The explosion in the craft beer sector has led to an increased demand for local artisan beer, and few beers could deliver more on this score than Limerick’s Market Quarter Beer. In 2016, a group of publicans from Limerick’s Market Quarter approached Treaty City Brewery’s Stephen Cuneen with an unusual proposal.
“Limerick’s Market Quarter is at the epicentre of nightlife in the city,” says Stephen. “Its publicans are always looking at ways of revitalising the area and they asked if I would be interested in producing a beer especially for them.”
This was the first time this had ever been done in Ireland and Stephen was keen to give it a try. After initial discussions, he invited bar staff from each of the pubs for a taste test.
“We had 15 beers in all, each heavy in a certain element; dry, sweet or hoppy,” he says. “I did this to find out what they all liked.” He used his findings to produce a beer that satisfied everyone. “I remember the night before they all tasted the final draught,” says Stephen. “I was so nervous because money and reputations were at stake. But luckily, it was received extremely well.”
The Market Quarter Beer is light, slightly floral and fruity, with a medium malt flavour. It took less than one year to bring it from an idea to launching it for sale in the pubs of the Market Quarter in August 2017. “Sales have been growing since then and that longevity is what we’re looking for,” says Stephen.
He thinks the fact that the beer is locally produced has been a huge factor in its success. “People appreciate that you can only get it in the Market Quarter,” he says. “It’s made in Limerick for Limerick.” Stephen takes a serious approach to all the beer he produces at Treaty City Brewing. Having worked as an engineer for years before setting up as a brewer in 2014, beer is his passion project. With this in mind, he pays close attention to the beer-making process.
“We make 3000 litre batches using hand made and hand installed equipment and we don’t skimp on ingredients,” he says. “I source malt from the Malting Company of Ireland in Cork because it’s good and I get speciality malts from Europe because they’re the best in the world. I get hops from the Yakima Valley in the US because I know the farmers there and I can rely on the quality. We only use four ingredients in our beer so everything has to be good.”
Consumers can taste this quality in the brewery’s three signature beers; the Harris Pale Ale, Thomond Red Ale and Shannon River IPA. Beyond the Market Quarter Beer, Stephen has plans to expand into more small-batch production. He also produced a very limited release for Christmas.
“I made a batch of beer which I split in two,” he says. “The first half was called Siege 1690 after a famous siege here in Limerick.
There were 200 bottles available, all be dated, numbered and given special screen-printed labels. The other half are being stored in wine and bourbon barrels and released next year as Siege 1691.” He is also planning to introduce a small batch brewing system next year in order to produce more unique beers. “I’d like to do things like create beer with nettles which I can then sell to niche bars,” says Stephen. “But that will only work if we keep the numbers small.”
Stephen’s hard work was recently recognised when Treaty City Brewing was presented with the Best Emerging Artisan Food Product at the Listowel Food Fair.
“We’re very selective about the competitions we enter,” says Stephen. “Some competitions charge for entry, which makes me sceptical. But Listowel is a quality competition and because we’re a fresh beer that deliver locally, it’s much better for us to win a local competition.”
Before he finishes, Stephen takes a swipe at the big brewing companies that are now packaging their beers to look like craft beers. “They’ve got the financial clout to cut us out of the market,” he says. “The competition authority or government should be doing something about it or Bord Bia should come out with a quality mark or symbol. Instead, they are asleep at the wheel and leaving the small guys to struggle. If they lose us and our individuality, we’ll end up as plastic Paddies, with our beers all tasting the same.”