Limerick: City microbrewery eyes new markets

Treaty City Brewery was born when Stephen Cunneen spotted a gap in the market for both craft beer and a different kind of tourist attraction in the city. Now he is looking to take his beers to Europe and the Middle East

Stephen Cunneen, founder of Treaty City Brewery: ‘Limerick is an up-and-coming city. It’s unapologetic and does its own thing.’ Picture: Sean Curtin/True Media

Craft beer producer Treaty City Brewery is on the expansion trail with plans to start selling in new markets outside Ireland, including Spain, Northern France and Italy – and even further afield into Russia and the Middle East.

The business was started in Limerick city in 2014 by Stephen Cunneen, initially as a contract brewer. Cunneen went on to launch a microbrewery in the heart of the city’s Medieval Quarter five years later.

Housed in two adjoining, formerly derelict, buildings on Nicholas Street, Cunneen’s micro-brewery opened in May 2019 with the aim of raising the company’s profile among tourists and visitors to the city.

Cunneen brews the bulk of his red and pale ales, lagers and IPAs at a separate facility on Childers Road, supplying pubs and off-licences in the Munster region.

A manufacturing engineer by trade, he got a taste for brewing while living and working overseas.

A graduate of both Limerick Institute of Technology and University of Limerick, Cunneen had worked in the medical device and pharmaceutical sectors in Ireland before heading to Canada in 2006.

He lived in Vancouver for more than seven years and, after returning to Ireland, spotted a potential gap in the market for a microbrewery in Limerick while working in the pharmaceutical sector in the southwest.

“That was at a time when the craft beer scene was exploding,” Cunneen said. He got into “gypsy brewing” initially, whereby people brew at someone else’s facility, using their equipment and paying them a fixed fee.

“It allows you to dip your toe in the water, but it’s super-expensive, with very low margins,” Cunneen said.

He opened his own brewing facility on Childers Road on the outskirts of Limerick city in 2014, with help from his father Tony, a fitter and welder.

Cunneen decided to take out a long-term lease on two adjoining buildings on Nicholas Street in the city centre two years later, opening a microbrewery on the site offering tours, to help market the business and create an additional revenue stream.

“On Childers Road, when we were producing in the region of 10,000 to 12,000 litres per month, we often got knocks on the door from what we called ‘free independent tourists’ looking for food and drink and it was a model I’d seen in Canada. I decided there was something in it,” Cunneen said.

“We also needed a small batch offering of between 200 to 300 litres that would allow us to brew the beers we wanted. The Nicholas Street facility became the solution. We went to Norway and brought back a 400-litre kit from Fedje, which we installed at Nicholas Street in 2019.”

The concept took off quickly, attracting a steady stream of tourists visiting the city and looking for something different.

“In the shoulder season, Nicholas Street caught people’s imagination, because it was so eclectic. We had three weddings there, as well as corporate events,” Cunneen said.

As the pandemic began to take hold last year, Cunneen’s response was, he said, to “look to what assets we had – a motivated captive audience and a creative team”.

Fortunate to be granted a producer’s retail on licence, he used the brewery’s social media reach to take orders and close sales online through direct messaging in the local area.

Treaty City Brewery also sold through local off-licences, and was able to keep its three employees employed.

Themed boxes for occasions such as Halloween proved hugely popular, Cunneen said. “People wanted new and different beers as they were stuck at home. We pushed the boundaries with new beers such as Cucumber and Watermelon and people loved it,” Cunneen said.

A new branding initiative followed this, reflecting what Cunneen describes as the “essence” of Limerick, alongside the launch of 440ml cans designed to win over a younger demographic.

“Limerick is an up-and-coming city. It’s unapologetic and does its own thing. The city has huge potential and a fantastic workforce,” Cunneen said.