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Bernard and Kerry Sloan, in Whitewater's newly-built 15,000sq ft plant

Whitewater Brewing moves into bespoke home, furthers ambitions

Production is underway at Whitewater Brewing’s new brewery at Castlewellan, County Down, as the company targets export growth

Whitewater’s five-year-old 40-barrel brewhouse has been installed in the 15,000 square feet new-build, and the plant is now capable of producing 40,000 litres of beer a month, thanks to six additional 150-litre dual purpose fermenting and conditioning vessels shipped from China.

In the foothills of the famous Mountains of Mourne, the brewery also features an extensive visitor centre.

Owner Bernard Sloan, an engineer as well as the company’s head brewer, developed the site himself.

“Our strategic focus is on expanding our market share in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and growing sales in Great Britain and further afield,” he said. “I believe there are significant opportunities outside Northern Ireland for beers with outstanding taste and provenance.

“We now have substantially increased volume capacity and space to add further fermenters and other equipment that will enable us to produce up to two million litres a year. There’s also scope to extend the building.”

He promised, too, that new beers will hit the market in the coming months.

“As well as a huge investment to expand capacity, we have research and development projects that will increase our overall competitiveness. The market is changing. Customers are coming to us and asking ‘what’s new?’ and we have to respond with seasonals, variations and short-run brews.”

Whitewater, founded by Sloan with a five-barrel brew kit on the family farm at nearby Kilkeel in 1996, was, along with Hilden Brewery in Lisburn, one of only two independent brewers in Northern Ireland for many years.

Its expansion follows rapidly increasing competition across the island of Ireland.

“Everybody wants to be a microbrewer,” said Sloan. “I’ve had people from estate agents to teachers and architects asking my advice.

“But consumers are becoming more discerning and that will wipe out those that don’t pay enough attention to quality.

“My background as an engineer has brought good habits, I think, and our experience in dealing with multiple retailers has given us an extra degree of professionalism.”

Cloudwater is indeed growing sales and distribution and numbers more than 110 taps around Ireland.

As well as supplying award-winning brands such as Belfast Brew and Clotworthy Dobbin porter to hotels, bars and off-licences in Ireland, Whitewater has recently broken into foreign markets in Europe, Mexico and China.

The latter has especially taken to its latest launch, Maggie’s Leap, a 4.7% IPA described by Sloan as “a hoppy beer packed with citrus flavours ideal for accompanying spiced foods”.

“We’re finding that people are interested in the provenance and stories associated with our products,” he explained. “Maggie’s Leap, for instance, is named after a character in the Mournes, a daughter of a renowned poacher.

“She was reputed to have had red flowing locks, an hourglass figure and an engaging smile, the stuff of legend and the sort of tale that’s of interest to visitors. An area in the Mournes is named after her and she gives our beer a distinctive personality."

Whitewater will also be targeting “emerging markets” in South America, and steering away from the more crowded markets in the United States and Europe.

“You have to pick your battles, and we just don’t have the budget to follow through with the kind of marketing these places demand.

“We haven’t got a lot in England, either, but we are looking at whether there might be scope for an Irish-brewed product in the London area.”

Phil Mellows
June 15th, 2017

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