A Laois tillage farming couple has used the last challenging year to focus on the construction of a visitor centre next to the brewery on their land.

David and Lisa Walsh-Kemmis of Ballykilcavan Brewery just outside Stradbally said that it was a struggle at times, with builders being locked down and material prices increasing rapidly.

“However, the only good news about building during a pandemic was that it meant that we could complete the work on the visitor centre without disrupting too many tours,” David said.

“We are delighted to have the visitor centre finished now and it will be ready to open in spring of next year. We have renovated our 200-year-old mill building and added a small extension, and these will now act as the reception area for tours, and as a tasting room for visitors at the end of the tour,” he said.

Inside the newly renovated 200-year-old mill building which has been converted into the visitor centre

“Most of the tours will be organised through tour operators, but there will also be plenty of public tours listed on our website where anyone can book in to come and visit us.”

Beer sales have been strong again in 2021, according to David.

“So much so that the company has hired in a new assistant brewer and has just ordered in six new fermenters to double the fermentation capacity of the brewery,” he said.

“We have seen consistent demand from our existing Irish customers. The pandemic has very much put the focus onto buying local and from small Irish companies rather than huge multinationals, and we have really benefitted from that.

“We have also started to find some very good distributors in Europe, particularly in Italy, France and Germany, and we are sending more and more beer over to them.

The 240-year-old farm yard at Ballykilcavan where the brewery and new visitor centre are located

“We got to the stage in October where the brewery was completely full up and we urgently needed to brew more beer. So we have made the decision to add the new fermenters which will allow us to significantly increase our export sales, and supply a few events that we are planning for 2022.”

It’s going to be a busy start to 2022 as well for the team members at Ballykilcavan. They have made it through to the final of both the national small business awards in the outstanding small business and sustainability categories, and the national digital awards in three categories: Small business website; hospitality; food and beverage website and, again, sustainability.

There is another round of judging in January for all of them. David was delighted with the news.

“It’s a great credit to the whole team; Joe and Dave in the brewery who keep the beer flowing and Niall on the farm who makes sure that the barley we use is the best quality possible,” he said.

“We’re particularly pleased to be in the sustainability final of both awards,” Dave said.

“The brewery was set up as a way of securing the financial sustainability of the farm, but it is very important to us all that we run it in a way that also ensures its environmental sustainability,” he concluded.