Having travelled the world with his then girlfriend, now wife Aisling, during the early part of the Irish economic crash, Paddy had to look at his employment options on returning to Ireland.
Paddy’s father John McDonald who passed away in December 2014, carried on a tillage and sheep farming enterprise at Clonmore, an enterprise which is still continued today, by Paddy’s brother Ian. John had always wanted to take advantage of the wonderful spring water supply which existed deep beneath their land, by converting it into some type of commercially viable enterprise.
“Our great great grandfather, also John McDonald and his wife Annie established the Leix Dairy in the 1920s while my Father, Uncle and grandfather set up Clonmore Meats on the farm in the 1970s. So there was a business ethic there and I suppose we all inherited that gene to some extent.”
This led Paddy to look at the possibilities of establishing a microbrewery, having observed their success while on his foreign travels.
He takes up the story: “My brother Ian farms here in Clonmore and grows some 100 acres of malting barley for the brewing and distilling industries, which he supplies to Minch Malt in Athy. So the raw material for a brewery was at hand – the malt.
“I undertook a course in brewing through the Institute of Brewers & Distillers. That course led to a Certificate in Brewing.
“The first step on the road to establishing 12 Acres Brewing Company was to request Minch Malt to malt a batch of our own Killeshin malting barley, separate from that of their normal farming suppliers. They obliged us and that was the starting point. In 2013 when the microbrewery project really started to gain momentum, obtaining a suitable premises became a priority. We then brewed on contract at 9 White Deer microbrewery in Ballyvourney, West Cork. We were brewing our beer here for 2 years and this provided us with a great opportunity to establish our market.”
“There was a lean-to sheep shed on the land and Ian and myself identified it as an ideal location for the microbrewery. Our other brother Barry, who is also a partner in the business is an engineer. His skills came in very handy when we set about designing the microbrewery. Planning permission was sought from and granted by Laois County Council. By September 2016 works were fully completed and now, that lean-to sheep shed has been converted to house the state-of-the-art 12 Acres Brewing Company. The extensive conversion and machinery installation programme was undertaken in the first six months of 2016 by local building contractor Michael Brennan and a variety of local tradesmen.
The brewing process starts with the sending of the McDonald barley to Minch Malt for malting. On return the beer making process begins.
The malted barley is milled and then mashed with hot water. The sugar wort is drained off and then boiled with the hops. The wort is cooled and transferred to a fermenter where the yeast is added. The beer is allowed to ferment for three weeks and is then ready for packing and distribution. “There are no preservatives or chemical additives involved in the process – it is all natural, local, unpasteurised, fresh beer” Paddy McDonald adds.
“We are brewing with our own spring water from a source deep beneath the McDonald land. This source is fed by the limestone aquifer of the Barrow Valley region which is known for its high quality water and produces a water chemistry ideally suited to brewing”.
“We are the only microbrewery in Ireland, and possibly further afield, that brew with our own malting barley and spring water. This ensures that we can control the quality of our own raw materials and in doing so the quality of the finished product. This traceability factor is the key to our business and our unique selling point”.
“The by-products will be used as animal feed on our farm, resulting in zero solid waste from the brewing process and a full life-cycle of our ingredients”.
“This ensures a sustainable environmentally-friendly process from ‘ground to glass;” states Paddy McDonald.
Since August 2016, 12 Acres have been brewing all of their own beer in Clonmore, Killeshin, Co Laois. Paddy McDonald is overseeing the day to day running of the business with help from his brothers, when they can. Aisling helps out with sales in the evenings when she clocks off from her teaching job. Ian works very hard on the farm to maintain the high quality of barley. The business is growing and has the prospect of providing a small degree of local employment as the brewery expands.
12 Acres had been producing 4,000 litres of beers per month while operating out of Cork, but now operating from Clonmore, the new equipment has trebled that potential capacity figure to 12,000 litres.
In 2015 12 Acres won a prestigious bronze medal at the Alltech Dublin Craft Beer Cup and was a finalist in the much coveted Blas na hEireann Irish Food Quality Awards in 2016.