Business Profiles

Q&A: Ross Bissett, 5 Lamps

Since its opening in early 2012, Five Lamps Dublin Brewery has gone from strength to strength. Located initially on the North Strand, near the iconic Five Lamps, the brewery’s first offering of Five Lamps Dublin Lager was launched in September that year.

Now the business operates from the Liberties area, where they produce a range of hand-crafted and balanced beers on site.  We talked to Ross Bissett, General Manager at Five Lamps, about the business and what they have in store for the future.

FFT.ie: Tell us about yourself and your background.
Ross Bissett: I oversee all elements of the business including sales and marketing, finance, production and operations, logistics, innovation and business development.  We are a small but perfectly formed team, so I have a hands-on role in the business, which I really love.  The only thing I don’t do is actually brew, I leave that to our master brewer, William Harvey.

I’ve worked in the drinks industry for more than 15 years with some broad experience starting out promoting events in nightclubs with my own business, to key accounts & sales management in Bulmers to sales director at C&C – I’ve been around the block!

What are the logistics of running a brewery?
For me there are three key elements needed to run a brewery; the beer, the brand and the route to market. The brand and the beer go hand in hand, as obviously this is central to the foundations of any liquids business. One doesn’t work without the other. I’ve seen lots of great breweries go under because they couldn’t establish a brand and vice versa. With Five Lamps we know we have some of the best liquids in the market and we’re definitely on the road to establishing a great brand. After this, it’s extremely important to develop the right route to market to ensure your product is always available to consumers.

What kind of relationships do you foster with other businesses and stockists?
Maintaining good relationships with our trade partners is something that is very important to us and we’re fortunate that we’ve always had really positive experiences with the businesses we interact with. Distribution is critical for us. Without the support of our key accounts this wouldn’t have been possible, so we spend a lot of time and effort working closely with them and whilst having the right product is obviously crucial, developing good relationships and working with people you like are key.

What challenges are currently facing the business?
We work in a very challenging business, but one of the main areas we are constantly addressing is how we can consistently maintain the brewery’s visibility in a busy marketplace. This is something that is re-evaluated regularly and for us, social media has been one of the most interesting ways to reach and engage with our target audiences. Platforms such as our Facebook page allow us to directly speak to our customers and let them know what they can expect from Five Lamps next. As well as being a fantastic hub for existing fans of the brewery, it’s a really efficient way to open up Five Lamps to a new audience.

What is your opinion on the current craft beer scene in Ireland?
I think the explosion of breweries that came onto the scene since 2012 is starting to level off, but the Irish beer drinkers’ appetite for craft beer certainly isn’t going away. As Five Lamps knows from experience, the demand from the consumer is still strong and if a brewery has a solid production schedule in place and strong distribution channels it can continue to expand. The majority of beer currently made in Ireland is for the domestic market but we are seeing an increase in craft beer breweries producing for export also. It’s not a priority for Five Lamps right now but it will be interesting how much the export market grows over the next couple of years. If the sector wants to continue to expand, breweries will inevitably need new markets.

How do feel on the continuing diversification and potential impact of macro breweries muscling in on the space?
I’d like to think there is space for macro and micro breweries in the market, but it can be hard for a smaller brewery to compete against the major players. However, advertising and sponsorship only go so far if the customer only orders your product once, so while it may not be a level playing field in terms of budgets, in my experience macro and micro breweries’ beers are generally judged by the same standards. Ultimately the quality of the beer will determine if it’s a success or not so I think a smaller brewery can thrive if it produces a high quality product and gets its distribution strategy right.

A few other micro brewers have said that they’re concerned about long term viability.  What is your opinion on this?
There is a question mark over the long-term viability of some breweries but since 2012 craft beer’s share in overall Irish beer production has grown each year and 2017 looks to be no different. With over 60 microbreweries operating in Ireland there is no doubt it is a highly competitive market but there are some new developments that will be beneficial to the sector overall. For example, the proposed legislation to allow breweries to sell product made on the premises to touring visitors will be a big boost to a brewery’s long term viability.

What seasonal brews do you currently have?
Our most recent seasonal brew was called Bang Bang Bock and it was named in honour of Thomas ‘Bang Bang’ Dudley who was a much-loved Dublin character. In the 50s and 60s he would wander around Dublin with a brass key which he used to ‘hold up’ passers-by while roaring ‘BANG BANG’! The beer itself is a bock and was inspired by the double hop process used in Bavaria, which gives it a lovely mild spice. We do a seasonal batch every couple of months and the next one will be available in time for Christmas. They’re a great testing ground for William as he gets to experiment with flavours and malts and if there is a batch which doesn’t meet his high standards, we give him a helping hand too.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
As we have been receiving a lot of interest about Five Lamps from pubs outside of Dublin, our next step is trialling the product in Galway and Belfast over the next couple of weeks to see how it travels. Another key expansion plan for the end of 2017 and heading into 2018 will be the nationwide roll-out of our 330ml Five Lamps lager can. It’s had a big presence at music festivals throughout the summer so far and the feedback has been really positive.

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