Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Another Historic Irish IPA and Mild Ale Sighting - Nugent's Brewery, Drogheda, Co. Louth

I've become somewhat obsessed with historic Irish ales in recent times, and although the world and the marketeers in the larger breweries - plus some smaller ones - seem to be focused on the quasi-legendary 'Irish Red Ale', my focus is on something paler and certainly less well-known. Those who follow me on Twitter have been afflicted by my tweets on the subject from time to time but when I spotted an advertisement for yet another historic Irish IPA (I've found many at this point.), with a Mild thrown in for luck, in The Drogheda Conservative in 1866 it seemed liked something I should commit to a blog post.

Back in the day - early to mid 19th century to be precise - Drogheda Ale was well known and lauded by many, including William Makepeace Thackeray who wrote in 1842 that it was both a ubiquitous and 'praiseworthy' ale. A voice closer to home a decade later, John Francis Maguire, even goes as far as to say that Drogheda Ale, along with Cork Porter and Dublin Stout, was 'well known and highly appreciated outside Ireland.'

Indeed in May 1866 the following article appears in a Drogheda newspaper...

Our ancient town is justly famous for many things in the manufacturing line, but in no branch has it obtained so wide celebrity as in the brewing of ale. No ale made in any establishment throughout the united kingdom bears a higher character, or is more deservedly prized, than that produced in Drogheda. Hundreds of thousands of casks are exported annually the sister kingdoms, to America, India, and the continental countries ; and the high estimation in which the beverage is held is sufficiently indicated in the fact that demand far exceeds the supply. But Drogheda, until few years back, confined exclusively the brewing of sweet ale, which established a solid reputation for strength and purity wherever they obtained a footing.

It's nice to see in writing that an Irish Ale - not a Stout or Porter - is so widely exported and held in such high esteem, even if we do take writeups like these warily given they were written 'in house', so to speak, by locals.

I suspect that most of that ale was brewed by Cairne's Brewery on the south bank of the river Boyne, the site of which is now - depressingly - a shopping centre, and probably some from Casey's on West Street and Stockwell lane in the centre of town too - perhaps some of the beer from Castlebellingham up the road was also included under the general term 'Drogheda Ale'. (I'm not sure about this, as their ales were normally flagged as 'Castlebellingham Ales'.)

But back to my latest find, and the first mention I have of this establishment, known as Mell Brewery, is when it was in the ownership of Symes & Co, who were advertising strong and mild ales from 1861. The brewery was situated on the north bank of the river Boyne at the western end of Trinity Street in Lower Mell on the outskirts of the town of Drogheda. They went into liquidation in 1863 although some retailers were still advertising ales and table beers under the Symes & Co name up to 1865...

By 1865 the brewery was under new ownership with Messrs. Nugent & Co at the reins and there cunning plan was to brew something different to their competitors - India Pale Ale. In 1866 the following advertisement appears in a local newspaper.

As we can see they are brewing an India Pale Ale and a Mild Ale and here we have our old friend Charles Cameron popping up yet again to give us his opinion on them, with the IPA being 'brilliant, sparkling and of a most agreeable flavour' and 'equal to the best specimens of Burton-on-Trent Ales...' If we take it at face value then it is high praise indeed but the mention of Mild Ale is in one way much more interesting as it once again highlights that Ireland did brew Milds. Cameron's remarks it being 'free from nauseous sweetness' and that it includes a high percentage of alcohol, the former statement giving us an insight perhaps into what Drogheda ales et al were like at this time and the latter reinforcing that Milds aren't always low in alcohol. (By the way, other ale types were being brewed in Drogheda before this time, as Casey's were brewing sweet, bitter and table ales in the 1850s.)

There are more newspaper write-ups around this time with one mentioning that pale ales were a new venture for Drogheda and that the local brew, up until this point at least, was quite sweet - so perhaps the famous Drogheda ale was a sweet, strong and maybe darkish? Maybe amber? Maybe even ... red?

Anyhow, the articles go on to wish the company well in the future and hope that Drogheda Pale Ale becomes as famous as its older darker, sweeter sibling.

(If you want to dig a little deeper into the attributes of Drogheda Ale, specifically Cairne's version, Ron Pattinson has an analysis of a talk about it given in 1862 here.)

Incidentally Mell Brewery and Messrs. Nugent also appear to have brewed a stout, which I'm assuming was a stout porter, which was also available in 1866 when they looked for a brewery agent in Falmouth in England to sell both it and their ales, plus they had agents in Dublin and Belfast. They also mention 'Sweet Ales' as being available and that they 'will bear favourable comparison with any in the market.', which smacks of hedging you bets if you ask me ...

Unfortunately the venture appears to have been short-lived as by 1868 the various Nugents are selling off all of the loose brewing equipment as they are 'retiring from the business'. This seems quite odd as they were only in business such a short time so either something major happened to said Nugents or the business wasn't the success they hoped it would be, and the retiring comment was just to save face. For whatever reason the hope of Drogheda IPA emulating the gravitas of its counterparts across the Irish Sea was not to be and sadly both it, their Mild Ale and the rest of their production faded from the brewing history of Drogheda and Ireland.

The building and site don't appear to have been used as a brewery again as by 1869 it was being used as a cavalry barracks and was up for sale on a number of occasions until 1884 when the actual brewing equipment itself was put up for sale. By at least 1885 it was owned by Patrick Casey Connolly, the then owner of Casey's Brewery in the town, who had turned it into a maltings by 1890.

