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.

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