Photo by Iris Humm.
I’m from Waterford in Ireland but moved to Dublin, where I worked as a secondary school teacher when I was very young. I worked with another teacher who had lived in Barcelona in the Eighties, pre-Olympics. He always spoke about the city with such fondness, plus I was tired of Ireland, so he got me a summer job teaching English. I came with the intention of staying for one summer, but that was 12 years ago. I never left.
Barcino Brewers came about because of my business partner and head brewer, Cian Desmond. He has a Chemistry PhD, is a complete genius when it comes to that kind of stuff, and he’s a total beer nerd, been brewing for 15 years. He kept coming to visit, bringing these amazing beers with him, and eventually moved to Barcelona. That’s when we started brewing beers on my terrace here in the Gothic quarter.
We were at the point where we were giving them out to friends, making them for parties and events, and our beers began getting kinda popular. We thought, why not try to do this commercially? So what started as somewhat of a hobby, developed into this whole thing, this business. We got a distributor here, rather than continuing to sell it ourselves. We had a launch party around Christmas 2013, made a proper label for the bottles, and everything has grown from there.
It’s difficult to say how many spots in the city sell Barcino beer because distributors don’t normally tell you. No beer company really has that information because once they have a list of their clients, they could turn around and undercut the distributors. Say, ‘thanks for finding me a hundred customers. Now I’m going to sell to them directly and don’t need to pay you the commission you deserve.’ I can guesstimate that in Barcelona, it’s about 125 different bars. In Ireland about 60, and in the UK—we began selling there this month—it’ll be about 100 soon.
The concepts for new beers still come from brewing on my terrace. We’re coming out with our fourth beer soon. It’s going to be an amber ale, a gluten-free beer. We’re gypsy brewers, you see. We don’t have our own brewery. It’s a popular way of producing craft beer. We copied the style of Mikkeller, the famous Danish craft beer company. They’re probably the most respected craft beer in the world in terms of their product. They’re contract brewers, which means rather than devoting energy to having a brewery with a staff and day-to-day operations—all the stuff that has nothing to do with beer—they rent space in other people’s breweries when they’re ready to make more product.
We liked this method because it allows us to follow the ingredients. Hops and other ingredients fluctuate almost like the stock market. You can’t just say, ‘Yeah, I’ll have some hops, please’. Availability is scarce. That’s why a lot of microbreweries are often without product. We don’t have that issue because we brew where the ingredients are. We don’t have to wait for them to show up in our city. This approach also makes it less likely for our products to vary.
We brew here in Spain, France, Germany, wherever. England’s been really good to us because they have such a history with brewing. Their standards are amazing. So we go there, take over a brewery for a week and then move on to the next one. From one brew to the next, I don’t know where we’re brewing.
This is my third business in Spain. I am a bar owner, along with James Bligh (a Barcino Brewers partner, as well), and I also started a bike company, but I’m very hands-off now—I’m all about the beer these days. After a few years as a business owner, I felt like I had made all my mistakes as far as opening a business goes. I essentially trust nobody to do anything but myself. This way I rarely get disappointed.
With my first business, I figured money would just start coming in, as if by magic. ‘If you build it, they will come’, right? No. That’s rubbish. Also, if you ask someone to do something for you, or someone says they will do something for you, and you leave it at that, thinking it will happen is one of the biggest illusions in the business world. Presume that no one cares about anything you do, except for yourself, and you’ll usually do quite well.
I love working on something that I’m proud of. I have a genuine interest in bicycles. I have a genuine interest in craft beer. Nothing I do is fake. Beer is also the easiest product in the world for me to sell. When I go into a bar, I’m technically a salesman, but I’m trying to sell a product I actually like so it’s more like talking to a friend. I don’t have to lie, at all. That’s the best part of being a brewer: not having to lie even once in a day.
I like to have adventures apart from running businesses. Every year I go to Aigüestortes. It’s the only protected national park in Catalunya. It’s phenomenal, impossible to describe. One time I trekked with this guy, a mountain guide from North America, and he said he couldn’t believe the scenery there, that it was as amazing, if not more, than anything he’s trekked in the lower 48 states over the past ten years. Recently, I’ve also started doing beach swims up the Costa Brava. Swimming out of one cove, along the coast, and into another cove. It gets a little hairy. If you do it at the wrong time of the day, the wind picks up and waves can overtake you, but it’s cool. I’m honestly scared of everything—like things touching me in the water—but I don’t let that stop me.