(I have read a few sources that claim Casey's were brewing on the site and one that says that Casey's moved all of their brewing to here. All I can say is that I can see no record of this and Casey's were brewing in town up to the early 1900s, having refurbished the premises there between 1888 and 1890 . They could have course used it as an auxiliary brewery at some point but I have not come across anything that proves they were.)

Here's an OSI map published around 1870 which still shows the brewery buildings and the site, the hexagonal structure is a 130ft chimney. The presumably repurposed brewery structure beside it is likely to be an 1834  flax mill owned by Thomas Ennis - the original occupier of the site as far as I can make out - and it was 4 storeys high according to a description when it was auctioned in 1858.

In 1926 the long vacant site was reopened as a clothing factory, which means it may have almost turned full circle from its beginnings in the flax trade.


(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive  -www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk  - where most of the information I've complied was sourced.)

Map County Louth : Drogheda : sheet 7 is by OSI via UCD and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

D'Arcy's Dublin Extra Stout Label

(Newspaper Page © The British Library Board)

Trawling though a few old newspapers online I came across the below advertisement for D'Arcy's Brewery in Dublin in the Sport (Dublin) newspaper from 1896. I was quite take by the facsimile of the label for their Dublin Extra Stout - complete with anchor - so I cleaned up the image a little a decided it was worth posting here.

It's a nice piece of Dublin brewing history, I wonder has anyone got the real thing?


(Newspaper Page © The British Library Board)

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). 

Monday, 9 November 2020

More Non-Intoxicating Drink: Hovenden & Orr - St. Stephen's Brewery, Dublin

(Image is Courtesy of Dublin City Library and Archive)

A mention of an establishment called 'St. Stephen's Brewery' piqued my interest in a previous post about The Dublin Hop Stout Company, as prior to that I had only come across a brewery of the same name in Waterford.

It turns out that the name was also used by a company called Hovenden & Orr, which was established in 1892 at 131 St. Stephen's Green (although the proper entrance seems to have been off Glover's Lane), almost opposite the main entrance to the park. Messrs. Hovenden and Orr seem to have previously worked for Thwaites, the better known mineral water manufacturer, before setting up their own company making soda water, lemonade, ginger ale and 'medicinal' drinks with names like Lithia, Kali, Potass. (In advertisements from this time they also make a point of stating they were the only manufacturer to use glass lined tubing instead of the usual lead or tin for their pipework - no lead poisoning is surely something to promote!) There is a small image of the enterprise in the corner of the poster at the top of this post. It appears to be in an inner courtyard shown on an Ordinance Survey map from around this period.

They start to advertise their Hop Bitters in 1895 and this is also their first use of the word 'Brewery' (sitting above their address) in any advertisements and in 1897 they first use the full title of 'St. Stephen's Brewery'. I can only think that they used the name to add a little legitimacy to there hop bitters at this time, especially given the competition I reference in the above mentioned post. They are brewing Ginger Beer as well as Hop Bitters in 1900, along with their core lines of soda water and other mineral waters, and a 'Dublin Ginger Stout' appears in 1905, but these are all under the Hovenden & Orr name alone. All of their production over the years seems to be of non-intoxicating products.

The St. Stephen's Brewery name, which they appear to have dropped in 1898 reappears for an advertisement tied to the Irish National Exhibition in 1907, perhaps because they had a separate stand for their Hop Bitters and a Dublin Brown Ginger Stout at the showcase and again wanted to give it more of an air of legitimacy. I can't find the brewery name being used mentioned after that point.

Advertisements seem to run with just the Hovenden & Orr name from then on, and the main company name seems to disappear when they merged with a number of other Dublin mineral water manufacturers in 1927.

The whole enterprise probably warrants a longer look, more research and a bigger post at some point in the future.


(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its source and a link back to this post. All original photographs are my own and can not be used elsewhere without my consent.)

The rights to the poster image is held by Dublin City Libraries (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie) and from whom I've received permission to reproduce here.

Newspaper images © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). 

Thursday, 5 November 2020

The Red Cow Inn - A Carlow Merchant's Token

© The Trustees of the British Museum

From stumbling around in the local history of pubs, taverns and inns I'd previously come across mentions of The Red Cow Inn in Carlow, but by chance today I came across this photograph of a related merchant token on the British Museum website (plus a second one shown below). It is from 1657 and was struck for a gentleman call John Masters who seemingly owned said inn in town, the site of which wrapped around the corner of Dublin Street into Tullow Street in Carlow, excluding it actual corner itself.

I had first come across the coin as mentioned in Carlow: The Manor and Town, 1674-1721 by Thomas King and a previous online dig brought up a more detailed commentary in On Merchants' Tokens Struck in the Towns of Carlow, Bagnalstown and Tullow published by Robert Malcomson in 1869, so it is a well known black and white woodcut image to local historians but I'm unsure how many people have seen a photograph of it in the virtual flesh, so to speak.

It reads 'JOHN MASTERS 1657' and '1 D' (1 Penny) on one side and 'IN CARTHELOUGH' [sic] and an image of a horned red cow on the other. It was made from brass according to Malcomson.

John Masters was 'portrieve' (portreeve) of Carlow -  a kind of high-ranking town official - again according to Malcomson, and we know from Thomas King's book that Masters owned the Red Cow Inn, so although that looks a bull like I'm pretty sure it's meant to represent a cow.

