One evening after a few drinks in the pub, cousins Paul O Connor and Stephen Clinch came up with the idea to create their own beer. Paul laughs, “it was the brewery starting cliche, we were sitting around the pub lamenting the fact that the Porterhouse was the only pub in the country where you could get beer that wasn’t mainstream. This was around 2006, pre the craft beer take off when there was about six of seven breweries around.”
Trouble Brewing is located in a small industrial estate that straddles Kill and Kilteel. Kildare villages that are within smelling distance of Dublin. The industrial estate is plonked in the middle of pretty countryside, but for these two true blue men the appeal is that it’s near Dublin where they live. It’s a city where they grew up near to each other and formed a bond that would take them to going into business together as adults.
Breaking away from working for “the man”
Paul’s background was in IT and Stephen’s was in retail. They always tinkered with the idea of owning their own business, they just didn’t know what it would be. “I just wanted to get off the conveyor belt of working for someone else. I found it very hard to motivate myself because in the longer term I knew that I was just a pawn there,” said Stephen in a sentiment that many people can relate to.
Reams of regulation
But what they didn’t foresee was how arduous setting up a brewery would be. They had no background in food or drink nor did anyone in their family. Perhaps the naivety was a good thing as Stephen heaps praise on Paul’s perseverance during that time, “Paul had so much work to do around regulation. It was so dense, we had to do that before we even started thinking about brewery equipment or where we were going to have the brewery. It was a massive can of worms that we opened. Then in the meantime we spent time visiting every single brewery. People were pretty open to us coming and seeing what was going on. The community was a lot smaller then… creating beer is the fun part,” he adds with a smile.
Most people would of thrown in the towel at this point but they kept going even when it meant doing the brewing part-time on top of their full-time jobs. “It was a very gradual approach that we had to take, weekends and evenings. It would of been impossible to generate the income we had from our other jobs straight off the back. The first couple of years were tough enough,” said Paul. But obviously it paid off as now they have people working for them and are selling not only in Ireland but into Europe too, “We sent a load of beer to France, Germany, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom for St. Patrick’s Day,” said Stephen who heads up sales for them.
They don’t want world domination
There are two things that define this brewery; independence and puns. “We’re very independent and we stick to independent principles. We don’t feel the need to shout, we let the beer do all the talking. It always been a slow and steady organic growth. We don’t go chasing money or targets. We just try and fulfil demand. It’s always been a case that we have to brew more beer because people want it as opposed to brewing loads of beer and forcing it into the market. We’re not trying to trick anyone into having our beer, we just try to make the best beer that we can.” Stephen is constantly on the road meeting customers, he’s highly aware of the value of that. “I’m in and out of pubs all the time. People at the bar tell you what they think of the beer whether you like it or not!”
“We love a good pun,” laughs Paul. Firstly you’ve got their name, Trouble Brewing then there is Fresh Prince of Kildare (Paul was sceptical that it would go down well, but people loved it), Jack D’RIPA and Owl Day Pale Stout to name but a few. “When we were starting out the breweries at the time all went for very traditional Irish names with harps, shamrocks and all that sort of Celtic stuff. We didn’t want to go down that route. We weren’t going to do that same overtly Irish thing. It didn’t really suit our personality.”
Paul and Stephen are now deemed veterans of the industry even though they have only been at it eight years, “that just tells you how young craft beer is in Ireland,” says Paul. They are laid back to the point of horizontal and their dry Dublin wit shines through in the names that they give the beer to their approach to the business. Paul says, “when we started this there were a couple of interludes along the way were I thought, ‘Jesus what were we thinking!’” The self deprecation hides their focus and positivity to take the business to where it is. They are happy to carve out a niche for themselves and not look for world domination. They are making their loyal fans smile with their quality of beer and humour of delivery and that’s all they need to keep driving them forward.