Monday, 25 January 2021

A Fifty and a Snipe of Skol: What beers were we drinking in Ireland in 1965?

Archive searching has become a bit of a escape for me of late, as trawling through old and not so old photos and records is a good distraction from the bigger issues that the more modern world is currently throwing at all of us. There is something satisfying in losing an hour or two staring at photos of 19th century inns or drinkers at a bar in the 1970s instead of spending the same hour scrolling through social media or binge watching some inane comedy series, as for me it's a more productive use of my self-imposed screen time. I can appreciate it's not everyone's cup of tea but for many others like me - as I'm sure I'm not alone - it's become a welcome refuge from what can be quite a gloomy world.

Recently I came across a publication on the Library & Research Service on The House of the Oireachtas with the unsurprisingly long-winded title of:

Fair Trade Commission Report of Enquiry into Restrictive Trade Practices Affecting Supply and Distribution and Involving, Inter Alia, Arrangements, Agreements or Understandings Between Retailers, Made at the Instance of Retail Trade Associations, Which Affect or are Capable of Affecting the Retail Prices of Intoxicating Liquor and Soft Drinks

And following the brief rest required after absorbing all of that I had a quick look through its actual contents. The book contains a lot of insight into the workings of the various drink associations and how they dictated the prices in public house at this time, and also contains some pertinent details on the output and production of the drink industry - worthy of a separate article - since the formation of the state, but what interested me more right now were the pricelists at the end of the report given as examples of price changes form 1964 to 1965. What they detailed was a fascinating insight into what beverages were available around the the country in the mid sixties, a time of huge change, with the entrance of various new English and other foreign brands and brewing companies into the Irish market. It was a time when the marketing departments of brewing companies, both Irish and others, were  causing a major change in our tastes and drinking habits - and this was just before lager, which would become the behemoth in the sector, started to take a serious grip on drinker's palates.

But this isn't really the focus of this post - even though it probably should be - instead I want to take a look at what we were drinking beerwise at this exact time.

First up is a pricelist from the Licensed Grocers' and Vintners' Association of recommended prices for bars. There are a couple of things that stand out here, chief of which was a 'Guinness Fifty', which after a little online digging turn out to be what I had thought - a blend of half stout and half porter (called a Cooper in the UK) -  the 'Fifty' is presumably short for a 'Fifty/Fifty'. (Incidentally a 'Fill Up' was a porter topped up with a bottled stout.)*

Also of interest is the listing of Mackeson's Stout, which was possibly still being bottles by Findlater & Co** at this time but was certainly being bottled by Macardles by 1968***. The draught beers list contains Watney Keg which prior to it being brewed in Lady's Well (Murphy's) Brewery in Cork in 1966 was being imported from England. (I still believe that this was the inspiration - along with other British brands to a lesser degree - for the launch of Smithwick Draught in 1966/67) Incidentally and unimportantly, some Irish stamped tankards in my possession appear to track the name change from 'Red Barrel - Watneys Keg' to 'Watneys - Red Barrel' over the late 60s. Next is Bass 'Canister' an odd descriptor but I can only assume it is someone's idea of a posh word for a keg although that is at odds with the Bass 'Ordinary' printed below it, as why would it be shown twice? Wiser minds than mine might comment on it. Double Diamond was brewed in Macardles, Bass 'Ordinary' was as far as I know being imported at this time, as Beamish & Crawford's production hadn't started yet, and so was Mitchells & Butlers and Younger's (Tartan Bitter(?) from the initial 'T.B.' on a Cork list in the publication.). Last but not least are the Irish brands Phoenix and Time - both of which I've written about previously. (I've deliberately left out the generic/anonymous, expensive draught lager [Possibly Carling Black Label brewed in Ulster Brewery?] and barley wine at the top of the list, as they give us no insights into brands - although the only draught barley wine I've come across in Ireland around this time was Phoenix.)

'Bottled Beers' come next, Double Century from Younger's, which was possibly bottled by the pub from labels I've come across online. Bass Blue label, Extra Time by Smithwicks, the Canadian brand Piper Export, Double Diamond bottled in Macardles, Dundalk, Younger's Monk Ale, Phoenix, 'ordinary' Time, Mitchells & Butlers, Bass Red label, Macardles - in a half pint bottle, no 'Large Mac'! -  and lastly Smithwicks No. 1, which appears to have hung around in certain circles even after its stablemates had been rebranded.

'Bottled Lagers' begin with Carlsberg Special, possibly bottled by Bannow Bottlers a subsidiary of Batchelors****  of the tinned beans fame, as they bottled the ordinary Carlsberg. Tuborg probably still bottled by Findlater & Co., Patz Lager possibly also bottled by Findlater's, Carlsberg (see above), Carling, Harp and Harp Special Export plus 'snipes' of Skol lager which were distributed by Macardles - a snipe in this case was a 330ml bottle I think? [Edit: Skol up North sold in 275ml bottles so perhaps it is more likely it was this size?]

