Armagh brewery toasts innovative scheme

Clanconnel Brewing Company in Waringstown has launched its first product, Weaver’s Gold, a 100 per cent natural and additive-free ale, with help from Invest Northern Ireland.

The micro-brewery, the brainchild of Mark Pearson, has received support through Invest NI’s Innovation Voucher Scheme and marketing assistance to develop the handcrafted beer, using traditional artisan techniques and with advice from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) at Loughry campus, near Cookstown.

Mr Pearson, whose background is in procurement said: “Through the Innovation Voucher scheme, I was able to access the wealth of knowledge and expertise in brewing techniques at Loughry campus.

“Staff there helped me to develop the recipe, identify critical processing factors and evaluate the quality of the beer. I was also able to assess the product’s shelf life and create a brew house recording system. I chose Weaver’s Gold as the brand for the first product because it is brewed in what used to be a major linen industry centre. My aim was to develop a unique blonde ale from natural ingredients for the local marketplace and eventually the US.

“So far, the ale is being sold in pubs, restaurants and off-sales across Northern Ireland. The beer is also likely to go on sale soon through a leading retail multiple and has also attracted positive reviews from ale critics in the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and the US.

“The Innovation Voucher was invaluable as it enabled me to refine the production method and turn my hobby into a real business venture. I have now secured a second Innovation Voucher to help me lengthen the shelf-life of the wider product range to enable me to ship the beer to export markets, especially the US eastern seaboard.”

The idea to produce a craft beer came from a visit by Mr Pearson, who had homebrewed for many years, to Copenhagen’s famed Tivoli Gardens, where he saw the popularity of such artisan products.

This led him to explore opportunities in Northern Ireland for beer made from 100 per cent natural ingredients. However, he did not have the skills to properly document and measure the performance of the brewing process he had in mind. Invest NI’s Innovation Voucher scheme offered him the practical support he needed to get the business up and running.

Olive Hill, Invest NI’s Director of Technology and Process Development, said: “Our support for Clanconnel Brewery is a good example of how Innovation Vouchers can be used by smaller companies to turn ideas into new products.

“The programme provides a voucher of up to £4,000 to enable small enterprises to engage withone of the 38 universities, colleges and other publicly funded research organisations throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on activities to improve business.

“Innovation Vouchers can be structured to the specific requirements of companies and have been used successfully to increase profitability, start the commercialisation of new ideas and implement efficiency savings.”