Jason O’Connell co-founded the Galway Bay Brewery with Niall Walsh in 2006, in Salthill, Galway. 2009 saw the company install its first in-house brewery, making it one of the country’s first brew pubs, which itself has now grown and moved to Ballybrit, just outside of Galway City.
The company currently boasts over eleven pubs, spread across both Galway and Dublin, with plans to expand into Limerick in the coming months. Not only are they planning to expand within Ireland, but they also plan to sell their products abroad in order to grow their popular craft beer brand. I spoke to Jason about the rise in popularity of craft beers, expansion and the challenges that the company is currently facing.
Jason feels that craft beer has become more accessible to consumers: “As smaller producers came on the scene, they began to provide better quality and got their efficiencies in order and started to get their prices down”.
After being abroad in countries like Belgium with a proud beer heritage, they could see that customers were “Wanting something different” other than breweries that had a monopoly on bars in Ireland. Since then the craft beer market has taken off in Ireland, and Jason recognises that this makes them less unique as a company and so they need to constantly “Reinvent themselves”. One of the ways that Galway Bay plans to do this is through exporting and expanding their business.
In 2015, the company attempted to export to the UK market but due to supply issues this initiative was discontinued. Now, with the larger Ballybrit brewery having opened in September of 2016, the company wants to grow outside of Ireland and will begin exporting after Christmas this year.
“Export is key to survival now,” said Jason, as he cited locations such as Italy and Holland as locations, other than the UK, that they are looking to export to. He also pointed out that they want to have bars in these locations to ascertain a better idea of what actually sells in each area and to strengthen the brand, as opposed to simply relying on information from distributors.
The end of April saw the Galway Bay Brewery launch Two Hundred Fathoms, a whiskey aged stout, co-branded with Teelings and barrel aged for one year, in the Gasworks in Galway. The brewery releases up to 12 styles a year in barrels, 8 new bottle ranges and 5 co-ranges – essentially a new product every 6 weeks.
One of the biggest issues facing the company at the moment is the sourcing of managerial staff for their bars. According to Jason, as the business expands, they are looking into restructuring their systems as running eleven, soon to be twelve, bars across several locations is logistically challenging.
This reshaping of the business will split the bars and allow for them to micromanage them more efficiently, “To provide a better service”. Jason believes that the problem with staffing comes from the increase in high quality coffee shops, cafés and casual restaurants that are essentially in competition with bars for good managerial staff.
As employment figures are rising in Ireland, “The pool of people has dried up,” which although good for Ireland as a whole, has made it more difficult for employers to get the staff that they need.
The one thing seems for certain about the dynamic of the Galway Bay Brewery is that they are constantly on the look-out to develop their business. Jason understands that this is a very gradual process but that they are open to considering all their options. Over the next few years he contends that “You might bump into a Galway Bay bar in Leeds, the north of England or Germany,” which is wonderful, not only for the company but for the reputation and exportation of independent brewing in general in Ireland.
[quote_box_center]For more information on job positions available at Galway Bay Brewery, email firstname.lastname@example.org.[/quote_box_center]