Name: Bill Laukitis
Occupation: Head Brewer, Rye River Brewing Company
Background: Established in 2013, Rye River Brewing Company is one of Ireland’s largest independent craft breweries, employing 47 people and producing a range of 30 award-winning beers, under 5 brands.
In conversation with John Daly
When Bill Laukitis searched for a suitable symbol to celebrate his wedding, his thoughts turned to beer. As the Head Brewer with the Rye River Brewing Company, he decided to concoct a memorable beer suitable to the significance of this major life event.
“Brewing is both my career and passion, and I wanted to do something special for my wedding to my beautiful partner, Aoife,” he explained. The end result is entitled ‘The Knot’ - a double dry hopped brew fermented with London Fog yeast that Bill has “poured my heart and soul into making”, containing bursts of crushed gooseberry, sauvignon blanc, grapefruit, lime, mango and papaya, all livened by a spritz of carbonation to awaken the aroma and tantalize the pallet. “
Aoife and I have bound our lives together over the last few years and our marriage is a representation of sealing that bond, so we are tying the knot. While crafting this beer, I was inspired by a knot as a symbol of strength, as the ingredients become intertwined, they are becoming stronger in their union, just like a good marriage.”
The brew will feature as one of Rye River’s seasonal, limited small batch releases.
Bill hails from the town of Holland in Michigan and admits to having had an interest in beer from an early age with legendary Bell’s & Founder’s breweries on his doorstep. Bill spent his twenties travelling the world, working for extended periods in Norway, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and the UK before settling in Ireland in 2010, where he met Aoife.
His first job in Ireland was with Guinness at St James’ Gate, where he went through the firm’s Beer Specialist training. “It’s funny looking back, but any visitor to Ireland will have a visit to Guinness on his list. I was no different, and I well remember walking through the brewery and my New Zealand buddy, whom I was travelling with at the time, said to me, ‘I can see you working here.’ And he turned out to be exactly right.”
After a short time in Dublin, Bill decided to check out the job possibilities at Guinness, and fortunately found himself accepted into a temporary work placement. “I ended up working there for three and a half years, and found myself becoming more and more involved in the craft of brewing, both at home and at work.
Over time Bill became more involved in the home brewing scene and started to share his brews with friends and colleagues.
In 2014 one of those beers led him to a job in Rye River where he started as an Assistant Brewer. Since then Bill has worked his way up from Assistant Brewer to Shift Brewer to Lead Brewer and finally to the position of Head Brewer. During this period, he also completed an Institute of Brewing and Distilling course. Bill’s first commercial recipe was the Crafty Brewing Company American Style Pale Wheat, which went on to win Best Irish Wheat Beer at the Alltech Dublin Beer Cup.
“In Michigan, where I’m from, craft beer brewing is a massive industry, and all through my travels I have always been open to local offerings in that area. When I arrived in Ireland, the craft beer scene was quite small compared to other places, but I could see that it was an industry beginning to gather momentum. I could see an opportunity there, and I’m really proud to be part of this growing scene in Ireland now,” he adds.
Bill manages a brewing team of 10, the same team that has been responsible for brewing the beers that won an unprecedented 19 awards at the World Beer Awards in 2018. Rye River Brewing Company crafts a number of beers under the McGargles, Rye River Seasonal, The Crafty Brewing Company, Solas and Grafters brands. Based in Celbridge Co. Kildare, the company employs 47 people producing the brewery’s portfolio of 30 award-winning beers which are exported to 25 international markets.
The company’s flagship brand, McGargles, is the fastest growing domestic craft beer brand in Ireland, making Rye River Brewing Company the no.1 craft brewery in the Irish retail market. The full McGargles range includes a variety of nine beers.
Rye River Brewing Company has also achieved critical acclaim on the world stage, winning an unprecedented 19 World Beer Awards in 2018, officially making Rye River Brewing ‘Europe’s most decorated brewery’.
Since the establishment of the brewery in 2013, Rye River Brewing has achieved 130 awards.
“The key to our success has been our extraordinary brew team, all of whom are dedicated to crafting flavoursome beers that will consistently deliver for our customers. Excellence flows through our agile small batch brewing process, which empowers us to ensure the best quality beer is always crafted, by experimenting, tasting and smelling at every stage of production.
"We use hand turned malts in our recipes and direct from farm hops, ensuring the freshest crops are always used. In addition, all our 30 beers have a unique water profile to match the style of beer. Our brewhouse and tank farm are 100% Irish made, we believe this makes us unique and definitely 100% Irish.”
The 2018 economic report by the Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland, the trade organisation representing independently owned microbreweries across Ireland, shows the sector comprised of a large number of mainly small micro enterprises with two thirds producing significantly less than 1,000 hectolitres per year (approximately 200,000 pints), with over a third having an annual turnover below €100k. The market share of beer consumption in Ireland from the independent microbreweries currently sits at just 2.8%.
Employment in the sector has increased and it is estimated that 425 jobs are in place directly within industry, with an additional 960 jobs through indirect employment. The report found that independent craft beer consumption rose from 2.5% in 2016 to 2.8% in 2017, but needs to achieve 5% and above to achieve real sustainability. There are currently over 75 microbreweries operating across the country, up from just 15 in 2012.