Meanwhile in Rathcoole…
Greenogue Business Park in Rathcoole, County Dublin is a vast labyrinth of just about every business type conceivable. In the midst of this warren of warehouses and constant stream of articulated lorries is a small, unassuming premises. This unit already had a link to the Irish independent brewing community, having been Rascals HQ before they moved to Inchicore. It’s now the home of LINEMAN Brewery, a craft beer business on the rise, with husband and wife team Mark and Vivienne Lucey at the helm.
Founded in 2019, LINEMAN as a commercial entity may be somewhat new to the beer scene, but Mark certainly isn’t;
‘Mark has been a home-brewer for a million years, roughly’, Vivienne laughs.
The name LINEMAN is a tribute to Vivienne’s late father, Micky, who had worked as a Lineman on the rural electrification scheme. He subsequently worked in telecoms, as did Mark. The two were close, although he didn’t have much of a taste for craft beer;
‘He was more of a Smithwicks man’, they agree, recalling him fondly.
Mark explains that he started making beer while in college studying Physics in Galway. He’d make big batches using a home-brew kit to share with his cash-strapped fellow students.
After graduating he moved to Dublin and became a familiar face in independent off-licences like Drinkstore, Martin’s in Fairview and Deveney’s in Rathmines, some of the early adopters of craft beer in Ireland;
‘They used to get a lot of unusual stuff in. When The Porterhouse opened in Temple Bar in 1996 it was a revelation! I was always trying to get the lads from work in there but they all hated it because they didn’t have Guinness. I’d say I’ve paid for a good fraction of the building, after 20 years drinking in the place!’, he says.
‘I loved Belgian beer but it wasn’t as readily available here at the time, so I decided to start making my own stuff. I discovered Duvel (a strong, golden pale ale) on a trip to Belgium and I got really obsessed with making something similar of my own’.
‘Access to ingredients wasn’t anything like it is now though’, he continues, ‘and information about how to brew wasn’t easy to come by either. Basically it’s the type of yeast that gives a lot of the character to the beer, and at the time that was hard to get. What you could do, however, was get a bottle of beer and build from the bit of yeast at the bottom of it. I started experimenting with different bottles and yeasts. I came up with Divil, my tribute to Duvel. It was one of the first Belgian style homebrews I was really happy with. That was the first time I took the approach of working backwards to develop a recipe from a beer I really liked’.
‘That was back in early 2010’ says Vivienne, ‘and I was completely unaware that Mark was building an obsession with beer that would completely change our lives. He was getting so good at it that you couldn’t tell the difference between his beer and what he had based it on.’
‘We started to enter Divil into competitions and it came out on top a lot. Being a foodie in the first place, Mark has a great palate and an ability to identify different tastes easily. I think that’s why he was able to reverse engineer like that. He has that perfectionism in-built, and also the persistence to keep trying.’
As his interest in beer grew, Mark and Vivienne’s home started to gradually morph into a make-shift brewery. Vivienne was fairly bemused by it all back then, unaware how involved she would eventually be; ‘He had these huge saucepans and copper coils in our kitchen’, she remembers, ‘one time we had a visit from a Public Health Nurse as I’d just had our daughter. I made sure she didn’t get a glimpse of the kitchen. I was worried she’d think we had an illegal lab in there or something!’.
Mark moved eventually moved his ‘lab’ out to the garden shed, and was involved in the formation of a home brewing club in Lucan called Liffey Brewers, which allowed him to indulge in his real passion on the side, but he dreamed about having his own brewery; ‘Any spare moment I got I was reading about it online, looking up recipes and equipment’, he says. The day job was ‘paying the bills’, but his head and heart was always in beer. After years of home-brewing, an international competition win started LINEMAN on its way;
‘A few of us at Liffey Brewers got our hands on a whiskey barrel and started making aged Stouts with it. Meanwhile, I had gotten into making sours. Then I got this idea to make a barrel aged sour beer. This was around 2012, and that hadn’t really hadn’t been done in Ireland at the time. We started to make pretty good beer in the barrel. Eventually I came up with a Peach Sour that had been barrel-aged for about a year.’
‘In 2016 it was put forward by the national homebrew club in Ireland for a beer competition in Rome and won first place. That was when I started to think that maybe I was on to something here. When the opportunity for voluntary redundancy came up in October 2017, I went for it. I did my sums and put together a business plan’
His connections from home-brewing were essential in getting LINEMAN off the ground;
‘I knew that this brewery was becoming available and I spoke with the guys about taking it on. I ran the ideas past a few professional craft brewers who I knew and I did my numbers and figured I could get it up and running’
Vivienne says that there’s great camaraderie amongst Irish brewers; ‘We got a lot of support from more established people in the craft beer scene and local independent businesses. Too many names to mention individually but we’re extremely grateful for all their help and advice.‘
Bringing LINEMAN to life has certainly not been without its struggles but Mark is delighted with the creative control it’s given him; ‘I’ve invested everything I have in this. I mean, I could have cleared off my mortgage! It’s all up to me now. As long as I get the sales and pay the rent, I can do what I want. We’re looking to do something a little bit more unusual here, but not gimmicky.’
Vivienne, a trained Graphic Designer, is behind their branding; ‘It’s simple but took a long time to get there. We wanted the logo to be like a stamp, so it’s flexible and can go anywhere. Our plan is to go down the merchandise route once we’re online’. Her own paintings also serve as a backdrop on some of the bottle labels, like the Viking sail on their second beer Saga’s bottle, a nod to the Norweigan yeast used in the brewing process.
The couple are still getting to grips with juggling their new business alongside raising 2 kids, a dog and cat. In 2020, an official launch party and appearances at beer festivals are in the pipeline, but for now they’re concentrating on getting the product into the hands (and mouths) of new customers and bar managers. ‘It’s a crowded market but the beer speaks for itself’, says Vivienne ‘there’s no denying the quality once you taste it’.