Thursday, 30 April 2020

Who Brewed Ireland's First IPA?

So who brewed Ireland's first India Pale Ale? I'm sure that's a question you have always asked yourselves? Well perhaps not, but it was certainly a question that was itching the back of my mind. So a little digging through some newspaper adverts comes up with the most likely source being a brewery in Dublin that traded under the name Eliza Alley, Sons & Co., in Townsend Street, Dublin, and the beer was ready for sale by at least 12th August 1842 according to this advertisement:

Okay, I'm taking some small liberties with the word 'ale' vs 'beer' but I think that can be allowed. There were pale ales being brewed before this of course, including a 'strong' one by a Burton brewer who set up in Dublin in the previous century, but this seems to be the first brewery to have advertised a copycat version of Hodgson's pale ale and even including a comparison to that famous ale in its advertisement, plus we can also see the quite common reference that 'IPAs' are good for stomach complaints.

The following March, Castlebellingham Brewery were advertising a version for sale and many more appeared from lots of breweries here over the following years and decades. We in Ireland were brewing this style of beer for a longer period than most people think, right up into the 1960s, but then our much battered, twisted and bruised beer history got forgotten and we reached a point where many people still think that the new wave of microbrewers were the first to brew an IPA on these shores, but as you can see from this and many of my previous postings and tweets this is not the case.

Anyhow, back to the Alley's and their brewery...

William Alley had succeeded his father - Alderman, High Sheriff and Mayor of Dublin John Alley - in the brewery in Townsend street and moved there, possibly from his own brewery premises(?), in 1823. He brewed Strong Ale, Porter and Table Beer at this time according to advertisements. (It may have been a public house and not a brewery he owned prior to this - or both - as he was letting a large public house in 1825.)

It is also worth noting that William's brother John refitted a brewery belonging to the wonderfully named Mr. Wigglesworth in Ardee Street in 1824, and an advertisement mentions that his father had been brewing in the city for 30 years, so it appears the brewery on Townsend Street could dates from at least the late 18th century. John was bankrupt by 1827, so this venture didn't last too long. Interestingly he wasn't brewing porter, just ale and table beer which may explain its failure. (I wonder how close this premises was to Watkin's brewery on the same street?)

Eliza Alley took over the ownership of the brewery following the death of her husband William in 1836 and she even took out an advertisement in Dublin Newspapers in early November of 1837 thanking those who 'encouraged her to persevere in the arduous undertaking in which she engaged for the advancement of her numerous family.' She goes on to assure them that the 'Malt Drink manufactured at her Establishment is of the very best quality.' In a separate advertisement she cautions 'her friends and the public against the misrepresentations of a clerk who was lately in her employment and whom she was obliged to discharge, for conduct that it would not be to his credit to explain, but which she is ready to do if called upon. This person is now in another establishment and is, she is informed, endeavouring, by gross misstatements, to induce her customers to withdraw their support but she feels happy in the conviction that all his efforts to do so will prove futile, and only tend to expose his own character.' I am not sure what this is reference to and I haven't found out any more information but she was clearly aggrieved by the episode.

By the end of that November she had employed a Mr. Harrower 'a brewer of great experience and well known ability.' to brew the beers, and she remarried a Henry Cochran of Merchant's Quay in 1838. He appears to have taken an active part in the running of the brewery and by 1850 it had acquired a royal warrant and they were brewing Strong XX Ale, Plain Ale, Bitter Ale, Strong XX Porter, Plain Porter and Table Beer.

But like the majority of breweries in Ireland it wasn't to last, as the brewing equipment was for sale in 1853 and near the end of 1855 Eliza was once again a widow, with the brewery property in chancery and being sold along with houses at number 55, 56, and 57 Townsend Street, where an advertisement states that the entire property takes in 141 feet of Townsend Street, 213 feet on Prince's Street, 123 feet on South Gloucester Street. This gives us a nice footprint for the size of the business.

John Robinson her son was declared insolvent by 1856 - see Martyn Cornell's comment about John  below - and this was also the year of Eliza's death. (John himself died in 1898 aged 76 in Jamaica Plain, Boston, where he was president of Alley Brewing Co. in Roxbury according to the American Brewers' Review 1898.)

More brewing equipment was up for sale in 1857 and according to Guinness's Brewery in the Irish Economy by Lynch & Vaisey, Jamieson, Pim & Co. 'acquired the business' of 'Ally[sic] & Co.' although no date is given. This could be taken to mean the bought the premises and equipment, but also to my mind could mean they acquired all of the accounts that Alley's had and began supplying them with beer from their own brewery. (It occurs to me that this quote could also be a reference to John Alley's brewery mentioned above? This might make sense given the mergers and takeovers that occured in the 19th century - more digging required perhaps...)

By the 1870s at least some of the property was being used by Wheeler & Shanks - later J. Shanks & Co - who were operating from 54 to 56 Townsend Street in 1882 selling alcohol free beverages such as wonderful sounding 'Export' Ginger Ale. They were still there in 1898 advertising mineral waters of all types and by 1901 no 56 Townsend Street was home to an agency for Deli Brewery in Amsterdam's 'Pilsner and Lager' beers.

No trace of the brewery remains from what I can see, as a relatively new development sits on the site.

Still, unless there are any earlier versions I've missed - which is quite possible - it appears that Ireland's first 'IPA' was produced in a brewery with a woman's name attached to it, which is nice to report, plus she was certainly bucking the trend back in the male dominated brewing world of 19th century Dublin.

So cheers Eliza - I think you deserve a beer named after you...

(Revised and expanded 2nd June 2021)


(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.)

(Advert from Freeman's Journal - Friday 12 August 1842)

Newspaper images © The British Library Board - all rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( where I did most of my research. References for the above information are available on request, where I can supply dates and names of newspaper sources. 


Martyn Cornell said...

I think for an Irish audience at that stage, they would have called it a beer because it was hoppy: it would not be surprising if an Irish audience still accepted the 18th century "beer is hoppy, ale is less hoppy" dichotomy. British audiences by now were into "beer is dark, ale is light," which lasted through to the start of the 20th centu8ry.

Martyn Cornell said...

Interesting point to Elizabeth Alley: her son John went on to run two ale and porter breweries in and around Boston Mass