Tuesday, 26 September 2017

History: The Lady's Well Brewery - A Sighting of Cork Mild Ale & Imperial Double Stout...

Distractions...

It seems that everytime I sit down to do a little research my eyes catch sight of some snippet of information that has little to do with my own specific interest in local history, but still manages to steal a large chunk of my scarce time as I ponder and wonder at some fact or point that I was unaware of ... and as I am unaware of many things to do with brewing and beer this has happened more and more regularly in recent times.

And it's happened again...

I came across this piece from The Cork Examiner from 1856 while looking for more information on some local breweries, and as is often the case I ended up spending a while deciphering it. Having put some of it up on social media - albeit to what seemed to be a collective 'Meh...' and shoulder-shrug - I've decided to transcribe it and put it up here in case there are those who find it interesting. The newspaper's quality isn't the best as you can see and I've struggled to make out some text but in general the sentiment and information are all there. (I also came across a repeat of it in another paper, which filled in a few missing words.)

A lot of what is here is new to me but is possibly - and probably - covered elsewhere by others, but hopefully there are a couple of nuggets of information for others here - and please keep in mind that I am not a historian, beer-wise or otherwise so any comments here are from my truly ignorant standpoint!

THE LADY'S WELL BREWERY
We hail with pleasure the commencement of a new enterprise in the opening of the magnificent brewery at the Watercourse, which will be known by the name of The Lady's Well Brewery. The undertaking is one that not merely reflects great credit on the commercial activities and spirit of the gentlemen concerned it, but will be likely to prove of great benefit to the city in the addition it will make to its resources of the industrial employment, and the very large amount of capital which its success will be the means of putting into local circulation. The names Messrs. James J. Murphy and Co., highly [and] deservedly popular throughout the town and country, have been chiefly known of late in connection with the extensive Midleton Distillery, but the decided opening which lay in the brewing trade has made them turn their attention [to] that branch of business, with what chance of success we shall endeavour to give an idea.
This is better known as Murphy's Brewery to many and is nowadays famous as a macro brewed stout brand owned by Heineken. I was unaware of the seemingly well documented Midleton Distillery connection until I read it here and did a little research online. So, as you can see my knowledge of old breweries outside of Carlow is hazy and sketchy at best.
   In this country it is well known that the consumption of porter is very large, and that there is business in that direction to occupy a manufactory, we need not say; but there is new ground to be broken in which we feel a more direct interest, leaving as it does an opening for enterprises capable of indefinite expansion. For the last few years a taste has grown up in this country for a light sparkling drink called "bitter beer," or "pale ale." The rapidity with which the sale and use of this article has grown up has been most extraordinary, knowing how difficult it is to change the habits and tastes of persons in such respects. The article of this kind sold in Ireland - unless in cases of adulteration or imposition - is exclusively the manufacturing of the breweries of Burton-on-Trent, and comes from the celebrated houses of BASS, ALLSOPP, SALT, &co., &co. An idea of the extent to which the article has gone may be inferred from the fact, that Cork's receipts of one of those firms amount to nearly thirty thousand pounds a year. When we take, then, into consideration that our city forms but a small item in the list of consumers of an article which is exported alike to the Equator and Antipodes, we will see what a vast field for specification and enterprise lies in its manufacture. Hitherto, however, no attempt of any importance or any large scale was made in this country to compete with the gigantic English establishments. One reason, it may be mentioned, that has been popularly alleged, was the want of a water containing the peculiar qualities which gave so much merit to the Burton ales. But it happened some time since that the building known as the Foundling Hospital was put up for sale, and it was purchased by the Messrs. MURPHY. It is a splendid situation for a brewery, containing a range of buildings embracing an open square of nearly 200 feet. In addition to this, however, it contained what was still more important to their purpose, a well or spring of water coming from the same rocks, and of the same quality as the delightful Lady's Well; and also of properties precisely similar to those of the celebrated Trent water, taking advantage of this circumstance, the Messrs. MURPHY resolved to enter upon the manufacture of ales, in which they have already achieved a decided triumph.
This is an interesting paragraph, as it seems to suggest that the stout porter we associate with Murphy's was not the original reason for starting the brewery. If this editorial write up, which at times comes across as an advertisement and an ego massage for the Murphy's, is to be believed - and we should take everything here with a small pinch of salt perhaps - then the original plan for the brewery was to set themselves up as direct competitors to the glut of pale ales that were, seemingly, swamping the country, as well as exporting a good deal of the ale brewed.

