Martina Rogers is a shining example of the changing face of the beer industry in Northern Ireland.
She’s the co-owner of Northbound Brewery along with her husband David and a firm believer that drinking beer isn’t an activity that is exclusively for males.
Martina has a background in sales and marketing, but she’s very much hands on when it comes to creating Northbound’s beers.
“I do everything but brewing and packaging,” she said. “Myself and Dave taste everything right the way through the process, so I’ll have an input into the flavours and the ingredients we buy in. If it comes to the end of the process and the taste isn’t right we won’t send it out. It’s heartbreaking on the few occasions we’ve had to pour it down the drain but it has to be right. You have to have consistency as a craft brewer. You’re only as good as your last batch.”
The craft beer explosion in Northern Ireland has given rise to a new generation of beer drinkers, with female beer fans very much to the fore.
Martina said: “Having three different craft beers is an alternative to a bottle of wine for some women. Instead of limiting yourself to one flavour of wine you get to try three different flavours of beer.”
In terms of women being involved in the brewing industry, Martina said: “I don’t think beer manufacturing is as male-dominated as it used to be. Beer isn’t the washed out product that it used to be with chemicals. Because there are so many different flavours out there, women are more excited by beer. I do think the female palate can be really quite good and pick up different flavours in terms of testing beers.”
Having spent almost a decade in Australia, Martina and David became passionate about craft beer and David learned about the magic of brewing.
“We decided we wanted to travel and see the world so we ended up in Australia in 2004,” said Martina. “The first job for Dave was with Toohey’s brewery, one of the biggest in Australia.
“He was working in a lot of different roles over the course of eight years. He formalised his love of brewing by studying for a diploma with the Institute of Brewing & Distilling. He was awarded with the Master Brewer qualification, making Northbound the only independent brewer in Ireland with a qualified master brewer.”
When Martina and David got their Australian citizenship, it looked like their craft beer business might have located Down Under. But then the patter of tiny feet came along and they felt the draw of home and moved to Campsie in County Londonderry.
“That’s why our brewery is called Northbound,” said Martina. “Because we were drawn home to be closer to our families.
“I remember we’d just had our third child and all three were under three and a half. Six weeks later a 25 hectolitre brewery arrived which would take us five months to set up. A year after that we were bottling our first beer. That was a crazy time.
“Northbound is basically just myself and Dave. Except on packaging days when we have four casual people to help out.”
Ahead of the Belfast Craft Beer Festival which takes place from April 21 to 23, Martina said: “It’s all really, really good fun. This is the first one in Belfast, but we’ve been to the one at the RDS. On the Saturday last year in the RDS, doors were closed because it was full to capacity. The guys that run it do it so well.
“It’s great to be there with like-minded brewers, offering a great selection of beers and being able to talk face to face with consumers, getting feedback and adding the personal touch.
“The plan is to have the full range of beers at the festival including our new 70 Magnum IPA, which has a nice character from the Magnum hops it takes its name from. We’ll be aiming to have three beers on tap at all times and rotate them.”