Great article in The Roscommon Herald
HAVING LIVED and worked in New York for twenty years, coming back to County Roscommon to open a craft brewery is a dream come true for a Castlerea woman and her husband. Michaela Dillon and her husband Richard Siberry have opened Black Donkey Brewing, a craft beer brewery located in Ballinlough and their brew has already proven to be very popular!
The lack of options in pubs in Ireland prompted the couple to seriously consider setting up a craft beer brewery, bringing with them what they had learned from the US’s burgeoning craft brewing scene. “It was something that we had dabbled with in our basement in the States, we tinkered about with recipes and the idea of setting up our own brewery stemmed from there. On our visits back to Ireland we were always struck by how little option there was in pubs when it came to beers and especially draft beers. In recent years the beer craft industry has started to really increase in Ireland but there is still a long way to go,” explained Richard, who is from Drogheda originally. The Irish craft beer industry is on course for sales of more than €15 million in 2014 with sales increasing by 50 per cent this year alone. It now constitutes approximately 1.5 per cent of the entire Irish beer market, still way behind countries such as the US or the UK. By the end of the year there will be more than 50 craft beer brewers in the whole of Ireland. Black Donkey Brewery produces 930 litres of beer each week, with the capacity to brew four times a week. Currently, they brew once a week but as soon as demand necessitates, they are more than equipped to deal with it. Their recently launched beer ‘Sheep Stealer’ is now available in pubs in Dublin, Galway and Roscommon following well received tastings by a discerning craft beer audience. They plan to introduce a bottling line in November. ‘we’d love to think of this as something that helps put Roscommon on the map, we’re passionate about what we do’ -Michaela Dillon They have really settled into their home in Ballinlough and have found the local people to be incredibly supportive. They want to make Black Donkey Brewing something the people of Roscommon and the region can be proud of. “We want to be part of the local community, the people have been so incredibly welcoming to us since we first came back to Ireland two years ago. We’d love to think of this as something that helps put Roscommon on the map, we’re passionate about what we do and want to tune into that sense of community that we know is so alive and well in this county,” explained Michaela. Their aim is to bring Irish, European, American and historical brewing influences together under one roof, and onto the rapidly growing and increasingly exciting Irish craft-brewing scene. Ultimately, they are passionate for their business to succeed, not least because they have invested their life savings into realising their dream. Their impressive brewery boats a range of high tech equipment costing more than €100,000. They met in New York when Richard brought his computer to be fixed where Michaela worked. Romance blossomed and the rest is history. For Castlerea woman Michaela coming back home was always part of the plan. “I was working in the corporate world in New York and a couple of years ago the situation arose that I was going to have to be redeployed to Arizona or take redundancy. It hit us at that point that if we were ever to go back to Ireland, the time had to be then, and so the decision was made for us really. We looked into coming home and now that the brewery is up and running, we are delighted that we did,” explained Michaela.
While Richard had always been interested in home brewing, the opportunity to turn his hobby and passion into a business seemed like a “no-brainer”. “I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be able to follow my passions, whether it be as a photographer or filmmaker and now I am getting to do something that I have a real passion and drive for,” he explained. Richard believes that craft beer consumers are more interested in the quality of the beer, rather than the quantity they consume. “The people who enjoy craft beers aren’t drinking it to get drunk, it is about enjoying the beer and the experience of it. We are continuing to develop new recipes and fine-tune various brewing processes and we anticipate following Sheep Stealer with a rye beer and a Belgian, New Zealand and American hybrid amber ale. We would love to work with chefs about using our produce in line with the foods. We want to make this an inclusive product as we can and get people from all over to be part of what we are doing,” added Richard.
The label on the Sheep Stealer beer is based on an original painting by Michaela’s brother, Andrew. They hope that other artists will be able to get involved in being a part of Black Donkey Brewing.
“We want to encourage and instill a sense of community with our products. Already there is a real sense of community in the craft brewery world. We want people to engage with us and get involved. We hope to run competitions for our future line of beers where we explain to people the concept of the beer and in turn they devise an original piece of art in line with what we have described and make sure that they sign it to be part of the process. Down the line we want, as the product grows, to be able to create employment here and give something back,” he outlined. Asked where they devised the name for their business, Richard smiles as he explained that they originally thought of calling it Connacht Brewing and then contemplated Asal Dubh as a name for a stout. “We loved the idea of Asal Dubh, but thought that the pronunciation definitely would’t work with the Americans, so we decided on calling the brewery Black Donkey, and when you think about it, who doesn’t love donkeys! Donkeys are also readily identifiable with rural Ireland and we liked that as that is something very important to us now that we are living in rural Ireland,” he explained. Richard and Michaela have been astounded by the power of social media as they bring news of their product to the masses. “It has been a phenomenal tool for us, in terms of getting ourselves a profile. We even found ourselves an investor through LinkedIn and made some amazing contacts. We tweet something and the response is amazing. We’re confident that the product speaks for itself and that in turn our craft brewery will be a success,” concluded Richard.