(I also wonder if the water chemistry was close to Burton water?)

It continues...
   If energy be an element of success, the new firm decidedly can boast of it. They got their building on the 27th of July, and on the 8th of December the commenced brewing. When they took possession of the concern, all the found available for their purpose was the large shell of the building. They had to erect floors and fittings, pipes, vats, shafts, chimneys and machinery. All their work was done under the superintendence of their brewer, Mr. GRESHAM WILES, and as it has been constructed on the newest and most advanced scientific principles, a passing reference to it may not be devoid of interest. In the first place, it may be remarked, the entire of its processes are regulated and carried on by steam; and in this respect it is, we believe, quite unique in this country. Then there is scarcely a single item of its machinery which has not undergone some improvement, and does not mark an advance upon the old system. For instance the mash tun, a huge vat where, by means of huge teeth or saws, the essence of the malt is extracted, is covered with a coating of enamel, a perfectly new invention, which the firm have registered. The advantage derivable from this is chiefly its obviating any chance of mixing the colours of porter and ale, a defect to which machinery of the ordinary kind, in which both are brewed, is very liable. Even the contrivance by which the grains are expelled from this vat, after the essential principle of the malt has dropped through the false bottom, is, though simple, a great saving in labour and at the same time a great novelty. A more important improvement, however, has been effected in the machinery for extracting the essence of hops. In place of the older mode, which involved considerable waste of fuel and employed a great deal of labour, a new system, also registered, and about to be patented, has been adopted by the firm. The boiling batches (two of which are used for extracting the bitter juice of the hops - one for porter and another for ale) are covered with a perforated false bottom. In connection with this is a "sparge," or cylinder of copper, through which, by means of pipes, steam from the boilers is introduced. From the various apertures in the cylinder the subtle vapour permeates through the hops, leaving not a single one untouched, and extracting in a most complete manner their bitter principle. An equally interesting improvement has been effected in a process of depriving the porter of superfluous yeast; in the cooling apparatus, and even in the process of transmitting the malt from the lower floors through two series of flats, to the top of the building; but we do not feel ourselves at liberty to enter into particular descriptions of these. It might be thought that with so many novelties in the machinery of the brewery, there would, at some one department at all events, be risk of failure; but though on the occasion of the first brewing, out of twenty-five men employed in the establishment, not one had ever been engaged in a brewery before, not a single item failed or went out of order, and all the machinery worked as freely as if it had been twelve months in operation. The capability of this machinery may be judged, when we mention that, in full work, it can brew 5,000 tierces of ale or porter in the week or an aggregate of 260,000 tierces in the year. In connection with the appearance of the building, we may allude to one fact en passant, which will be of interest to a large class of our readers. There are no less than 150 gas lights burned in the establishment, and though the Messrs, MURPHY received most enticing proposals from the United General Gas Company to contract with them, they preferred to aid the citizens of Cork in their anti-monopoly movement, and declined the tempting offers made them.
5,000 tierces is around 800,000 litres, which is an awful lot of ale - even if it is hypothetical ale - and I don't know enough about 1850s breweries to know whether this is a little on the high side perhaps. Certainly the description of the enameled covered 'huge teeth or saws' sounds impressive, but some of the other descriptions of the equipment are a little vague, and the 'sparge' being used to extract the 'essence' from the hops seems to me to be either rushed note taking on the part of the writer or Mr. Wiles was deliberately confusing the writer so as not to let others know his secrets, but yet again it's all quite interesting and perhaps there is such thing as a 'hop sparger'...

