The White Hag x Siren
What’s new in the wild world of Bob Coggins?
Photos: The White Hag
Saturday 08 April 2023
This article is from
Siren's 10th Birthday
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For the lazy beer writer, interviewing Bob Coggins – The White Hag’s endlessly charismatic founder – is a dream gig. “So Bob, what’s new?” I ask, hitting record and sitting back with a piping mug of tea. Not only can Bob talk in complete, page-ready sentences, he’s also one of the busiest people in beer and, no matter how often White Hag ends up in the Beer52 box, there’s always 10 pages’ worth of updates. The work, such as it is, comes in choosing what to leave out.
It seems the past few months has been mostly about Bob hitting the road, venturing out from beautiful Sligo to press the flesh among prospective partners. It seems to have been worth the shoe leather, with some big wins taking The White Hag’s beers into more traditional venues as well as some exciting and unexpected new spots.
“It’s always a balance between the day-to-day and trying to push forward some longer-term projects,” says Bob. “Like at the moment we’re in final push for Paddy’s day, where we always get involved with a lot of events abroad, as well as the stuff at home. But we’re also developing our presence in Dublin airport, where there’s a White Hag-branded bar that we run with the food operator SSP. We’ve recently got a smattering of taps around the airport’s other bars, and are about to put in vending machines with 14 beer styles, which will be a game-changer; they’re air-side, so you can stock up on cold beers before you get on your flight.”
In Bob’s eyes, this gradual domination of the airport isn’t just a nice extra revenue stream, but puts White Hag right in the sightlines of potential international customers. In a similar vein, The White Hag is now thoroughly installed in Irish Ferries, with taps in its onboard bars, and even an above-deck pop-up bar on the company’s flagship route from Dublin to Cherbourg.
It’s always a balance between the day-to-day and trying to push forward some longer-term projects
“We're not in the BrewDog mode of trying to build out the long chains of pubs,” Bob explains. “We’re just focused on building a really good experience for partners, the really good food service operators and hospitality operators. And we’re thinking creatively about it, because it’s so hard to get into pubs here, so we’re really close with the hotels for example; it’s started small, but is really getting momentum now. I think a lot of that has flowed from the airport.”
It feels like White Hag emerged from lockdown last year with an energy and level of commitment that not every brewery has managed to muster. This impression is certainly reinforced by several significant appointments in the past 12 months, most notably that of Dave Seymour – one of the founding partners of Brew By Numbers – as head brewer, and Paul Bogan – formerly of Camden Town – as head of packaging.
Dave has already brought fresh thinking to The White Hag’s brewing, and in fact was the inspiration behind the Siren collaboration brew, Crunchy Town Brown Ale, in this month’s Beer52 box.
“Dave and I were chatting back in January about the styles of beers we want to do this year, and one of the first things he mentioned was a brown ale. Now, that's not a style that’s big in Ireland at all; I think it’s probably fallen to a weird gap between dry stout, which we obviously love, lagers, and pale ales. Brown to us has always been an English style, you know? So David talked about doing a brown ale with an Irish twist, and we knocked that about a bit… At around the same time, I'd been talking to the guys at Siren about our collaboration. So when they came back and said, ‘we'd love to do a brown ale with you guys’ it was just impeccable timing! So we said absolutely, and Dave worked out the recipe with Shawn Knight in Siren.”
The relationship between Siren and The White Hag goes back a long way, and not just because the two breweries were founded around the same time. Bob relates how Púca, the brewery’s sour core beer, took some inspiration from Siren’s Calypso.
“We've been fans of it here for ages,” Bob says, “and it definitely gave us a decent bit of inspiration and confidence to go and brew something similar. Now Púca is one of our core range beers and is constantly selling out. It gets recognised everywhere, because it's such a bright pink colour, it's tart with that low pH level, and has a reputation as one of the more consistent sours you can get.
“I’ve got so much respect for Siren, because they’ve always focused on the right things. I’d say they're kind of underrated, because they don't shout a lot about themselves, but they're just consistently in the top echelon of brewers globally. They always rate highly in Untappd ratings, but the really impressive thing for me is the quality of everything they put out never wavers, year-round. In that sense, it's astounding to think that they're only 10.”
The next step in The White Hag’s push to get its beer in front of wider audiences is an e-commerce service in the UK, something that’s not been possible since the Brexit shutters came down. I have it on good authority that some loyal UK customers were still able to procure regular boxes from the Republic after this date, but decide not to ask Bob for details. As of St Patrick’s Day 2023 though, we UK fans will once again be able to get hold of as much White Hag as our little hearts desire, all on the level.
“We’re definitely very keen to keep working with Beer52 though,” concludes Bob. “We love your members, and it’s really through them spreading the word that we have an established brand in the UK, and we see that as part of the strategy for getting in front of more people. Working with Beer52 keeps us part of that community.”
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