I wonder did Mr Masters also have a brightly painted or carved sign with a red bull hanging from his premises? I would like to think so...


Please note this image is © The Trustees of the British Museum and shared via Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) from The British Museum website. please don't use it without proper attribution and a link back to my site if you've found it first here.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Monday, 2 November 2020

The Dublin Hop Stout Company - Temperance Brewing in the late 19th Century

On a Sunday morning in January 1896 there was a freak accident at no 45 Stafford Street in Dublin, when an unfortunate individual named William J. Keogh tumbled out of the open and unprotected upper storey window while coming down a stairway and fell 25 feet into an internal courtyard while allegedly, and  ironically as we shall soon see, under the influence of drink. A company called the Hop Stout Brewery was named as owners of the building at the inquest into his death and it was suggested by the jury that said company might consider the unfortunate wife and child he left behind after poor William's later demise in Jervis Street hospital from brain damage compounded by a broken back and fractured limbs. A verdict of accidental death was recorded an no actual blame was attached to any party.


A company brewing non-intoxicating drinks is not something that many people would associate with  late 19th century Dublin but the above mentioned brewery was just such a producer, it origins beginning in 1892 when the following advertisement appeared in Irish newspapers.



Beg to call attention to their now non-intoxicating Beverages.

Barrett's Dublin Hop Stout,
     The only true non-intoxicating Stout. The most nutritious temperance drink yet made. Equal to Dublin Porter without the alcohol. Brewed from the finest malt and hops.
Barrett's Dublin Hop Porter,
    This beverage is similar to the article imported by English firms under the name of Hop Stout, but is superior in flavour and appearance.

Barrett's Dublin Hop Bitters,
    A Bitters of the type in greatest demand in the South of Ireland. Delicate in colour, of tonic quality, and brewed from the purest ingredients obtainable. The only Hop Bitters of Irish origin gaining Honours at the recent Brewer's Exhibition.

Barrett's Dublin Hop Bitter Ale,
    The nearest approximation to a Burton Dinner Ale yet brewed without intoxicating qualities, and possessing the same invigorating and tonic properties. Not so sweet a Hop Bitters, and preferred by many for this reason. This article is unique.

     This Company was the only firm of Irish Temperance Brewers awarded a Medal at the recent Brewers' Exhibition.

      The above Beverages cannot be surpassed in price or quality.

      For Samples and Terms apply to



Here we can see that The Dublin Hop Stout Company (or Stafford Street Brewery) were brewing a whole range of beer-like products in the form of a 'Hop Stout' that they claim is the equal of Dublin porter and a 'Hop Porter' which is, confusingly and contractively, similar to an 'English Hop Stout', as well as 'Hop Bitters' - a drink which I've written a little about before - and finally a 'Hop Bitter Ale' that's allegedly close to a Burton Dinner Ale.

These kind of drinks weren't new of course, they had been around before as both imported and domestic products, driven in a large way by the various temperance movements that waxed and waned over the years. Canny brewers trying to survive in difficult times spotted a gap in the market and switched to them or other business people seized on the mood of the day to set up new companies, something that would be repeated in prohibition America a few decades later in even more trying circumstances. I have a few labels in my own collection and there are plenty of more examples out there.


The Stafford Street Brewery stood on what is now Wolfe Tone Street (It was renamed in his honour as he was born in number 44.) The brewery and stores were at number 47 and 48, although the brewery owners also held the leases for numbers 44, 45 and 46 so they owned what was Wolfe Tone's home at one point. Today most if not all of the site is occupied by an insurance provider in a modern, characterless building, but there is a photograph of the street from around this time in the Lawrence Collection on the NLI site. Sadly it only catches number 44 and a little of 45 as well as others on the south end of the street but it gives a feel for the area and the buildings as they were at the time.

I have found a plan of the brewery in a Goad Fire Insurance Map from 1893, which shows the layout and also incidentally the courtyard where the unfortunate Mr. Keogh fell into at number 45. You can see the offices, cooperage, fermentation room, the brew house, washing room and laboratory on various floors around a central covered courtyard. It seems to be a fairly tidy setup with access via an archway to Stafford Street.

The brewery was originally conceived and set up - with the help of others - as a side project by William G. Barret who operated as a drink importer and rectifying distillers, hence the "Barrett's" names on the drinks. Some time after 1894 he left that company to return to his own business at 25-28 Great Strand street, not very far away from Stafford Street, where he traded as W. G. Barrett and Co. He lived in Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) where he became chairman of the local council, and appears to have been a well liked and philanthropic individual. He died there in 1908 and is buried in Dean's Grange according to his obituary, he even has a small street named in his honour in his home town.

The company continued to brew and produce its drinks for a number of years afterward, although judging by the constant comments in advertisements at this time regarding its alleged superiority over its imported competitors - presumably Wheatleys, Gilmours, Kentora and others - it appears to have been under a fair degree of pressure. If we add to this existing local producers of stouts and other beer-like products such as Shank's and Egan's, plus the emergence of a number of new non-intoxicating drinks around this time like those from Hovenden & Orr at St. Stephen's Brewery, the market was becoming over saturated in non-intoxicating drinks, although it does reinforce just how popular these drinks were at this time. 

