How one small brewery overcame the odds and changed the landscape of Irish beer forever.
When cousins Oliver Hughes and Liam LaHart opened Ireland’s first Porterhouse Brewing in a run-down building in Bray, County Wicklow, back in 1989, they were a minuscule drop of colour in the vast ocean of Guinness and Murphy’s.
At the time the beer industry had largely been engulfed by a few market giants, leading many, including their own accountant, to predict that Porterhouse would sink before it could swim. Nevertheless, the duo decided to pursue their pioneering mission of diversifying Irish brewing and, not only did they make waves in the industry, they parted the ocean and encouraged others to follow suit.
The opening of Ireland’s first brewpub in Temple Bar, in 1996, paved the way for the over 50 new independent brewers that now exist in the republic, it also gave Irish beer drinkers something previously unheard of: choice. The opportunity to sample a vast selection of beers from small local brewers as well from Belgium and further afield was, at the time, a completely novel experience and was what brought Hughes and LaHart the greatest satisfaction.
Since it’s humble beginnings, six further Porterhouse bars have sprung up in Ireland and overseas including one in the historic Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street in New York and another at Maiden’s Lane in London’s Covent Garden – the 12-storey pub is London’s biggest and is bustling every night of the week. All the bars stock the well-loved stouts, carefully imported straight from Ireland, as well as maintaining the spirit of the brand by continuing to offer a vast range of fantastically intriguing craft beers from around the globe. A new distillery, the first one to open in Ireland for 200 years, was also opened in 2012.
The most recent accomplishment for the business, currently headed up by Director Elliot Hughes, whose father Oliver unexpectedly passed away at the age of 57 in 2016, is the opening of a brand new €6 million state of the art brewery in its native Dublin.
Flavourly caught up with Elliot, who gave us an insight into how he believes his father might feel if he could see how business is looking today: “I’m sure he would be quite proud, both of the work he had put in to get it to this stage and also of the rest of us for completing his mission.
“It was a long-held dream for Oliver to expand the brewery.
“It’s opening has had a hugely positive impact on the business as a whole and people have seen it as a real boost.
The brewery is a flagbearer for the rest of the group and people are delighted that we have opened the new facility, with our beers tasting better than ever as well as new seasonal beers arriving on a regular basis.”
The first new beer to emerge from the new site is Bounty Hunter. The porter, whose unusual flavour boasts hints of milk chocolate and coconut, was lovingly dreamed up by employees at the new brewery. Its name and packaging share a distinct resemblance to a certain tropical chocolate bar owned by Mars – but getting up the noses of corporate giants is what Porterhouse do best.
Excitingly there are also big plans for a new visitor centre at the brewery, scheduled to open early next year. We asked Elliot what guests can expect: “When we do open, it will be a very immersive brewery tour that brings you as close to the action as possible.
“We plan to hold various different events there throughout the year and we also hope to see the visitor centre as a mecca for beer lovers coming to Dublin while also viewing Porterhouse as a source of really good, interesting beers whether regular or seasonal.”
It’s still business as usual over at Porterhouse for the moment, however, and despite ambitious plans to expand their horizons even further, the team remain firmly grounded to the vision of their founding fathers – creating unique, all natural, Irish beer and making it available to the masses… And keeping the big dogs on their toes in the process.