Guaranteed Irish member Ballykilcavan Brewing Company was founded in 2016 by husband and wife David and Lisa Walsh-Kemmis. The company was named the most innovative business in Laois in the 2018 National Enterprise Awards and the best startup business of the year in Co. Laois in the 2019 awards. The company’s beers won 6 medals in the 2019 Dublin Craft Beer Cup, are on sale nationally and are exported to Northern Ireland, France and Italy.
David Walsh-Kemmis, Founder and Managing Director at Ballykilcavan Brewing Company talks challenges, bestselling beers, new export markets, and much more.
Can you tell us a bit about Ballykilcavan Brewing Company?
We’re based on my family farm at Ballykilcavan, just outside Stradbally in Co. Laois. My wife and I set the company up in 2016, really as a way of diversifying the farm. Ballykilcavan has been in my family for 13 generations since 1639, and we want to make sure that we keep it going and are able to hand it on in at least as good a position as it was in when we took over.
We brew a wide range of beers, from a red ale, stout and lager to more modern styles with fruit and lots of hops. The aim is to have at least one beer that everyone likes, and hopefully a lot more than that.
What are the challenges that you face in your business and how do you work to overcome them particularly in the current climate?
Until the start of the pandemic, the main challenge we had was trying to stand out against all the other beer options. We’re competing with all the other craft breweries, but also the big breweries with their almost limitless buying and marketing power. For us, the first thing is to make sure that the beer is really good, and then it’s about telling our story of the history of the farm and how we make our beers from our own barley that we grow on the farm and our own well water from the 18th century farmyard just behind the brewery.
Since March of last year, the main trick has been trying to work out when to brew for draft and when to brew for small pack (bottles and cans). We’ve found that cans have worked particularly well over the last year: they’re lighter and more robust than bottles, so they’re much easier to ship from our online stockists.
Have you seen an increased demand for craft beer in Ireland in recent years?
There’s definitely been a shift in favour of craft beer over the last year. I think with people being stuck at home and ordering beer online, they’ve been looking to try something new, and we’ve definitely seen people trying our beers for the first time over the last twelve months.
What is the bestselling beer from your range, and what is your personal favourite Ballykilcavan beer?
Asking me to pick my favourite Ballykilcavan beer is like asking me to pick my favourite child! To be honest, it varies depending on anything from the weather to what I’m having to eat with it. Coming into the summer, I’ll probably be drinking more of the pale ales – the likes of our Lineblocker and Millhouse beers, and also our Secret Passion, which is made with peach and passion fruit, and is great on a hot day. Once we get back into the autumn, I’ll be back on the red and brown ales and the stout.
One beer that always surprises me in terms of sales is our Bambrick’s Brown Ale. Brown ales really aren’t a trendy beer style, but they’re a lovely easy drinking malty beer, and ours has always done very well for us.
What made you decide to become a member of Guaranteed Irish?
For us, it was very much a part of the story and of standing out in a crowded market. We’re using our own Irish barley and water to make all our beers, and it just seemed like a good fit to get that recognised. Guaranteed Irish has been an iconic brand for as long as I remember, so it’s a great privilege to be a part of it, and it definitely has helped sales not only in Ireland, but also abroad, where anything that strengthens our Irish identity really helps.
What can we expect for Ballykilcavan Brewing Company in the future?
We’re expanding production all the time, which is great to see. At this stage, most of that is being driven by new export markets in Europe, and it’s a real thrill to see the beers on a bar counter in Avignon or Milan or Rome. We’ll definitely be sending out more canned beers, and we have the next few limited edition cans lined up for release over the next few months as well, so there’ll be plenty of beer, and plenty of new beers, for everyone.