The brewery (A portion of which is pictured above and the boiler shown is also noted in the inner courtyard in the map above.) employed twenty men in 1896 and one newspaper article claimed it could employ two hundred if  'the working men of Dublin [would] patronised the home manufactured article' instead of imports. In fairness the brewery and its management appear to have been very much pro Irish produce and they tried to source as much as they could from within these shores, the barrels they used were all made in Dublin and the manager was a prominent member of the Irish Industrial League. They were even known to put 'Erin go Bragh!' [sic] - which roughly translates as 'Ireland Forever' - on their advertisements in the newspapers of the day

It's interesting to note that these beverages were all sold as 'non-intoxicating' drinks more so than 'non-alcoholic' and many certainly had some alcohol in them, as they appear to have been brewed in a similar way to normal beers, at least up to a point. I have come across a letter from the secretary of the Dublin Hop Stout Company to the editor of the Cork Constitution newspaper that says their products leave the store with a little over a half of one percent alcohol, which over a long period in poor conditions might reach over '2 per cent proof' due to it being a bottle conditioned product that continued to ferment. This is an important find as it shows that at least some of these drinks certainly contained a certain amount of alcohol. (This letter was referencing an earlier article where it was deemed that their 'beer' could not be sold by an unlicensed trader as a tested bottled had exceeded the 'two percent proof', another important point as this shows us the threshold of what a licenced versus an unlicensed trader could sell at this time.)

Given their low alcohol and presumably arrested fermentation one would wonder how these drinks compared taste-wise to the intoxicating products they were trying to replace. Articles and advertisements from the day including an entry in a catalogue for the Isle of Man exhibition mentioned above say that their stout (the product they appear to have launched first) is:
'Brewed by the Dublin Hop Stout Co., Limited, non-intoxicating, resembling Dublin stout in appearance and flavour. It is a true beer, containing the same ingredients as ordinary porter; no cane sugar or other foreign materials are used at any stage of its manufacture. It has as high a gravity as any Dublin porter.'
This is of course written, like the advertisement above, by the manufacturers themselves so it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. If you want to take Sir Charles Cameron from the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin's word (and I'm not saying you should) about their hop stout, he says in an advertisement from April of 1892 that it:
"EXACTLY resembles Dublin Stout in appearance.'
"Has a PLEASANT flavour."
"Consists of Carbohydrates, Albumenoids, and other DIGESTIBLE substances"
and that
"The agreeable bitter principle which it contains is derived from HOPS ONLY"
[Capitalised words are as per advertisement]

In a note from the Distillers' and Brewers' Exhibition held in Dublin in 1894 the reporter mentions meeting Mr. Barrett on his 'artistically arranged' stand and being impressed by the stout saying that he was hard pressed to tell it from an intoxicating stout from the large Dublin brewers and that he felt it was a much superior product to similar ones imported from England. So it does appear at least to have been made without any strange adjuncts and be quite a drinkable product as many other reports reiterate.

Sadly it appears that tastes changed and these kinds of drinks began perhaps to fall out of favour with the Irish public, and certainly that market saturation by too many producers jumping on the band wagon didn't help, and by December of 1896 it was in liquidation and up for sale as a going concern along with the leases on the other properties surrounding it.


But that's not the end of the history of this brewery site as by May of 1897 it appears to have been bought and reopened as the Irish Crown Brewery Co. Limited with a similar strapline regarding supporting home trade, and selling hop bitter and hop stout. In August of that year they even launched a non-intoxicating 'Hop Lager' - Surely a first for Ireland if not further afield? - using pure Vienna hops and Irish malt, exhibiting it at the RDS horse show that year. They even get a mention for their flag display on Stafford Street where the procession stopped to admire the newly erected plaque on number 44 for the Wolfe Tone commemoration in 1898. (The plaque is still there by the way, just on a different building.)

But perhaps all is not as it seems for this new brewing company, as in August 1898 a writ of summons is issued against them by a Commercial Traveller who was seeking to recover the not inconsiderable sum of £71 10s 6d for money he alleged to have paid on account for the defendants, or more accurately their predecessors the Dublin Hop Stout Company. The plaintiff then alleged that the current directors of the Irish Crown Brewery, with one exception, were the same as those of the Dublin Hop Stout Company and therefore they were liable for the debt. The defendants denied all allegations and claimed not to know the plaintiff, which certainly seemed odd, and they won their case.

Also in 1898 the company was trying to raise money by selling one hundred £1 debentures bearing 5% interest so it seems like they were quite hungry for cash, but this appears to have not helped their financial woes as in July 1899 a solicitor for the 'Trustees for the Debenture Holders' of the company looked for tenders for its purchase as a going concern and lists the premises as 46, 47 and 48 Stafford Street, saying that a receiver has been appointed. It appears that no buyers were found as a compulsory winding up order was issued on the 20th of the month and any creditors or person from company were asked to attend a hearing if they opposed said winding up.

The hearing didn't exactly go smoothly with the solicitor for Messrs. Leechman and Cownie (who you will notice operated as stationers and printers in number 42 and 43 Stafford Street in the NLI photo referenced above.), judgement creditors for the company, claiming that the new brewery 'had been a bogus company from start to finish' and that some of the assets had vanished in recent days. The company was in voluntary liquidation and it was agreed that no more assets should be removed from the premises. There was and adjournment and at the next hearing it was said yet again that the business had been carried out by the same persons regardless of the change of name and that the Dublin Hop Stout Company had 'incurred liabilities and disappeared', then the present company had formed, again perhaps implying something nefarious.