Let's keep going...
 The manufacture of the brewery consists of common draught porter, bottling stout, imperial stout, mild, sweet, bitter, and pale ales. Of the qualities of some of these we can speak as affording promise rivalling, nay, in some respects, surpassing, the beverages produced by the great BURTON houses. The "Lady's Well" ale, made with the spring water of which we have spoken, is one of the most agreeable malt drinks that could be manufactured. It is a clear, amber colour, possessing a light, piquant bitter, and its flavor is in every respect fully equal to the highly-prized, a we may add, highly paid for, BASS or ALLSOPP. The bitter ale is of a stronger kind, and its acid quality is more powerful. This ale is intended for export, and from the success of this article we look for results of great importance, as, should a local firm obtain a most footing in the foreign markets, or which Burton brewers have so long enjoyed a monopoly, we might look forward to its laying the foundation of a new and valuable trade for this city. Of all the manufactures of this new establishment we can only speak in terms of commendation, but we confess to taking the strongest interest in that which leads them into competition with the English firms. They have laid the foundation of their undertaking in the soundest manner; they have brought to its assistance skill, capital and enterprise; they have constructed it with every advantage which science can afford, and we consider, therefore, that they deserve to succeed. The qualities which they have brought to their aid, are indeed those of which we have been most deficient in this country, but we trust to see the success of the Messrs. Murphy affording an example and a stimulus to others to strike out new paths of industry and increase the manufacturing energy of the country.
~The Cork Examiner 31st December 1856

This paragraph was for me the most interesting, as it describes the beers being brewed at Lady's Well at this time. So it seems that '...draught porter, bottling stout, imperial stout, mild, sweet, bitter, and pale ales...' were being made. Again I took this with a degree of scepticism but there are a few things that caught my eye. First was that four paler ales were being produced as well as the darker ales we are more familiar with from Murphy's, although I never knew they brewed an imperial stout. The use of the word 'mild' for the lightest of their pale ales is interesting to me as I had never heard that term outside of English brewing, and and perhaps reflected the training of Mr. Wiles at 'Mr. James Young of Messrs. Hoare & co. in London' (this information is via a poor quality write-up for The Cork Constitution that I will try to work on for a separate post.), and I thought might just be a descriptor as it was spelled with a small 'M'...

The description of the Lady's Well ale mentions an amber colour - Hardly a precursor of the infamous Irish Red style? - and seems to mention a light but sharp bitterness and compares it to Bass and Allsopp pale ales. The writer then goes on to talk about the 'bitter ale' being of a strong kind, so more alcohol perhaps and more 'acidic,' which we might take to be being more hoppy ... and that this is the ale intended for their assault on the export market, it was still all a little vague.

...

But then on the 12th of January 1857 the following advertisement appeared!



Wow! This seems to make it clear exactly what was being brewed at the time, no less that seven ales and five porters including an Imperial Ale and two imperial stouts! And there's that Cork Mild -  with a capital 'M' this time as well as an X Ale and XX Ale. I don't have access to any books written specifically on the brewery but other books and most online sources state they opened with just two beer types, this was clearly not the case - but again perhaps this is common knowledge...


Unfortunately this range does not seem to have lasted too long, as an advertisement in November of the same year list just XX Ale, XX Stout, X Stout and Porter available.

On 24 0f December 1860 a Imperial West India Stout was being bottled but after that the advertisement appear to dry up for anything different or exotic.

So it appears that this huge trade of exported ale never materialised...


I wonder did it ever get shipped anywhere?

Liam

(Incidentally a William Gresham Wiles died in a accident in 1863 at the Gresham Wiles & Brown brewery of South Malling, Lewes, England according to online sources. I wonder did he head back to England when his huge range of beer failed to make the impact he had hoped?)

[Edit: According to the Ó Drisceoil's book The Murphy's Story, Edward Lane was the head brewer when the business opened. It was he who was responsible for the beers produced not Mr. Wiles who just designed the brewery. I can find no mention in the book of the huge range of beers produced at the start or any recipes for them.]






... with thanks again to the local studies room in Carlow Library.

2 comments:

The Beer Nut said...

The Murphy's archive is kept at UCC, if you fancy going all the way down this particular rabbithole.

Liam said...

Ha! I'm already stuck in a local warren ... but this is an interesting one. I must try to get my hands on The Murphy's Story book that @jokekoky mentioned on Twitter.