Wednesday, 22 April 2020

'Where do you get your Cooper?' Ireland's (at the very least) first beer brand...?

Advert  - Holborn Journal - Saturday 21 February 1863

From the end of October 1862 until early 1863 the following piece appeared as a short column in a number of Irish and English newspapers:
Bottled Cooper
“What stuff is that?” growled out a passenger seated alongside the driver of omnibus the other day when he heard him smack his lips after swallowing a pint of new decoction and exclaiming “That’s first-rate.” The old roadster, looking sneeringly round, exclaimed “Don’t you know? Why, to be sure, its half porter and half stout.” The inquisitor was still dissatisfied asking, “Why call it Cooper?” This was enough to rile even a ’bus driver, at the same time feeling a thorough contempt, for such glaring ignorance that he weighed over to himself whether or no he should then satisfy his importunate companion ; but taking pity upon one evidently “from the country,” he ejaculated, “Oh, do you want to know that too ? Well, that’s easily answered. You must know that some time ago Jack Cooper, who used to drive one of the Brompton’s when be pulled up at the White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly, always had glass of this stuff; and the potboy seeing his ’bus pulled up, would always sing out – ‘Another glass of Cooper.’ The barmaid knew what was meant; but nobody else. Well, you see, this name got abroad, and now everyone does his Cooper. Take my advice, ‘Governor,’ when you feel dry take a drop.” Reader be very much obliged for this solution. Few people indeed know the origin of the word “Cooper.” Now, however, we have just had an improvement introduced in the shape of “Bottled Cooper.” Messrs. Beamish and Crawford, brewers, of Cork, who have had the supplying of the refreshment department the International Bazaar, and whose beers, by-the by, have been patronized for the quality and price, finding it necessary to have agent, appointed Mr. Henry Johnson, of the Circular Vaults, St. Paul’s; and him the public have to thank for the introduction of this popular drink. The idea suggested itself to him that what was palatable as draught drink would be doubly so when bottled.

Now I'm certainly a fan of the odd piece of beer-related fan fiction but let's not put too much faith behind the story of the origin of the name 'Cooper' which is usually described as a half and half mix of stout and porter and named after actual coopers, but it does highlight a little known story about Beamish and Crawford's arrangement with Henry Johnson to sell their stouts in London. This is well covered in Beamish & Crawford - The History of an Irish Brewery, where a small chapter in the book explains, according to the authors, how Henry Johnson makes contact with Richard Pigott Beamish and how it was agreed that Johnson would sell a mix of their year-old Extra Treble Stout and Single Stout from his warehouse in London. It would be bottled there and sold with a nice bright label bearing the Beamish & Crawford name with a trademarked image of a castle flanked by two soldiers over the word 'Cooper', and caged with branded corks, at a price 2s and 6d for a dozen pint bottles - cheaper than similar products and at what were said to be draught beer prices. (Although as you can see from the advert at the top of the page, some of Johnson's agents sold it for more.) There was even an advertising 'jingle' called, 'Where do you get your Cooper?' to accompany the launch. It all ended in tears, as Johnson had both supply and quality issues (He apologised for both in the advertisement below.1) and was accused of using other brewer's beers instead of Beamish & Crawford's (Where did you get your Cooper indeed Mr. Johnson!?) so the brewery cut its ties with him at the end of April in 1863 and he was declared bankrupt not long afterwards. (A J. Hazard was selling 'The celebrated bottled Irish Cooper' in June of 1863 from the same address as Johnson's.2) You can read more about it in the book but it raises a few interesting points and I have more thoughts on it too...

The most important perhaps is that I think that Cooper may have been the first Irish - and perhaps even British? - beer to be marketed with a brand, jingle (I know I'm taking liberties here...) and editorial advert? I'm not aware of any others that existed this early - although I'm not aware of a great many things in truth so...

But of even more importance perhaps is whether we can look at Cooper's castle and not Bass's triangle is the first trademarked beer brand/logo? Albeit under and earlier trade mark act I think, and were their others before this too? It clearly says 'Trade Mark' on the label. (I can't reproduce it here as I'm unsure of copyright issues with posing even fragments of the above mentioned book.)

And there are a few more points to make too...

In August 1862 there were a couple of advertisements for Beamish and Crawford's Extra Treble Stout bottled with the above mentioned castle label and corks but not the Cooper brand name, this to my mind means that perhaps the whole range had similar branding - including the single and double - and that the 'Cooper' was only launched in October of this year, as it wasn't mentioned in these adverts?3

It's worth noting that according to an advert for his Irish Cooper from March 1863 Johnson also sold unblended Extra Treble Stout and also Drogheda Strong Ale as well as East India Pale Ale, but no mention of the porter he blended with the triple stout.4 (But as mentioned above, in August 1862 he stocked singles, double and treble stout.) Directly above this advert is one for bottled 'London Cooper' from Laidler and Fitch - some local competition it seems!

So was this the first bottled Cooper on the market? I can find some from Whitbread and others after this date but not before. And where did the bottled version actually originate if not Johnson? In 1871 'The Cooper Company' claim to have originated the product in 1862 and were still selling it at the same price of 2s and 6d per dozen.5 In 1875 they were selling it at the same price and here's what they say about the product itself:
The Cooper's Company Cooper is not plain porter, under the assumed name of Cooper, but is what the Copper Company originally professed it to be - viz., Dublin Vatted Stout and London Porter. [My emphasis]6
So, that's somewhat of a change from what it started out as, and I'm thinking perhaps that this company was formed on the ashes of Johnson's old company or was relaunched in this way by a former agent of his. (Johnson's stock of ports, sherry and 30 dozen bottles of Cooper were auctioned in November 1863.7) It would appear that the statement of what Cooper was - although probably true at the time it was published - has been twisted to something more marketable, as Dublin Stout and London Porter were likely to be a more marketable and saleable commodity at this point. The irony is that given the shenanigans of Johnston this is quite possibly what he was actually selling to unsuspecting punters back in 1863! (The Cooper Company were also selling Treble Dublin Stout by this time, as well as 'family' ale and India pale ale.)

(Curiously, in 1886 Cundell and Camozzi in Tavistock were selling a bottled Cooper that was a mix of 'Stout and Bitter' for 2s per dozen.8 Make of that blend what you will, as it was just in an advertisement...)

Anyhow, as ever I've probably raised more questions than I've actually answered, but its good to get this part of Ireland's - and London's - brewing history online and findable for others.

Perhaps some Cork brewery might revive the 'Celebrated Irish Cooper', or maybe a Dublin and a London brewery could do a collaboration?

Just don't forget the marketing, the trade mark - and that jingle!


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

1London Evening Standard - Monday 09 March 1863

2 Illustrated Weekly News - Saturday 27 June 1863

3 London Evening Standard - Thursday 28 August 1862

4 London Evening Standard - Tuesday 17 March 1863

5 Stroud News and Gloucestershire Advertiser - Friday 18 August 1871

6 Kilburn Times - Saturday 10 July 1875

7 London City Press - Saturday 31 October 1863

8 Tavistock Gazette - Friday 05 November 1886

All via The British Newspaper Archive and Beamish & Crawford - The History of an Irish Brewery (2015) by Donal Ó Drisceoil and Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil

Newspaper images © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( 

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