It's all a little complicated given all the legal-speak but it seems to be that Leechman or Cownie were owed money from the brewery and wanted to force a compulsory liquidation in order for them to get that money but the business was already in voluntary liquidation anyway, owing a great deal to creditors, whose money for most would never materialise. At the next sitting the Master of Rolls dismissed the petition for that compulsory liquidation. It appears that most of the other creditors favoured the voluntary liquidation anyway, perhaps hoping to get something from the process, although it was alleged again that assets were being removed and 'wasted'.

The bigger issue raised yet again was the nature of the change from one brewery to another, where it was implied that the business in reality just changed its name in order to renege on its debts but continued with practically all the same people at the helm, which was first alluded to by our Commercial Traveller above. (Most of this can be read in the Irish Independent - 15th November 1899)

It appears that no investigation was carried out into the activities of the brewery - or breweries - and the final nail in its coffin is a small notice in the Dublin Gazette at the end of 1902 saying that the Irish Crown Brewery had been struck off the register and dissolved.


So ended perhaps a little ignominiously a bold venture and although maybe there were some shady dealing nothing seems to have been proved regardless of the allegations. It does raise questions as to how well or not the company was run but if we want to end on a positive note we might just say that perhaps, just perhaps, they were a century ahead of their time.

By the way, we never do find out if poor William's widow received any money from the owners of the original brewery, but the cynic in me thinks not. I can't help but think that had he partook of the drinks brewed a couple of doors up then he would possibly have lived another few decades and survived the brewery itself.


(I have purposely omitted the names of any of those directly involved in the companies apart from Mr. Barrett, as that was a given and he seems to have gotten out without any tarnish to his reputation.)

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its source and a link back to this post. All original photographs are my own and can not be used elsewhere without my consent.)

Newspaper images © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). 

Map image via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Phoenix - The Brief History of an Irish Ale that Burned Brightly

© Independent News and Media PLC

The history of Irish beer and brewing is awash with the flotsam and jetsam of brands that didn’t quite make it, as a quick look back through my previous writing on the subject will demonstrate. Most are vaguely remembered if at all, consigned as also-rans in the various shake ups, closures and takeovers that some would argue have damaged and monopolised the heart and soul of Irish brewing, or lost to the ever-changing whims of the beer drinking public as tastes and trends changed, driven perhaps by clever marketing teams more so than great brewers.

 But there is one brand, helped by its longevity, that seems to have remained in the public’s mind better than any other, and that is Phoenix. 

 A mention of the brand during a conversation in a pub or on social media will elicit responses such as:

 ‘Oh, Phoenix? My uncle used to drink that!’

‘There’s a glass mug with that name on a shelf in our house.’

‘Phoenix? Wasn’t that the same as Macardles?’

 Inevitably the conversation always ends up in one of two places, either with a mention of an advertisement1 of dancing glass tankards, or recollections of dusty pint bottles sitting on a low shelf in a bar somewhere - usually Waterford.

© Independent News and Media PLC

Phoenix was born as ‘a new "bright" ale to suit Irish tastes and meet modern trends at a moderate price.’ according a newspaper article2 for its launch in April 1956. It was to be distributed by a newly formed company called Cherry-Cairnes Ltd, representing both of those breweries. Cherry’s was Guinness controlled at this time and had reopened what used to be the Davis - Strangman & Co. brewery (Now Waterford Distillery on Grattan Quay). Sir Richard Levinge, the chairman of this new company, said that the ‘ale drinkers in Ireland, in contrast to those elsewhere, prefer the full-bodied hop flavour and yeasty taste of a naturally conditioned ale.’ although he then goes on to say that it is chilled and ‘filtered to ensure biological purity’ so how the yeast bite mentioned in his first statement would remain seems contradictory. He continues to say that it can be enjoyed ‘to the last drop’ and therefore implying that its main rival Smithwick’s No. 1 the other main pale ale could not, due to it being bottle conditioned and therefore had cloudy dregs remaining in the end of their bottles.

For those who are interested in where the name came from, he addresses this by saying that the name Phoenix was ‘known to everyone and [...] is easy to say in Ireland.’ I take this as a nod to The Phoenix Park, Dublin’s largest green area and certainly known countrywide, but the article also states that there was a link with the old Phoenix brewery in Dublin, ‘once situated immediately adjacent to the new [...] Dublin [distribution] depot.’ [Edit: In the comment section below The Beer Nut suggests that this new depot was just the Guinness one at James's Gate, which makes sense.]

Colonel Cairnes, the chairman of his same named brewery, takes over the speaking and makes the point that although they are in partnership on this venture, his brewery will remain ‘completely independent’ and that they will continue to produce their own range of beers alongside of Phoenix, and implies Cherry’s would continue to produce theirs too.  He goes on to say that Cairnes Ltd. will supply everywhere north of a line between Dublin and Galway and Cherry’s would supply everywhere south of that with both suppling the Dublin depot on Thomas Street for sales in the city district. This seems like a clever way to achieve nationwide coverage and manage the volume of production required for an all-island assault and it appears to have worked quite well, as in its first year it had achieved 20% of the market share, mostly at the expense of Smithwick’s No. 13. Guinness are mentioned as being on hand to assist with any laboratory work or with other technical resources. (Coincidentally - or maybe not - Smithwick’s ran an advertisement right beside this article stating that the export version of No. 1 was now for sale ‘in the Republic’ and that it was ‘The “All Clear” Signal to Great Enjoyment!', so perhaps pre-empting one of the article's messages.)

