Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Anderson's Irish Ale - A 'Brilliant & Tempting' Pale from Lough Gill Brewery in 1888

In March of 1888 a mention of the export of Anderson & Co.'s shipment of porter - 2 hogsheads and 7 barrels - in a trade report in The Freeman's Journal prompted a reporter in The Sligo Champion to comment on how he was surprised that a Sligo brewery were 'seeking fresh markets for their products across the "silver streak."' ( A new term for me for the Irish Sea ...) This in turn prompted a visit to the brewery and an interview with a Mr. Foskey the brewer at Anderson's about this new export market. Sadly this discussion didn't end with the big news of Sligo porter ending up in some far-flung destination via Liverpool or Bristol, instead the reason for the porter being shipped from Dublin came down to something more basic - shipping costs. It seems that it was cheaper to send the porter to the North Wall by train and from there send it via the City of Dublin Steam Packet Co.'s boats to ... Belfast!

While at the brewery the reporter took a chance for a tour and an inspection of the production, and the beers being brewed at that time. The brewery in 1881 consisted of a few steam pumps, a  mash tun and three copper boilers, a shallow 2,000 gallon cooler and a refrigerator unit for cooling the wort, from which it flowed into one of three 2,000 gallon fermentors where the yeast is added and where most of the fermentation took place before being transferred into 'large puncheons containing some 250 gallons each placed upon substantial 'stillions' or troughs, with which the ground floor cellar is filled' - this sounds suspiciously like a Burton Union System, but maybe not - before being racked into casks.

After the tour came the tasting and first up was the stout which 'as regards flavour and condition, to be able to hold its own against the most celebrated brands - not even excepting the most celebrated one itself.' More important than this for me and my never-ending quest to champion the historic Irish Pale Ale comes the next beer, where the writer of the piece goes on to say:

'But we were more than surprised when this was supplemented by one of the most brilliant and tempting looking glasses of pale ale it was ever our good luck to see. Irish pale ale for some reasons seems an anachronism, yet we do not hesitate to say that this sample was fit to go anywhere, and to hold its own against all comers. With such articles as these Messrs. Anderson may safely push as far afield as they desire. [...] We cordially hope that long before the close of the 19th [century] Lough Gill Ales & Stout may be drunk and appreciated in many scores of places where they are yet unknown.'

A glowing report for another Irish pale ale it seems, and worth noting that there wasn't a red ale in sight!

Here is some history for Anderson's brewery - aka 'Lough Gill Brewery' - from an extensive newspaper article from 1899 that accompanies the above image of the brewery, and other similar newspaper and book sources over a period of one hundred or so years. Keep in mind that paper never refused ink so some of this may be a little inaccurate but most is correct from what I can see and could research.

None of the newspaper or book mentions for Anderson's & Co. give an accurate start date but it was prior to 1828 and various advertisements mention 1710, 1721 and 1770, but some of these appear to be in connection with a Richard Anderson who was a brewer at Farmhill, where he appears to have operated on the site of a much older brewery. I'm not sure if they were related, but Anderson & Co. disavowed any connection with the brewery at Farmhill in one early newspaper advertisement. J & J Anderson moved into 'extensive premises close to the River Garvogue - on the north side - where they erected a new brewery' west of Bridge Street in 1849 having previously been brewing at Water Lane - this seems to have been an existing brewery operated by a Vernon Davys (Davis) and John Cochran(e) 'known as the Lough Gill Brewery', so they appear to have inherited the name from the previous owners. How much was rebuilt and how much was just renovated before the moved their equipment from their old brewery isn't clear but I believe they made substantial changes. (By the way, the brewery was almost destroyed by fire - twice - in 1869!)

Their ale was seemingly popular all over the north west of Ireland and 'no other ale was drank but Anderson's ale made in Lough Gill Brewery.' (I'm sure can appreciate that any of these newspaper articles need to be treated as advertisements - I'd imagine Bass and other might have trouble with that statement - although the commenter may have meant ale on draught as the next excerpt mentions.) The writer of the article states that 'at the time we speak of [1850s], ale on draught was the article principally consumed throughout Connaught. And the population found in ale manufactured in the Lough Gill Brewery, a wholesome pleasant liquor which quenched the thirst and proved an excellent aid to digestion at dinner or supper.' Porter and stout started to be more popular from the last quarter of the 19th century and Charles Anderson, who succeeded John Anderson, began expanding into the greater supply of that beverage as demand increased. Incidentally, their porter was 6.5% abv in 1883 according to a ubiquitous Charles Cameron report. In 1884 the brewery was improved to what we have seen in the above description with the equipment supplied by the firm of Llewellyn & James of Bristol.

The brewery was purchased by Messrs. E. J. Foley in 1893 and it commenced brewing again having been derelict for a number of years with more improvements and renovations being made - the image at the top of this article presumably show the brewery at this time. Brewing was under the supervision of Mr. H. Hulme Beaman who had worked for Bass in the past. It appears they were just brewing double and single stout by 1899, although late that year they did (perhaps very briefly) reintroduce an ale again, and they were producing a product called 'Double Crown Stout' in 1910. The brewery site also produced non-alcoholic hop bitters, soda water and other minerals but appears to have ceased actual brewing and just became bottlers some time before 1915.

So, sadly it doesn't appear that Anderson's Pale Ale, or any version of it, saw any part of the 20th century, getting lost to history until now ...


Brewery image Sligo Champion - Saturday 23rd September 1899 - Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

(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 ( from whom I have received permission to display here). 


Martyn Cornell said...

"'large puncheons containing some 250 gallons each placed upon substantial 'stillions' or troughs" This sounds to me like the classic old-fashioned method of "cleansing" fermenting beer by having rows of casks on stands, with the yeast bubbling up out of the bunghole and running down the outside of the cask into a trough below. It was this method that the Burton Union system, with the trough on top, sought to automate, since it required some poor fecker to top the casks up constantly. Every day is a learning day: I thought "stillion" was only an alternative for "stillage", that is, a stand for a cask, but the OED tells me stillion can also mean "a trough to catch yeast", which is clearly the meaning intended here.

Liam said...

Hi Martyn - I did feel it sounded like a poor description of the Burton Union System, so thanks for clearing it up!