Wudyu feed your quality craft beer to a cow? For wagyu, you got to. At Hillstown Brewery in Northern Ireland, that’s where it all began. We caught up with Jonathan who told us all about building a craft brewery, from a local craft brewing revolution to quality beef and quality beers.
Tell us a bit about how you got in to craft brewing?
It all started with our homebrew supply shop in Northern Ireland, my wife and I started Get ‘er Brewed to start a homebrew revolution locally. There was an appetite for it and as we grew we expanded from supplying kits to moving into the pure ingredients for brewing beer and now we have expanded again to actually supplying breweries with the ingredients.
During this growth, I experimented with brewing all grain and started to brew some great small batches. We then got together with the Logans from Hillstown Farmshop. They shared our passion and drive and we decided to go into business together. Our first project was to start brewing beer to feed to cattle for our version of wagyu beef.
This is a Japanese delicacy but we wanted to create this using local traditional breeds and to make it an affordable option too. So we started brewing lots of small batches and very quickly it became hugely popular, and we reconditioned and adapted a lot of old dairy equipment to turn it into an ‘agricultural brewery.’ So, we thought – we’re brewing for cows why not brew for the humans.
The aim of feeding beer to the cattle is to relax the beast to make a more succulent piece of meat, it’s not about getting the cows drunk. The beer the cows get is the same quality as we bottle in the brewery. They love the Horny Bull Stout – hence the name theme for our beers.
“The aim of feeding beer to the cattle is to relax the beast to make a more succulent piece of meat, it’s not about getting the cows drunk.”
Tell us about your beers?
We now have six core beers and one special collaboration being released at the end of this month, a black coffee IPA brewed with the finest coffee and hops from our local speciality coffee shop in Ballymena called Middletown. It’s a very complex beer and will be our first canned beer.
We have a lager, wheat beer, Belgian tripel, Irish red ale, IPA and an imperial stout in the core range and our new labels in the rebrand are being exclusively launched with Flavourly. The core beer ranges have been tweaked and perfected over time and currently we are really proud of them, and they are being brewed consistently with the same recipe.
What other breweries do you guys admire?
I always ask for a local beer when I’m out and I admire what all the craft breweries are doing in Northern Ireland as it is such a difficult market to succeed in. Love seeing success stories like Cloudwater and Verdant and all they have achieved in such a short period of time, not to mention the quality of the beer they are producing.
Where do you see Hillstown going in the next few years?
We have plans for more export and have our sights set high, we are investing a lot of time and effort and finance into our company and we are working closely with other breweries to change the craft beer scene locally.
Route to market for export takes a lot of time and we will hopefully be in a good number of foreign export markets in a few years’ time. We would love a local brewpub too so are working on that too.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to hear about?
We brew beers to be enjoyed for their flavours, it’s not about the ABV, not about the price, not about getting drunk. It’s about breaking the binge drinking culture and actually buying a local artisan product that has been brewed with passion for flavour! Cheers!
Originally published in Issue 1 of our Flavourly magazine. Interview by Sean Gordon