When Rye River Brewing Company set up almost 10 years ago, there were about 65 breweries in total operating across the country. Today, there are over 130. It is, says RRBC Managing Director Tom Cronin, a crazily competitive space. “You’ve got to be agile and I know I’m like a scratched record when I say this, but we’ve worked extremely hard at our craft to get to the position we’re in today. The key things we’ve held onto since we started are quality and consistency. We’ve always maintained that for a craft brand to migrate to the top of the pile, it must retain its consistency. That beer you enjoy every Friday has to be the same; it shouldn’t change in ABV clarity or mouthfeel etc. From the off, our focus has been on guaranteeing that consistency.” To meet that promise, every recipe at Rye River starts with a water profile. “We have 32 unique recipes on the go all the time and every one of them has its own water profile. So we don’t even take chances when it comes to the water coming into the business; we strip everything out and then we build the water profile, suiting that style of beer. I believe that gives us a great head start.”

Tom’s passion for the industry was ignited in previously held roles in Heineken and Molson Coors. The RRBC management team are also industry veterans. “That industry knowledge has proved invaluable. We’re also passionate about what we do which you have to be in this business.” In 2021, the Celbridge-based brewery grew by 11%, making it the country’s number one retail craft brewery. Although export and domestic volume is up, RRBC remains very much an independent craft brewer, says Tom. Beers are brewed in 2,500 litre batches, on probably one of the smallest kits in the country. “This week we’ll be brewing 40 brews, so we’re a very hard working brewery. We use 25kg bags of malt which have to be manually lifted and filled every day. We run a very manual process here and as a result, work 24/7 to eke out the volume. I think sometimes we’re not recognised for our efforts due to our size; I believe we’ve done a huge amount of work in raising the bar for Irish craft brewing and for Irish craft breweries.” RRBC is about to go to market to raise €3.5 million for growth capital investment. “I think we need to move away from that pace. It’s very demanding on everyone, on me right down to people working in the warehouse, in production, in finance. Yes, we get great results but I’m conscious of the effort that goes into it. We’re certainly not going to lose sight of where we’ve come from, but the pace at which we currently operate probably isn’t sustainable.”

Like most businesses, inflation is impacting the business. Since the war in Ukraine, glass prices have gone up over 40%. “I’ve always maintained that the Irish consumer doesn’t engage with cans in the same way they appreciate a 500ml bottle. We’re buying bottles from the UK now, but the cost just isn’t sustainable so the lack of glass will require a strategy change. Cardboard and paper has also gone up 40%, utilities are through the roof. Everything is out of control at the moment and there’s very little support for the industry.”

Across all its brands, Rye River exports to 28 countries. Restrictions may have lifted at home, but that’s not the case in other countries, says Tom. “Exports haven’t recovered to what they were pre-Covid. We’re still dealing with regions that have restrictions in place, so the export business is going a little slower than we’d like right now.” The brewery’s popular McGargles range can now be found under the Rye River Brewing Company brand, a move that will land well internationally, says Tom. “The brand is established, as is the reputation and that will allow us to go after more volume in existing markets and new volume in new markets.”

Rye River began brewing in 2017 with the intention of doubling its volume within five years. That goal was achieved in just three. Plans are also in place to begin using the brewery as an intimate event space, known as ‘The Source’, for live music gigs, comedy, theatre, art exhibitions etc. BEHAGS (big hairy audacious goals) have been set and met consistently and the next step is to conquer new export markets. “We’ve got an ambitious volume plan in place for the next few years. I think our overarching aim is to make Rye River Brewing Company an Irish brand that everyone has heard of. When you think of craft beer, you think of us. We’ll continue to produce world class, exceptional quality craft beer and as our reputation grows, so till will the reputation of Ireland’s craft beer market.”