Cleveland Comhrá: Sullivan’s Brewing Company

Cleveland Comhrá: Sullivan’s Brewing Company
by Bob Carney

If you frequent some of the Irish pubs or other finer restaurants and establishments that serve or sell beer, you may have come across Sullivan’s Maltings Irish Ale.  Fairly new in the Cleveland area, Sullivan’s is now being led by a seventh generation member of the family that started the company in 1702 in the Maltings on James Street, in the middle of Kilkenny City.

Brewing worldwide was done on a very small scale, and could be hit or miss as far as maintaining any type of consistency from batch to batch. Kilkenney was home to a number of these smaller brewers, but that did not deter Mr. Sullivan from acting on what he saw as remedy for that problem.

He knew that to guarantee that each pint would be as good as the last, he would have to brew on a larger scale. He used the best local ingredients, Kilkenny’s naturally filtered water, and the best brewing methods available to achieve that goal. More importantly, Sullivan’s became an integral part of the community; all of these traditions are still carried on by the company.

During the years of the Great Hunger, Richard Sullivan brewed his, by then world famous ale, during the day, but at meal times and evenings, he and his staff transformed the brewery into one of the largest soup kitchens in Kilkenny. This act has not been forgotten by the people of the region, who still hold the Sullivan family in high regard. This was proven when a fire broke out at the brewery and the community, men, women, and children came together to save the Sullivan family business.

The Gambler
Of course, not all family members are the same. In 1918, a descendent of Richard Sullivan, who had inherited the thriving business, had more of a passion for gambling than he did for brewing. Legend has it that while trying to impress a young lady from an aristocratic French family, he lost the brewery in a wager on a horse race. The brewery closed soon after.

Fast forward to 2016, when a partnership between the Smithwick family and descendents of the Sullivan family  formed to re-open the once great brewery. They brought master brewer Ian Hamilton aboard; adopted a “no rush” method of brewing; and use the same natural limestone filtered water from Kilkenny; local barley; and world class hops, they have created an award winning Irish Ale.

Ireland’s Master Brewers Come to Cleveland
Bridget Burkett is the regional Sales Representative in Cleveland and its surrounding counties. I had the chance to speak to her at a few of the many events that Sullivan’s has hosted or participated in here in the Cleveland Irish community.

OhioIANews: Could you tell us a little about yourself? Are you from Cleveland?

Bridget: I live in Wickliffe, Ohio with my husband John, who grew up in Euclid and is a St. Joe’s graduate. We have four grown children, all who live in North East Ohio. I’m the fifth of five children born in Wellsville, New York near my grandparents dairy farm in Kinney, Pa., once known as the Irish Settlement.

Our people came to America during the 1840s to escape persecution and the famine. We still celebrate an annual O’Donnell reunion back near the farm every second Saturday in August, this being the 115th.  

As a child my family moved to Merrimack, NH. where my father found work as an engineer. We were poor by today’s standards, but rich in faith, pride and a shared love so we barely knew the difference. We were expected to do well in school, participate in sports, go to Mass and be helpful in the community. During our summers, my mother would have a couple of us go to work on her parent’s farm. These were magical times of rising early for milking and hours in sunny fields bringing in hay followed by a dip in the creek.

I graduated from Merrimack High and went on to Boston College to pursue a degree in law. After my graduation, I met my husband and we married a couple of years later. We were living in the Boston area, but shortly after our first child was born, we relocated to the Cleveland area to raise our family. I’ve often said I’m a walking commercial for Northeast Ohio, the quality of life here with Lake Erie, our Metro and State Parks, along with the arts and health systems are truly a hidden gem.

OhioIANews: how did you become affiliated with Sullivan’s?

Bridget: Since my days at BC, my career has always gravitated to positions in sales, albeit as a mortage cosultant or executive account manager. A few years back, I left the corporate world to find a more balanced life.

I began working two part time jobs, one at The Firehouse Grill in Willoughby, and at Integrations Treatment Center, a school for autism in Wickliffe. I had found a good balance. between making money and finding meaning. Then one day my brother-in-law and best friend,

Patrick Dougherty called me and said,”Hey Bridge, would you be interested in being the brand ambassador for Sullivan’s Brewing Company out of Kilkenny, Ireland?”

Would I be willing to do what for who? Of course, “Brewing and Ireland” caught my interest right away, so now I needed to know the rest of the story. It just so happened Patrick’s childhood friend, Kevin Daly, is currently a highly regarded executive at Trylt Distributor in Buffalo, Sullivan’s first market in the US.

Kevin and Patrick ran into each other in my hometown of Wellsville and began talking of Sullivan’s coming to Cleveland;that’s when my name arose as a possible candidate for them. When I spoke to Kevin; he told me the intriguing story of the Sullivan Brewing Company and the connection to the Smithwick family. My interest was piqued, but I had one question, “Is the beer any good?”

Kevin explained that of the 1,500 beers in their portfolio, Sullivan’s Maltings Red Ale is one of the best. With that, I introduced myself to Alan Quane, our CEO; Dan Smithwick, CFO; and Alan Sullivan, Smithwick Director of Operations.  

I met with them for the first time in a coffee shop in Downtown Cleveland, where I learned that Alan Smithwick is a proven, direct descendent of the Great Liberator Daniel O’Connell. I promptly shook his hand in honor!

I quickly fell in love with the beer and the brand. Often when sampling the beer at one of our great establishments, or in one of our Giant Eagle stores, people are struck by my passion for the story and the beer. My expanation is, “I am bringing a great product to a great people, it doesn’t get any better than this!”

OhioIANews: Sullivan’s approach to bringing the brand to a city is a little different, can you elaborate a little?

Bridget: “You have to give to get” has been quoted in many of our weekly Monday morning sales meetings. Giving means becoming involved and adding value to your community, be it in a bar or for a local organization. At Sullivan’s,we brew and sell great beer, but know at the heart of it, we are in the relationship business.

In an effort to give back, we have sponsored the USGAA in Akron July of last year, supported events for the Cleveland Firefighters, The Irish Network, Cleveland Salem Radio and 2019 Toys for Tots Campaign. As the saying goes, “We make a living by what we get… we make a life by what we give.”

Cleveland was Sullivan’s second market of choice. When Gerry Quinn interviewed CEO Alan Quane, he asked him “Why the Great Lakes region, why not Boston, Chicago or NYC to launch?”
Alan so eloquently stated that the people of this region are very much like the people in the midlands of Ireland, where the monks of 800 years ago came to brew beer because of the limestone water rich in important minerals. He explained they felt at home here and described the people of Northeast Ohio and Buffalo similary to the people of Kilkenny, with these three attributes: they are hard working, sports loving and beer appreciating people. It’s so very fitting that they should find a home here in the Cleveland area.

To find out where Sullivan’s is available near you, go to www.sullivansbrewingcompany.com,  and click on the ale finder in the menu.

Sláinte!

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