Lastly on the beer front we have some barley wines, from Bass, then Younger's King of Ales, plus the  Time and Phoenix versions and finally Ind Coope's Artic Ale via Macardles  - no Smithwick's Barley Wine of course as this was branded as Time at this point.

The various prices and pricing concept are possibly of interest too, especially the difference in prices between similar beers and the price matching of all three draught stouts but I'm not going to comment on them here, mind you it is certainly of note that Watney's Red Barrel was the most expensive draught ale listed.

It's also worth noting at this point that this is just a pricelist so it can't be taken as being 100% accurate as to availability of these products - certainly few standard bars would have stocked everything here.

Cork and Sligo have nothing different on their listings but Roscrea has Perry's in bottle and on draught. According to Perry's own brewing record they were still brewing something the brewers were calling an IPA in at least 1964, so is it possible that this is the last gaspings of the company and this was an IPA in all but name before it became just another Guinness brand? Much more research is needed on all of  that though ...

Limerick added nothing new, nor did Monaghan, but Navan & Districts Licensed Trader's Association's list could add Cairnes Ale in bottle to the list, which is a little bit of an enigma considering they closed in 1959/60! So either publicans were hoarding old bottles, Guinness were brewing a batch for the region or it has just clung on on the pricelist and never been delisted - I suspect the latter. A reminder that these lists need to be taken with a pinch of salt perhaps...

Also interesting on this list is 'C & F' written after Macardles and Smithwicks for - I assume - carbonated and filtered, with Perry's saying 'Natural' which I take to mean bottled conditioned. Even allowing for the list not being updated is this an indicator that Perry's was the last Irish bottled conditioned beer until the emergence of the new young guns?

Also Smithwick's Idea lager makes an appearance, which I've previously written about here.

Last but by no means least in Waterford, and their list does raise a few interesting points. An ale shandy is fair enough but it would appear that a stout shandy was quite common in Waterford too. Also, we can possibly see the popularity of draught barley wine, as it gets a rare listing at a healthy three shillings a pint. It also appears that this is a period before the large bottle (pint) of ale such as Macardles and Phoenix which Waterford was renowned for up to relatively recent times ...

There is a lot more information to be gleaned from the publication, especially with regard to other drinks like whiskies, sherries, etc. and much more could be pulled from it apart from the topics I touched on above.

Either way it's a nice snapshot into what we were drinking in Ireland in the mid sixties, here's the link to the whole publication from which I pulled these lists.


(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.)

* 'Fifty' and 'Top Up' source - Fodor's 1971 Guide via The Irish Times

** Findlater's Book - Chapter 15

*** Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal - Friday 22 November 1968

**** Sligo Champion - Friday 05 February 1965


Martyn Cornell said...

"Bass Canister" may be the expression used because the word "keg" was still associated with Flower's brewery, which was the first to use the word "keg" in connection with artificially carbonated draught beer, when it launched Flower's Keg. Unfortunately for Flower's, "keg" could not be trademarked, and everybody else began to use the word to describe artificially carbonated draught beer (what with it being considerably less of a mouthfull …) but I'm sure some breweries tried not to say "keg" to describe their own artificially carbonated draught beer, because it was a Flower's brand.

As for natural conditioning, my impression was that when most (or all Irish beers were still bottled by the pub/country wholesaler, ie up to the mid-1960s or so, ALL those beers were effectively naturally conditioned, pale ales and stouts, because the small bottlers did not have the filtering/carbonating/pasteurising equipment to produce anything else … but I may be wrong there …

The Beer Nut said...

I do like to trade up to a bottle of Beamish when I have the extra penny in my pocket.

A snipe of wine is 375ml. When did you first encounter 330ml bottles of beer? They were a rarity when I started drinking; indeed I remember the launch of Heineken in 330ml bottles ("A great new number") in 1993.

Liam said...

Hi Martyn, thanks for the comments regarding the strange 'cannister' description, I'm not aware of Flower's beers being available here but I get your point, It could have been Bass's wording coming through on the pricelist.

The Macardles plant, Carolans and I believe Findlater's were pasteurising most of the beers they handled by at least the late 50s, and I suspect without checking that others were too? But certainly some smaller set-ups might not have been and pubs could not, although by this time - mid sixties - I'd suspect too that most lines were handled by bigger bottling companies more so than individuals?

I can't think of another explanation for those initials after the product...

Bottling is certainly a topic I must dig into further!


Liam said...

Hi John, thanks for that. I initially thought the same about the 'snipe' but labels I've seen online for Skol that say they are from the 1950/1960s say 330ml or 11 2/3 fluid ozs - but looking again they were 'export' market so you are probably right. Let me dig deeper and will edit.


Liam said...

Hi again John, difficult to find much about those sizes but Skol in NI was sold in a 275ml 9 2/3 bottles according to adverts of the time so perhaps we were this size too? Will edit above and look into it again...

The Beer Nut said...

Could be! The go-to beer for teen me in NI was a 275ml bottle of Tennent's, thick brown glass, blue foil on top, 90p in tha club.