You could say James has been steeped in beer since his childhood in Keash! Certainly his bar tending career started early enough: at the tender age of 12 he pulled his first pint and he really hasn’t looked back since.
As is so often the case, chance played a large part in directing James towards beers of the craft variety. Having worked in pubs in both Ireland and England, he opted for the broader horizons of life in the USA. He moved into beer sales and marketing, working for a craft beer distributor in Syracuse, in upstate New York. In a neat twist of fate, one of the beers on his list was from O’Hara’s in Carlow. As a committed commercial beer drinker, the taste of craft beer was a revelation to James – you could say he was smitten!
However the path to opening his own brewery wasn’t a direct one. Feeling that if he stayed in the US much longer he might never return home, he took the plunge and returned to Sligo in the mid noughties. Ever the opportunist, he tried the hospitality business, taking on Rockview Hotel, a 12 bedroom country house at Lough Arrow which he ran for two years. From there he moved to Benson’s Pub near Charlestown, managing it successfully for a decade.
James has a sharp nose for business and although he could see the recession looming in Ireland, he also knew that the market was ripe for the growth of the craft beer sector. It was in its infancy when he worked in New York but he had watched it thrive and could see that the same would happen in Ireland. He wanted to be part of that growth and along with his wife Valerie determined to open a craft brewery.
There hadn’t been a brewery in Sligo for the best part of a century when James opened his first venture, The White Hag. After a couple of years he sold it to its investor group and set his sights on a new project; to bring craft beer to a new level. James launched Lough Gill Brewery in Sligo Town and brewed its first beer, Anderson’s Ale, in November 2016.
The name Lough Gill Brewery is steeped in history, it was an old Sligo brewery owned by the Anderson family. Their Anderson’s Red Ale was the biggest selling beer in Connaught at the time. James and his master brewer, Tony Wickham from Montana, have reinterpreted that historic ale and are using the traditional name. Many of the bars in Sligo town have it on draught.
Downtime is a rarity for James these days, especially as he and Valerie have four children, all under the age of seven. When he does snatch a few hours, kayaking on Lough Arrow near his home is his way of relaxing.
Although James doesn’t have a family history of pubs, his twin brother Patrick now runs the Foxes Inn in Keash. Does he stock Lough Gill Brewery beers? Of course he does.