Phoenix was launched in Northern Ireland in August 1956 being brewed by Cairnes as per their geographic agreement but ‘in conjunction with Cherry’s Breweries, Waterford’ according to an advertisement4 on that date, with a reinforcement of the message that technical assistance was being brought by Guinness mentioned again, implying that this was a mark of its quality. It was being bottled at this point by P. Murphy & Sons in Ballymena for this market (Findlater's bottled for Dublin and possibly the rest of Ireland), presumably being shipped in bulk (tankers pictured here) or cask to their bottling plant. Again, the focus is on it being a ‘full bodied flavour, a bright ale, and ale that pours clear...’ and there is no mention of it being available on draught yet in either territory.

Phoenix was marketed as ‘Special Ale’ and in 1957, the year after its arrival on the beer scene, its big brother/sister Phoenix Barley Wine was launched. It was marketed as beer for cold weather and also as one for women, with the by-line ‘P.S. And ladies love it.’ added to advertisements5 at the time. Interestingly it mentions that it was available on draught too, perhaps making it the first and only beer branded as a Barley Wine offered on draught in the country prior to the arrival the microbreweries. This would lead me to believe that ‘normal’ Phoenix was also on draught at this point, and it certainly was by 1958 from mentions I have come across elsewhere.

© Independent News and Media PLC

Here are  couple of later labels for Phoenix Barley Wine from my own collection, and it is interesting that these two labels don’t mention it being brewed in Waterford, instead they keep the provenance vague leading me to think that at the dates these were printed, which I’m unsure of - maybe seventies and eighties - that these were not being brewed in the Waterford brewery.

Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

In 1958 Phoenix won an international award in Belgium and it changed its name from ‘Special Ale’ to ‘Prize Ale’ (I have also seen advertisements with ‘Export’ Prize Ale on the label, I’m unsure if this was a stronger version or not.) and the consortium posted the following advertisement in newspapers6:


BELGIAN PREMIER PRIX FOR FAMOUS IRISH ALE: Before international panel of experts at Ghent, Belgium, Phoenix Ale has been awarded a Premier Prix in the World Beer Competition. The chief qualities considered by the judges were: flavour, condition, head-retention and “body”, and this popular Irish ale took first prize in the face of keen competition from the products of U.S.A., Britain and the Commonwealth, Canada and many European countries.

THE ALL-IRISH ALE: Phoenix Ale is chilled, filtered and pasteurised in the most modern plants of their kind in Ireland. It is produced by an all-Irish enterprise backed by Irish capital, employing skilled Irish labour and using native-grown barley. And it’s specially brewed for Irish tastes so the First Prize in world beer competition proves how discerning Irish tastes are!

A STANDARD SAMPLE TOOK THE AWARD: Some brewers brew specially for competitions of this kind but the Phoenix entry was a standard sample—the very some Phoenix Ale that thousands of Irishmen enjoy every day. Try it yourself. You’ll agree—at home or abroad it’s fine—it’s PHOENIX.



They are really pushing the Irish angle here, perhaps a dig towards the UK imports that were quite popular here such as Bass and others. This is the first mention I have found as to it being pasteurised as well as chilled and filtered, and possibly made it the first pasteurised beer in Ireland. (Perry’s brewery in Rathdowney had a filtered ale called ND (No Deposit) around 1900, perhaps making it the first filtered ale in the country.)

In an interesting aside, a Drogheda dredger was launched in this year not by smashing it with champagne but with a bottle of ‘Cairnes Phoenix’!12

© Independent News and Media PLC

By early 1959 Cairnes Brewery was in trouble, regardless of the award winning success of Phoenix, indeed it had being operating at a loss since 1950 and the final nail in the coffin was that ‘the ale trade, due to adverse weather, had suffered in succession the three worst seasons for a very long time.’7 combined with increased production costs. And so, production of Phoenix appears to move solely to Cherry’s Waterford brewery at this time as indicated by another launch in Northern Ireland of Phoenix Ale brewed ‘in Waterford by Cherry’s Breweries Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Arthur Guinness Ltd.’8

An article about the launch of Harp in 1960 mentions that the marketing of Guinness’s new lager would be ‘undertaken by the Phoenix organisation, whose success with Phoenix ale at home and abroad greatly encouraged the Guinness company in undertaking the new venture.’ So, it seems that Phoenix’s success was in part responsible for the launch of Harp lager - along with changing customer tastes of course. The same piece states that at this point Phoenix sales were increasing by 12% per month and that annual output had quadrupled since its launch, with one third of that output being sold as draught. It also claims that Phoenix had only been launched in Northern Ireland in 1959, which is at odds with an advertisement from 1956 I quoted above, although I’m thinking that perhaps it was only launched on draught in the north in that year and that is where the confusion lies. The Cherry’s brewery in Waterford was upgraded around this time too, to help deal with demand.9 We can see here that Guinness appeared to be lining up to have a say in the growing lager market as well as pale ale and, of course, their stout – maybe as an attempt to cover almost every beer base. Indeed, with Irish Ale Breweries Ltd. (A sales and marketing group organised by Guinness and Inde Coop/ Allied Breweries) coming on the scene even the Macardle Moore brewed Double Diamond was being promoted with Phoenix – a curious partnership.10

