Ya Cheeky Rascals
Rascals by name, Rascals by nature.
Friday 20 March 2020
This article is from
The Island of Ireland
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For Cathal O’Donoghue and Emma Devlin, it was love at first pint. The two co-founders of Dublin’s Rascals Brewing Company had their first date in a craft beer bar in New Zealand, discovered a mutual passion for all things cold and hoppy, and quickly began homebrewing together. Their skills at the mash tun developed alongside their burgeoning relationship, and it wasn’t long before the pair resolved to chuck in the 9-to-5, move back to their Irish homeland and start up a brewery of their own.
Armed with a small, 5-hectolitre brewhouse, Rascals earned its moniker with a steady stream of cheeky twists on classic styles, kicking off with an award-winning ginger porter, quickly followed its White IPA, a classic American IPA crossed with a Belgian wit, which picked up gold in the 2016 World Beer Awards. Along the way there have been mint choc stouts, strawberry milkshake IPAs and a lemon saison called Kim Jong Lem-un.
Sales manager Ger Callanan says: “Building up a few core beers has really helped us grow, but I guess people associate us more with the really bold, adventurous side, with fun designs and pun-tastic names. We release a new beer every six weeks, so try and keep the game moving as best we can, while keeping the bar as high as we can.”
Barrel ageing has always been a big part of what makes Rascals special. As well as craft favourites like bourbon-aged milk stout, Cathal – who is still head brewer – hasn’t been afraid to delve into less sure-fire styles. “One of the best beers we’ve made was a Flanders red ale in Sangiovese barrels. It was really exceptional and a very small batch. I’ve still got a bottle at home, which I’m going to drink for St Patrick’s Day. It’s not a style that’s for everyone, but that’s how we’ve developed and made a name for ourselves.”
While this spirit of boundary-pushing has undeniably helped Rascals make a name for itself, Ger argues that it was never really about attention seeking, but rather a reflection of Cathal, Emma and the entire team.
Barrel ageing has always been a big part of what makes Rascals special
“We’re a young team running an independent micro-brewery; we are drinking beer, talking about beer and we have enough experience that we’re not afraid to take risks brewing beer. We’re not necessarily driven by what the market wants, so if we make a beer that doesn’t do so well on the sales side, we can hold our hands up but still be proud that it was a good beer.”
And it turned out that Rascals was, along with a handful of other Irish breweries, on the crest of a wave, as drinkers became much more adventurous and changes in the law gave brewers greater flexibility in how and where they could sell their beers. As demand escalated, Rascals took advantage of these changes to move into an old upholstery factory around 15 minutes from Dublin city centre, where it installed a 30 hectolitre brewhouse and built a phenomenal new taproom.
“We’re thrilled with the taproom – it’s like Instagram porn,” continues Ger. “As soon as you walk in, you have 15 taps of Rascals beer. The wood fired pizza oven there for all to see, and the whole space is designed to reflect the colours in our beers. There’s a big feature can wall too; we literally hand-stuck every one of those cans. That was [art director] Tríona’s idea; we all thought it was really cool, until we were all still there eight hours later!”
This new aspect of the business has also come with new challenges of course – running a bar is very different from brewing and selling beer – but Rascals was able to put a great team together and the taproom is really gaining momentum, both among locals and tourists.
“We’re in an area of city that’s going through a big transition,” continues Ger. “There are many businesses around here that have struggled, but in the last couple of years we’ve seen a real uptick in life and activity and community. There’s great footfall from the locals because it came very quickly to be seen as a destination. Alongside that, we’ve done a lot of work on Tripadvisor and tourism is really picking up, mainly among Americans, and people from the UK.”
The taproom also pours exclusive, limited edition brews created on Rascals’ new 250-litre pilot kit. For a brewery best known for its wild experimentation, this is in itself a draw, as fans claim the bragging rights associated with trying the brewery’s latest and greatest. But it’s also very useful for the brewers, as Ger explains.
We're not necessarily driven by what the market wants
“It gives us license to really experiment and go crazy, get feedback on the beers in the taproom, and if it’s successful we’ll brew it on the big kit,” he says. “The people coming in specifically to try the limited editions are often the superfans, and they’re quite honest in their feedback. So it’s a safe way to get external feedback on whether the beer’s good. It’s all very well to say we’ll take it on the chin if we brew a beer that we love but nobody else does, but it hurts a lot less to pour away 200 litres than 3000!”
As the Irish craft scene continues to mature, it’s great that a brewery like Rascals is helping lead the charge with a genuine sense of fun and creativity. As Ger has watched the market develop over the past six years, he’s very positive about how far it still has to go.
“In the early days there were just a few of us, and the challenge was really getting our beers out there. Then we saw this real explosion of interest and the number of breweries in Ireland jumped to more than 100. Like all lifecycles though, we’ve now started to see some fall away, which is sad. That’s really a combination of a relatively small domestic market, the quality of craft beer coming in from around the world, and the macro brewers like Heineken and Diageo aggressively going after that middle ground of entry-level craft beer.”
“There’s a lot to be hopeful about though. We’re much more organised today about working together as a group, to really develop the brand of good independent breweries in Ireland and protect the growth that we’ve made. We’re still only at 3%. There’s also a strong trend for local beers brewed in your geographic area. People are now understanding this beer is made five miles away, it’s the freshest around, and it’s something the community can be proud of.”
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