, you’ve had in your hands one of the country’s only beers that is made with 100% Irish ingredients, using hops grown in Wicklow, Irish malt and yeast and water from, you guessed it – Wicklow.

It started as a passion project for the team (most likely influenced by their big focus on sustainability), which is incidentally the same way that the successful brewing company began too.

Quincey Fennelly had cut his teeth (canines?) in the drinks industry and had been part of the team at Ballygowan when it was starting out in 1986 – and there weren’t many who believed in the idea of selling water: “I always wanted to get back to that life of new frontiers, breaking new ground and building something from scratch.”

When he moved to San Francisco for almost six years with his wife, he used the opportunity to homebrew in their basement. “The craft beer scene was much more advanced there.” When he had a chance, he also spent a lot of time in Colorado, which Quincey calls the “mecca of craft beer in America”.

The idea…

When he returned, he first spent time looking after his two kids and quickly realised he did not want to go back into the corporate life that he came out of. He had also gotten frustrated at the lack of choice in beer in Ireland: “I knew lots of people like me who wanted something a little more adventurous than plain old mass-produced beer.”

As a hobby, he had started homebrewing with a friend he had met at the school gates – Simon Lynch. When he asked Lynch if he would be interested in starting a microbrewery, Lynch jumped at the chance. The two found a location in an old bakery behind a cafe in Bray and in September 2014, they started brewing.

So, then what?

The early days…

It wasn’t exactly plain sailing from day one, says Fennelly:

The early days were tough obviously. You’re starting from a position of having no customers, a limited supply of beer and very little in terms of staff – just myself, Simon and our brewer Pete.

So, Fennelly used his advantage – connections to the drinks industry. He contacted his friends in the business and asked for a chat. Fortunately, the local publicans were extremely supportive to the new brewery: “The local support we got and still get in Bray is phenomenal.”

51677705_956390017885402_6068314521779306496_o Facebook / Wicklow Wolf Brewing Company Facebook / Wicklow Wolf Brewing Company / Wicklow Wolf Brewing Company

How did he understand what Irish customers want when it comes to beer? Fennelly says that in the last few years, our consumers have gone from knowing virtually nothing about beer to a group of hardcore craft beer fans that are “hungry for more experiences”. And once they move to craft beer, they don’t tend to go back. He explains:

In my experience, people say that when you drink mainstream beers, it’s very rarely the topic of conversation – with craft beer it often is.

A lone wolf

As a result of this, many microbreweries have opened up across the country. So, what makes Wicklow Wolf different? Ironically, it was the success of mainstream beers that helped the brewery with their USP – growing their own hops. Three miles west of the brewery is a 10-acre farm that used to be used to supply Guinness, many decades ago.

At the minute, they’re opening a second premises – a 17,000 square foot brewhouse and taproom in Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow. Here they use only 100% renewable electricity, and minimise their water use as much as possible. And just this month, Wicklow Wolf will leave behind their bottles for cans – another move for sustainability:

Crafting new cubs

Though he knew the drinks industry well, the world of social media and communicating with customers was “a whole new world” for Fennelly. Wicklow Wolf often has collaborations with other brands (such as Java Republic and Yellowbelly), and are stocked by other international beer brands, such as Scotland’s BrewDog.

He explains: “It’s about exposing ourselves to other people’s customers too, and spreading the gospel of craft beer as wide as we can.” A huge part of that is having strong, reliable connectivity at all times – the team have a VOOM plan with Virgin Media,  something that Fennelly says “has been very much pivotal to us in reaching our customers as quick as possible, in the best way possible.”

Fennelly shares how in a modern world there is access to consumers for so many companies: “It’s a major competitive background, and it’s really important you build the best relationship you can with customers. A great provider develops and enhances that.”

So, what’s the future for Wicklow Wolf?

We don’t have to be the biggest brewer in the world – but we can be among the nicest and the most sustainable. We want people to enjoy themselves whether they’re working with us or drinking it at home.

Ashville Media Group / Vimeo

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