In our new Meet the Maker series, we're shining the light on the many gifted producers behind some of Ireland's best food and drink brands. Today, we chat to Joe Donnelly from Rascals Brewing Co.
Could you tell us a bit about the history of Rascals Brewing?
Rascals HQ in Dublin is a visitor destination for food and drink lovers, just minutes from Kilmainham Gaol in the heart of historic Inchicore. The building houses the award-winning independent craft brewery Rascals Brewing Company, as well as a pizza restaurant, taproom and event spaces. Rascals HQ also provides immersive tours of the brewery with guided beer tasting after visitors learn all about the brewing process.
Rascals Brewing Company was founded in 2014 by Emma Devlin and Cathal O’Donoghue. The pair were living and working in New Zealand and developed a taste and passion for the booming Kiwi craft beer industry. In the spirit of adventure, they decided to change careers entirely and set up their own craft brewery back home in Dublin. In 2018 we opened the new brewery, taproom and pizza restaurant in Inchicore.
Why is using Irish ingredients important to your company?
There are probably three main reasons. The first is because we want to support Irish artisan food producers, such as Clonakilty Black Pudding and Gubbeen farmhouse foods (for some of our pizza recipes). Secondly, the quality and flavours are superb, and lastly, we know our customers want and expect high-quality produce and locally-sourced foods when possible.
What is the biggest challenge that you face as a food producer in Ireland?
Our business is brewing and hospitality and without doubt, the biggest challenge has been COVID-19. Apart from that, our main challenge would be competing with conglomerate companies (particularly in brewing) whose business models create an un-level playing field for Irish independent producers.
What new trends do you see that are emerging in your industry?
In terms of beer styles, we’re seeing a lot of trends for low ABV or non-alcoholic beers. People are perhaps becoming more and more concerned with positive lifestyle changes and a desire for low strength beer is part of this. What’s great is the fact that you can produce a low-strength beer with all the same good flavours and characteristics of regular strength beers. It’s a very interesting time for the brewing industry in this regard and we always must listen to what consumers want and not just focus on ‘what we like to brew’.
Are there any major changes you would like to see in your industry?
For the hospitality side of our business, there’s an urgent need for the VAT rate to be reduced, as we all struggle to keep our businesses going during the pandemic. In terms of brewing, we still need an overhaul of the archaic licensing laws which affect independent Irish craft breweries. These restrictions are anti-competitive, anti-business and symptomatic of a nanny mentality from government when it comes to their dealings with the brewing industry in this country.
What has running your own business taught you?
You’ll never stop learning and you’ll always learn from your mistakes. You’re never too old to develop a new skill or understand new technology. You must always back yourself and accept mishaps and setbacks as part of your growth. You’re only as strong as the weakest player on your team; hire and retain the best staff possible but always make them feel valued and imbued with a sense of purpose.
Who are some other Irish foodie brands you draw inspiration from?
We can only really speak about other breweries. We’re inspired by many different businesses in hospitality and brewing. It’s not about one particular brand. It’s about observing and noticing what other brands do, that make you think to yourself: ‘That’s really cool what they’re doing, that’s really creative and innovative’. What we find most inspiring is a brand who really ‘know what they’re about’. In other words, they’ve a clearly defined brand image, a purpose and a set of beliefs or values. They’re focused and – most significantly – the people who work there seem fulfilled and motivated.
What’s next for the company?
World domination, definitely. But also, picking up the pieces after the lockdown is the immediate priority. We’re doing everything we can to regain the momentum we had built up last year and carried through to the first quarter of this year. It was massively disappointing to have been going so well just before the lockdown happened. But that’s life. Nothing is ever certain or guaranteed. Working in an independent consumer-facing business, with a high level of creativity and innovation, is a wonderful adventure and hugely rewarding. Take the rough with the smooth; your next victory is only around the corner.
To find out more about Rascals click here!