© Independent News and Media PLC

By 1965 some production of Phoenix was being brewed by Perry’s Brewery in Rathdowney in Laois who had been taken over by Cherry’s in the late fifties. Brewing records for that year show a few batches of an ale with that name being brewed there. Edd Mather has transcribed one recipe I found showing it to have an IBU of 34 and an abv of 5.25%. Ron Pattinson also has a different recipe in his book ‘Let’s Brew’ which is from 1966 that gives an IBU of 41 and an abv of 3.6. (I wonder was this one a version of that Barley Wine? Ireland's take on the style all seem to have been relatively low in alcohol.) Whether these were test brews or supplementary production to what was being brewed in Waterford I don’t know, but Phoenix did get a recipe change at sometime in the 1960s so perhaps these Perry's brews were the start of that production.

Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

It certainly appears slightly darker in undated television/cinema adverts from the sixties that highlighted that changed, so maybe it was being more closely aligned with darker Smithwick’s Draught, which was launched in 1966 to replace the pale Smithwick’s No. 1 ale that was in my opinion a reaction in turn to some of the darker English ales that were starting to take hold in the market such as Watney’s Red Barrel. Indeed, Smithwick’s overtook Phoenix in sales in 19683 and perhaps that was the beginning of Phoenix’s slow death. (Incidentally, I possess a label that shows the abv was 4% around the 1980s.)

© Independent News and Media PLC

Also from 1968, I came across this advertisement showing canned beer available from a wine merchants in Wexford. I'm assuming that this makes Phoenix Ireland's first canned ale?!

In ‘The Simon and Shuster Pocket Guide to Beer’ by Michael Jackson published in 1986, Jackson mentions Phoenix and states that it is slightly sweeter than Macardles but less so than Perry’s (which as far as I know was by then just another Irish Ale Breweries brand if it actually still existed by the time the book was published) with Smithwicks Draught being the sweetest. Jackson also mentions it in his ‘Beer Companion’ book published in 1993 and he says he tried it in the sixties and it was drier than Smithwick’s Time ale (What was Smithwick's Export before the rebrand.), frustratingly he also says it was ‘reddish’ but most adverts and descriptions from the sixties show it to be pale and bright, although admittedly it does look darker in some printed advertisements and photos. The recipe did change and perhaps it became slightly darker as I mentioned previously but that is just with an advert or two to go by, but I would not have said it was as dark as Smithwick’s currently is. He mentions it is still available at this date and brewed now in the same brewery as Macardles. I wonder did it get a different lease of life in the eighties when it did just become another ‘reddish’ ale as he says, but that his remembering of it in the sixties was through Irish-Red-Ale tinted glasses? I am not sure, he’s a difficult person to doubt but then again we can all look at the past erroneously. Another comment on its taste is via a scanned page from 1969 on The Brand New Retro11 website that likens its taste to an ‘old English bitter ale’, calling it light, dry and sharp with a characteristic hop aroma. [Edit: In the comment section below Séan Billings mentions that the 17 and 18 year olds he hung around with in 1989 in Waterford thought that Phoenix 'was the same as Smithwicks'.]

Somewhere after this point in the eighties it drops below the radar as far as I can see and seems to disappear, perhaps into local geographic pockets of dedicated drinkers, by this time or a little before the logo had changed again and the beer was mostly consigned to being a few dusty bottles on bar shelves.

Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

I have acquired a few Phoenix labels and you can see how the logo and name progresses and changes over time, becoming more modern in the seventies/eighties. Other breweriana is also commonish, with plastic signage and metal trays appearing occasionally for sale. But there really should be more pieces around given its relative popularity, then again I think many former drinkers held on to pieces for nostalgic purposes, and the artwork has a certain charm - the graphic designers did such a great job, especially on the early versions of the logo.

Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

Here is a pretty forlorn advertising piece showing the original logo that I spotted in the historic Morrissey's pub in Abbeyleix It is perhaps a fitting image now for the brand, sitting on a cluttered shelf of forgotten bric-a-brac, slightly battered with a broken wing. Still quite charming to my eye though!

Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

I cannot finish without mentioned the glorious Phoenix tankard, one of which I possess with the later logo design emblazoned on its side. I originally thought these were made by the Waterford Barware arm of the famous glass making company but I’m not quite so positive now, as a company called Celtic Glass in Bray seem to have been importing and decorating pint glasses at least so perhaps they had a hand in importing these too? This tankard design – and it is a beauty - was also used for Double Diamond in Ireland at least so more research might be required to either confirm or deny the Waterford provenance. Mine has an Irish verification mark but that is no guarantee of origin of course, as many glasses were imported from the UK or the continent and verified here.


When does Phoenix finally vanish from pubs? There is a mention here of someone finding a bottle dated best before October 1989 but I’m finding it quite difficult to find out when production actually ceased. My present opinion is that it never saw the 1990s but I am still looking for information. (A column in one newspaper in 1989 of things that we had in the sixties mentions Phoenix, implying it was no longer available.) [Edit: In the comments below Séan Billings says he remembers drinking large bottles of Phoenix in Waterford in 1989.]

