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 (DĂșn 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 ( 

Map image via Wikimedia Commons


The Beer Nut said...

In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom ponders alternatives to wine for the Eucharist while in Westland Row church: "Wine. Makes it more aristocratic than for example if he drank what they are used to Guinness’s porter or some temperance beverage Wheatley’s Dublin hop bitters or Cantrell and Cochrane’s ginger ale (aromatic)."

Liam said...

Interesting that he says 'Dublin' hop bitters for Wheatley's ...