Every town can have its own distinctive local beer, but coping with the challenges takes metal

Inside Track: Grainne Walsh, founder and head brewer at Metalman Brewery

In 2011, Grainne Walsh left her job as an IT manager with amazon.com to set up the Metalman craft brewery with her partner Tim Barber in Waterford city. The company employs five people.

What distinguishes your business from its competitors? At the moment the craft beer sector is thriving while the drinks industry overall is in decline, so I feel that having multiple participants brewing is actually supporting the market.

At the moment I don’t think there’s a single microbrewery here capable of servicing the demand for all the beer needed, so we’re not a threat to the big players.

I think what craft brewers are doing is really reinforcing the idea that every town can have its own distinctive local beer. At Metalman, for example, we’re focused on making beers that other brewers aren’t doing, such as our unfiltered wheat lager made with orange, lemon and coriander. It’s really about giving people an alternative to larger or stout.

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What has been the biggest challenge you have had to face? Given that my background wasn't in brewing, deciding to leave the IT world and set up Metalman was obviously a big step. It was a really steep learning curve. Having said that, I think that setting up any business is going to give you that.

I think a key challenge for brewers is cashflow. As small producers, we benefit from a duty rebate which is the only thing that allows us to compete with the bigger guys. However, we can only claim it quarterly, so that makes things difficult. It can also be tough getting paid in the drinks trade, so it is hard work ensuring there’s enough money to cover the wages each week.

What is the biggest mistake you've made in business? One of the things I regret most is not setting up Metalman 10 years earlier, even though the market might not have been ready for us.

My knees and back certainly aren’t glad to be lugging barrels around the place at my age.

What was the best piece of business advice you've ever received? Don't undervalue your product. As new entrants to the industry, I think a lot of microbrewers initially undervalue what they are doing and forget to include things such as labour costs. We can sell ourselves too cheap because we don't look into the real costs associated with what we're doing, and that's obviously something to be avoided.

And your major success to date? I think setting up Metalman and staying in business is by far and away the best success I could have achieved.

Who do you most admire in business and why? The US beer industry is really inspirational. There are a couple of companies like Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada which have stuck at what they're doing and never compromised. I really admire that. There's also a brewery called New Belgium in Colorado that is female-led and owned by the employees, which means that everyone is really engaged in the business. I think there's a lot to learn from them in terms of how to work.

What piece of advice would you give the Government to stimulate the economy? From a selfish point of view, I'd tell them to be more aware of small businesses because that's where economic growth is going to come from.

If you’re trying to encourage new places to open in the retail or hospitality sector, then something has to be done about rates in particular, they are prohibitive.

Do you think the banks are open for business at the moment? I can only speak for ourselves and say that we have a really good relationship with our bank manager and have had no trouble getting financing for what we've needed to do. What makes it more difficult as we grow is the need for personal guarantees. We've been lucky so far in that we've been able to accommodate this, but perhaps the next time we're looking for finance, it won't be so straightforward.

Also, our industry is very capital intensive in terms of expenditure on equipment, but banks don’t necessarily recognise the value of any assets that aren’t properties or cars, which is an issue.

How do you see the short-term future for your business? We completed an interim expansion earlier this year and phase two of that is coming in the next year when we increase the size of our brewhouse. We're also looking at investing in canning equipment and will probably have to consider relocating soon. I think that within 18 months, we'll have moved on and expanded considerably from where we are now.

What is your business worth and would you sell it? If I was naming my price, I would have to think about all we've invested in the business emotionally. We're still really excited about where it's going and the opportunities that are out there, so I wouldn't be in the frame of mind to consider selling or even fixing a price.

I wouldn’t rule out selling the business in 10 years’ time – when I’m tired of hauling kegs around. But, right now, we’re not for sale. In conversation with Charlie Taylor