It's an exciting time for the Irish drinks industry with so many new and exciting companies producing world-class spirits - and beers.
Dublin brewery Whiplash launched at the end of 2019 and is as well known for its brilliantly creative branding as it is for its exciting range of beers. We caught up with co-founder and head brewer Alex Lawes to find out more.
What prompted you to set up a brewery?
We founded Whiplash in 2016 as a gypsy or cuckoo brewing project to brew styles of beer we'd like to see more of in the Irish market. At the time we felt that offerings in Ireland were good quality but somewhat behind the variety of what you'd see in more advanced markets like the US or Continental Europe. The general pattern here at the time was near one hundred breweries all producing a pale, a red ale and a stout all trying to appeal to consumers based on their provenance rather than their creativity.
Initially, our focus was to just produce a handful of one-off releases in our spare time but consumers responded with a fair degree of excitement and we found ourselves being described as the 'best brewery in Ireland' even though we didn't have a kit. We made the project our full-time focus in 2018 and built our brewery toward the end of 2019.
What does Whiplash do differently?
Our approach is to make beer we want to drink ourselves and to brew small volumes of everything new and let consumers tell us what they want to see more or less of. We know what's potentially going to make a special beer from maybe an exceptionally good harvest of a hop variety, some ideas we pick up on our travels or just sitting together enjoying a beer and discussing what we'd love to see in a style or invent a new one. Everything starts out as a small run of between 30-40 cases of beer and we go from there. We make the beer we want to drink first and decide how to sell it later.
The brand has a strong personality – was that important to you?
We do all our branding ourselves. People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. In our case, we're all people from backgrounds in music, visual art, food and events etc. whose day jobs were working in beer. Customers and consumers are wise to 'astroturf' brands these days and know they don't have longevity. If you're going to do anything in this area make it genuine and ask more questions about yourself than consumers and you'll find yourself with a strong brand.
Where do you get the inspiration for your beers?
Most times it's being excited about new hop varieties as the majority of what we produce here is very hop-forward IPA's and pales. What we found at the beginning was that the majority of these were generally quite high ABV in the 6.5-10% range so from the beginning we were inspired to make lower ABV stuff in the sub 4% range to suit how we like to enjoy these beers ourselves. Outside of the hoppy stuff we love beers that are of specific cultures and regions and rather than trying to emulate, we try to put modern twists on them instead. We can be inspired by food, wine or even cocktail flavour combinations but always try to make them something that still works as a beer.
What’s the best-seller – and what’s your own favourite?
Our best seller and first love has always been Rollover, our 3.8% super hoppy low ABV session IPA. It summed up that huge hop punch in low ABV but really full-bodied stuff we became known for since day one. Oftentimes consumers associate the strength of the beer with how much work or ingredients go into it and we took it as a challenge to really get across that low ABV stuff could be as or more exciting than the big stuff, and that was how Rollover was born. Initially it was a one-off but, given its popularity and consumers messaging us asking us to brew it again and again, we decided to make it the first beer we'd offer all year round.
What has been your highlight so far?
Our biggest highlights have been being the first-ever brewery to plant the Irish flag at the Mikkeller Beer Celebration Copenhagen (MBCC) in Denmark. It had been something we'd hoped to be able to do some day and having done it in the run up to the brewery build was a monumental achievement for us.
Secondly, being able to invite Mikkeller and so many other friends back to Dublin for our own festival, Fidelity in the Mansion House in 2019 was a serious highlight. There were so many breweries from home like Yellowbelly, Boundary and Rascals as well as guys like Other Half, Finback, Jackie O's, Barrier from the US as well as To Øl, Northern Monk, North, Beerbliotek, Garage. We look forward to being able to do it again this year.
Seeing our very own brewhouse arrive in the door was a special one too. Yeah, that one was very special.
What’s next for Whiplash?
The main thing right now is survival. We have no doubt we'll get through the pandemic but we think about all of our on trade customers who've been really hurt by closing since March. Right now we're investing in our on-site laboratory as well as our barrel ageing programme - making big, endlessly cellar worthy beers that we hope once in package will develop for decades like many of our favourite stouts and barley wines. We’re also planning for new directions like wild yeasts, working with wine casks and producers and even getting back to our first loves of traditionally-made clean Bavarian style lagers. We have a list as long as our arms of breweries from all over the world that we've invited to come brew with us too. It can't come quick enough as we really miss all our pals in the industry and seeing consumers out at festivals.
We’re just looking forward, like most people, to giving each other a big hug and sitting down to a beer like the old days - and it'll come soon.
For more go to Whiplashbeer.com