Let’s talk taprooms


Throughout much of this issue, we’ve been thinking about festivals and the beer that features at them, as events as much as a destination; festivals are interactive, they’re connective, fast paced, inspiring, and often surprising. While all breweries hold a unique philosophy on what it means to attend and host beer festivals, most can be compressed into the belief that they are a distilled version of what breweries aim to do and construe in their taprooms at home. 

But what if your country’s strict licensing laws and punishing tap market had, for the last eight years, prevented you from opening your own taproom or selling your own products – even in a takeaway capacity – to people who had travelled to the brewery, from near and far, to taste your beers and learn more about how they’re made. What would festivals mean to you then? 

Posing this question wasn’t the only reason I wanted to speak to Matthew Dick, Boundary Brewing’s founder; discussion of this issue is inextricably linked with the ground-breaking news that Boundary has finally secured the licence to open the first ever permanent, on-site taproom in Northern Ireland. 

When we last spoke to Matthew, back in January of 2022, the brewery just had one more court date to get through before it secured a licence; fast forward a mere six months and its community share offer has long closed. Matthew says “it feels like a lifetime ago” that crowdfunding efforts reached £80K, and Boundary closed its donation channels to begin work designing and outfitting the big and very beautiful space just through the brewery wall, that’s soon to become its taproom. 

“I didn't know what to expect with this one,” Matthew says. “We’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis, so I was delighted with £80,000, and really encouraged that it was a really healthy mix of current or old members who just invested more, and then a couple of hundred new members. So yeah, it was really encouraging. And again, as has always been the case, most of it came from Northern Ireland, which just makes it feel really special.”

The plan is to stick to a fairly minimalist aesthetic in the taproom, so as not to distract from the tall windows, high ceilings, and existing character of the room itself. “We’re more or less heating it, putting a bar in it, and putting toilets in; we just want to ensure it’s really comfortable for our guests,” says Matthew. “From there the plan is to just let the beer do the talking. We’re really excited to be running lines, like, I don't know, 30 centimetres or something like that. It'll be short lines. Fresh beer. I can't wait.”

The novelty of running 30 centimetre lines from tank to taproom won’t strike at the hearts of many breweries in the way it does for the Boundary team; because of licensing laws, and the monopoly big beer companies have on bar and pub taps in Northern Ireland, festivals and pop-up taprooms have really been the only opportunity the team has had to engage directly with drinkers of their beer, and gather live feedback on how and when they are enjoyed. 

“It’s also been really important for us to bring our staff along to festivals because they always come back really encouraged by all the positive feedback,” says Matthew. “When they’re running the canning line all day, or in the office all day, and not many places will serve the beer and we can’t serve it ourselves, they don’t get to experience that positive feedback, or meet the fans of the beer- so there’s a real advantage and value in that for us. In that capacity, festivals and hosting for us really go hand in hand.”

Hosting is something that’s been carefully considered in the planning of the new taproom. The shape of the room itself is quite unique, and will be fully utilised to allow different functions and events to run simultaneously. Matthew was conscious of avoiding situations where the bar might have to close to regulars, because a group or event is renting out the whole space for an occasion. With the current layout, the space will be able to accommodate weddings (which people are already enquiring about), quiz nights, book clubs - any kind of community event - while a portion of the bar remains open to people and pals who just want a quiet pint of Imbongo. 

The taproom is scheduled to open in autumn of this year, but a taste of Boundary’s future will be available to Beer52 subscribers far in advance of that; the Boundary beer in this month’s box has been brewed by their new head brewer, Ben Hulse, who is pushing the brewery’s beer in new and exciting directions, all the while maintaining all the hallmarks of a beer that is quantifiably Boundary. Matthew tells us that this beer has been brewed as part of a process and series designed to shine a light on all the amazing qualities of the brewery’s house yeast which, among other things, is expressive, delicious, and even produces a feeling of the beer being dry hopped, before it’s been dry hopped. 

“We'd spent probably up to two years just playing with different yeasts and stressing them and finding out what they did and when, and how we can manipulate them” says Matthew, “and now the yeast is somewhere that we love, we want to balance its flavours and qualities so it isn’t hidden away behind the hops.” This easy drinking West Coast IPA features a touch of bitterness, and was brewed using Cascade and Simcoe hops, two varieties Boundary hasn’t tended to use a lot of but that Matthew says has been fun to play and experiment with alongside this new treatment of house yeast. “It’s something a little different for us but it’s absolutely lovely,” Matthew assures me. “I’m biased, but it is.”

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