So, that is what I’ve unearthed so far, and as you can see it is somewhat incomplete, as I’m missing - for now at least - a final couple of paragraphs that record its demise. The simple answer is to assume that it was surplus to requirements in the Diageo portfolio, and it went the way of Perry’s Ale. Unwanted and no longer loved it was finally put to sleep, as who needs four bottled ales when those that drink them are literally a dying breed? Macardles and Smithwicks won the battle in the long run …

Who knows, maybe Guinness will resurrect this bird one last time.

Wouldn’t that be something? Seeing the Phoenix logo rise again in another form or shape, I just hope if they do that it will be for a pale ale! I do have those recipes still…

(As with all of these posts on lost Irish beer brands this will get updated when I find out more information, as I am constantly finding new nuggets and scraps but I felt it was time to finally do this one, as I’ve talked about completing it for quite a while now. I'm also aware that it has too many possiblies, maybes and perhapses along with unanswered questions.)


(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post. All original photographs are my own and can not be used elsewhere without my consent. The image from Perry's brewing log is mine via Portlaoise Local Studies at Portlaoise Library.)

All advertisement images © Independent News and Media PLC and I have received permission to reproduce them here. All rights reserved. Sourced via The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). 

Note 1:

I have in my possession a Great Northern Brewery produced Phoenix Lager label which has puzzled me since it surfaced a couple of years back. Was it a marketing test or discarded brand? It states it was for a 60cl bottle or can so I suspect it was for non-domestic or non-UK market. The logo is more like the last iteration of Phoenix Ale so I’m thinking it was from the 70s or 80s.

Note 2:

Plenty of adverts created by McConnell’s Advertising Service from the 1960s here, just search 'Phoenix' and enjoy!

Note 3:

There are photos of the official launch of Phoenix in 1958 available here from Irish Portrait Archive


1 Search ‘Phoenix Glass Dance’ on the IFI Player here

2 Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal - Saturday 28 April 1956

3 ‘Beamish & Crawford – The History of an Irish Brewery’ – Donal Ó Drisceoil & Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil

4 Belfast Telegraph - Saturday 04 August 1956

5 Sligo Champion - Saturday 09 November 1957

6 Sligo Champion - Saturday 26 July 1958

7 Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal - Saturday 03 January 1959

8 Belfast Telegraph - Friday 01 May 1959

9 Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal - Saturday 26 March 1960

10 Belfast Telegraph - Monday 08 May 1961

11 The Brand New Retro

12 Drogheda Independent - Friday 08 July 1988

© Independent News and Media PLC

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Pub Tales: First Drink

The place was heaving.

I forced my way towards the bar, squeezing through the crowd by turning sideways and shoulder-leading my way slowly forward using baby steps, gentle manipulation and repeated sorrys shouted into already overloaded ears. Two guys with one guitar were on the small stage butchering ‘Dancing in the Dark’ but nobody seemed to care. The dance floor in front of them was full of twirling snow-washed denim jackets, sweaty mullets and jumpsuits in too-bright primary colours. Spinning, twisting lights penetrated the smoke and gloom and flickered across the crowds seated on stools at wet-circled Formica tables loaded with glasses and overflowing ashtrays. Small pockets of boys and girls hung around in separate groups tight to the wall for protection, occasionally casting glance towards the tables as the waited for a group to leave so they could commandeer their seats like some full-on game of musical chairs.

But the people here were all just extras in a movie scene to me as I finally approached the long countertop and prepared to ask for my first drink ever. The narrow space behind the counter was filled with a large bearded man who was calmly serving the waves of drinkers that were lapping up to the bar. I waited patiently for my turn, trusting that the barman had a mental queue of who to serve next once eye-contact had been made and the nod given. I gazed at the sparse collection of taps deciding what to have, suddenly that bearded face was in front of me, he leaned over the bar with his left hand cupped around the back of his ear, which was aimed in my direction.

‘What’ll be head?’

‘Er, a glass of Harp…?’

‘Sound, lad.’

He grabbed a glass from the shelf behind him and I watched as he pulled the tap forward and a yellowish cascade of liquid and bubbles quickly filled the glass. He straightened the glass and filled it to the top, always checking who was next up to the bar. He plonked it unceremoniously down on the bar and I paid him.

‘Cheers head,’ he said as he slammed the change on the countertop and went to his next customer and the ritual began again.

I stared at it for a minute watching the bubbles rise in quick succession from the base of the glass and breaking on the surface. This was my first proper drink in a bar, my first proper beer too, and I had somehow expected it to be a more momentous occasion. I picked up the glass and put it to my lips and had my first taste of beer…

The music abruptly stopped with a mistimed twang of guitar strings.

Everyone in the whole bar turned to look at me silently …

… before erupting into applause.

I raised my glass and toasted my adoring fans.

The girl next to me smiled coyly and put her hand in the small of my back as she brought her lips to my ear and whispered…

Of course none of this happened, when I woke from my reverie I took another cautious sip and with a grin on my face I made my way back through the crowd. I held my glass high to prevent it spilling and it flickered flamelike as spotlights pierced the liquid and for a split second I felt like some ancient champion returning from my first battle basking in the glow of heroism.

But this was 1984 in a grimy student pub in a provincial town in Ireland, and when I arrived back to the comfort and company of my friends that spark of elation dimmed and died. We somehow engrossed ourselves in inane conversation, a common occurrence, and my moment was gone.

But for a brief, special moment I was a hero - I was a somebody …

I had drunk.