By @SimonCocking. Interesting startup insights with Grainne Walsh The iron lady from MetalMan Brewing

What is your background briefly?

I graduated from UL with a BSc in Applied Mathematics and Computing more years ago than I like to think about, and I didn’t really have a plan for what I wanted to after that, so I more or less fell into IT at that point. I worked for a number of different multinational tech companies and followed a network engineering route. I interspersed my tech career with stints in a campervan in Europe, which is partly what led me into my love of beer.

Does it seem a logical path to what you do now?

Not especially! But I’m a firm believer that every time you do something new, you learn something about yourself, and I definitely learned a lot about myself over the years. While it might have been nicer to get started in the beer industry a bit younger than I am, I don’t think that that market was mature enough, and I am not sure I would have been mature enough either!

1 min pitch for what you are doing now?

I run a microbrewery based in Waterford called Metalman Brewing, we make delicious beers with interesting ingredients for eclectic people!

Where does the name come from?

Ah, the name! It comes from a navigational aid on the coastline a few miles from Waterford city where we’re based – it’s been there for heading on 200 years, and is the figure of a man on top of a pillar – his purpose is to keep seafarers on the right course, and point them in the direction of Waterford harbour. He’s locally knows as the Metalman!

Image result for metalman waterford

Why did you go into beer?

I really do love beer. There’s a social aspect to enjoying a couple of beers with my friends that makes me very content. As I traveled over the years, visiting different breweries to dig into the historic roots of beer from that place really highlighted to me the wide variety of beer that’s out there – back in Ireland it really felt like we were restricted to the choice of yellow/red/black – take your pick and be quick about it! But for me, that’s not what beer is about – it’s about people and ingredients and relaxing and talking and flavour, and all of these things are reflected in the microbrewing industry – it’s a really collaborative and friendly industry to work in.

How is it going? 

We love beer and we love what we do, and we try to bring every inch of this into our beers and our brand – we try to give people an engaging beery experience, it’s can’t be just about the beer, it has to be about the whole experience. We’re fun and adventurous, and we build this into everything we do, we’re not afraid to experiment with flavour, even when people scratch their heads at the idea of drinking a beer with sage and white pepper in it – trust me, it works!

How do you avoid the potential pitfalls for the Irish craft beer Renaissance

As microbrewers, we are very much under threat from the behemoth global companies that dominate the beer industry. They’re afraid of what we do, so they try everything they can to muscle in on us and overpower us – they undermine what we do, they try to copy what we do, they buy our breweries and brands, they try to buy loyalty from retailers – all to try and keep hold of their market dominance. It’s a very oppressive market to compete in, but as an industry, we are strongest together, so we collaborate and we celebrate our independence and we talk to our customers like the real people they are, rather than preaching at them about the brands they should choose. Staying engaged with our customers is the only way we will be able to survive.

What is the potential of craft beer tourism – locally and nationally

The potential for craft beer tourism in Ireland is immense. We are contacted all the time by people who want to call into our brewery to take a tour and sample some beers fresh from the brewery floor, but the licence restrictions that have been placed on us mean that we can’t easily engage in these activities. We’re only allowed to sell wholesale quantities (a keg, or 3 cases of 24 beers) to individuals, so there’s no such thing as being able to call into the brewery and buy a 6-pack. (It’s completely out of line with the government’s responsible drinking policies as well – I can’t sell you a 6-pack, but I can sell you a 72-pack!) We’re currently fighting for the right to be able to sell what we produce during normal trading hours (10am-6pm) which would allow us to come up with a sensible offering for tourists, rather than bringing people in on a tour and then refusing to sell them beer at the end of it, which is how it stands at the moment, and just makes Ireland look a bit ridiculous. Over 8 million people visited independent breweries in the U.S. in 2014 – it’s a huge number, and shows what could happen if our hands weren’t tied. It would also be a great benefit to us from a marketing perspective – I don’t have a marketing budget for professionally produced video ads or full-page newspaper spreads or billboards, but I do have a fantastic range of beers produced at a great brewery with a cracking team of people, so if I were allowed to invite people in to Metalman Brewing to show them this in a meaningful way, it would really allow us to showcase the brewery’s personality and vibrancy. That will then bring people to the area, and when they’re finished their tour, we send them off into the city to eat, drink and be merry – it’s a win win all round. We’re really optimistic that the government and the publican community will see this and help champion these changes through.

Is Asia – the next big frontier for Irish beer or somewhere else ?

The Asian beer market is massive, and has seen strong growth in recent years. For us though, we’re making an unfiltered, unpasteurised product, so our beers are really best when drank fresh. The shipping time to a lot of Asian markets means that a good chunk of the window for when our beers are at their absolute best would be spent in a shipping container at sea, so while we are looking at the Asian market for sure, we need to tread carefully and have a solid plan.

What can we look forward to from Metalman?

We still work closely with the tech industry because of my background, so there’s almost always something in the background there. At the moment we’re planning a hackathon event for late July, partnered up with Red Hat and based on brewery applications of IoT hardware, so that should be fun! We’ve got a festival planned for September in partnership with the Waterford Harvest festival, and then of course there are always a few new beers on the horizon somewhere.

Anything else we should have asked ?

As part of a drive to help highlight the wealth and variety of Independent Irish Beer, the industry is coordinating “Indie Beer Week” at the end of June to raise the profile of the nation’s independent breweries, small and large! Details will be rolling out shortly here  and breweries will be opening up their doors and inviting their local community in to see where the magic happens 🙂


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