Friday, 15 October 2021

More Lost Beer Labels - Watkins of Dublin's Extra Stout in 1886

As you may know, I have a fondness for old Irish beer labels and when I cannot find the originals then it is nice to come across facsimiles of labels in books and print. Thanks to the Chesney Brothers and Joseph Watkins & Co. from Ardee Street in Dublin taking out the below advertisement in The Ballymena Observer in 1886 we get to see what the label from that brewery looked like at this time. 

These types of advertisements were common enough given the shenanigans of certain publicans and bottlers who, in order to make some extra profit, would pass off an often inferior product for a 'premium priced' beer, and were often pulled up on the practice - most notably by Guinness and Bass.

Here is the full advertisement:

Watkins' brewery, and its long and mixed history, deserves a much longer post but for now I would suggest watching this video from The Beer Nut's blog ...


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 images are © The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( from whom I have received permission to display this image on this site.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Brewing History: Irish Red Ale Part III - Immigrant or Emigrant?

Well here we are at last, and in this the final part of my trilogy on Irish Red Ales, you can once again expect more questions that definitive answers, and more vagueness than actual facts, but I will certainly do my best to steer this difficult topic onwards towards a conclusion that is less of a grinding halt and more of a squeaky trundle towards a slippery patch of black ice ...

In part one of this series I dealt with the ancient records of red ale in Ireland, and part two concentrated on the complicated case for the availability of ‘red’ (amber) ales in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century which brought us rushing past the 1950s and now lands us squarely in the 1960s, where Irish brewing was going through a revolution with regard to drinking habits, accompanied by an onslaught of new brands all vying for the attention of the modern, trendy beer drinker. Bright lights, bright bars and bright-ish beers were what a large percentage of younger people craved and wanted.

Of course the 60s were a decade of change in Ireland on many fronts but relevant to our story are those changing tastes of the young (and not so young), fickle Irish beer consumer. Lagers and imported ale brands pushed by modern marketing techniques and clever wording began to influence what was being drunk in both pubs and at home. Our brewing heritage was also being 'consolidated' as a certain brewery flexed its stout muscles and wrapped its arms around most of the smaller Irish brands and breweries that were unable to compete with the bigger domestic breweries or deal with the influx of foreign brands and brewing companies that arrived on our shores in this period.

And so, with practically all of the major domestic ale brands now in Guinness’s warm and all-encompassing embrace, that behemoth of Irish brewing decided to bring the fight for the small-but-growing ale market in Ireland to the frontline of the pub countertop and to repel the assault of the English kegged ale brands that were making relatively large noise in the marketplace. (They were to have a second battle on the lager front but that is a story for a different post.)

And it is from this point that our story continues with a tight focus on a certain so-called Irish Red Ale …

If you ask anyone within these shores to name an Irish red ale almost all will say ‘Oh, Smithwick’s of course!’, but the curious thing is that Smithwick’s Draught seems to have never branded or advertised itself as a red ale - in print at least - until sometime after it launched its Pale and Blonde ales, so within the last decade or so. The reason for this was of course because ‘Irish Red Ales’ as a term did not really exist in the vocabulary of Irish beer drinkers until the early to mid-1990s at a push, as far as I am aware, and even then it was not a well-known term outside certain circles. That is not to say that reddish coloured ales did not exist in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, as they clearly did, but they were just called ales or - at a real push - Irish ales or 'Traditional' ales from what I can see from advertisement, labels, and beer mats.

But let us go back to the turmoil of the 1960s that I mentioned above, and to a time just after Guinness had finally taken over Smithwick’s completely in the mid-sixties and it had launched Smithwick’s Draught as a new brand in 1966/67 along with a bottled version called Smithwick’s ‘D’. This just after the period when most of the Smithwick’s beers had been rebranded as Time ales. Smithwick’s No. 1 ale seems to have survived that rebranding, and indeed after the bold experiment that was Time was brought to an end it was being promoted quite heavily in bottle only in newspapers during this period of the mid-sixties, with advertisements promoting its ‘rich golden colour’ by the way! Considering that ‘No. 1’ was an award-winning ale that had survived from at least the early 20th century it is perhaps a little surprising that this ale was not used as a launching pad for Smithwick’s Draught and that instead Guinness appear to have gone for a completely new beer, not least in colour. So why invent this new amber-ish coloured ale instead of a rich golden one? I do not know the actual reason of course but I believe there is more than just one reason for this decision...

The first issue is that Guinness & Co., of course, already had in its stable a successfully marketed, bestselling, and attractive ‘bright’ pale ale in Phoenix, which had been launched the previous decade and was doing very well domestically at this time in keg and bottle. Phoenix had already taken sales from Smithwick’s No. 1 in the past so it would make little sense to pitch one pale ale against the other, as it would have meant stagnant revenues and a pointless war amongst themselves. What may also be relevant if that Beamish & Crawford launched Celebration Ale - another ‘bright’ beer - in early 1966 and that was enough competition for Phoenix. (Perry’s ale still existed too, as did Macardles of course, bot controlled by Guinness but perhaps neither brand merited a rebrand at this time - Perry’s at this point was just an occasionally available draught ale.)

Secondly, they saw the real enemy as the English brands and breweries that were looking long and hard at the Irish market - but in particular Watney’s Red Barrel which was making serious inroads1 into kegged ale sales in Ireland and was being heavily advertised from 1964, and especially so when it began being brewed in Lady’s Well Brewery in Cork - then owned by Watney Mann - in mid-1966. Red Barrel was not 'red' of course, although what appears to be a publicity shot of a tankard of the ale in ‘The Murphy Story’ certainly shows it as ‘red’ as modern Smithwicks.1 There may also have been a subliminal perception that it was somewhat darker than it actually was given its name. Having said that, Boak & Bailey’s post on Red Barrel show a dark golden(?) beer when it was rebrewed, and the brewing records shown in their post states it was 27 EBC (Or maybe 24 EBC in Ron Pattinson’s linked-to version within their post), so approaching amber in colour perhaps. (Michael Jackson's Beer Companion says that Smithwick's was 29 EBC by the way.) More proof of its darkish colour is in the replies to that post, where Gary Gillman from Beer et seq. flags a video that clearly show Red Barrell being poured in the 60s and it is indeed quite an amber colour very like Smithwick's Draught's shade in this advertisement. It was also moderately hopped at 30-32 IBU and was 3.8% ABV according to that post, so certainly not a dissimilar beer to what we believe Smithwick was when launched, if perhaps a little more bitter and (perhaps) a little less 'red'. It is worth noting too that other advertisements from this period such as the one flagged above appear to show Smithwick's Draught slightly paler than today’s version, and I am assuming it might have gone through one or more changes or tweaks in the interim - although I have no proof of that and images, and especially those from publicity material, can be notoriously unreliable but I am not sure if there was a huge difference between Red Barrel and Smithwick's colour-wise at launch

I have very little doubt that Red Barrel was Guinness's target, and a darker coloured Irish keg ale with a good provenance suited their portfolio too, plus it distanced Smithwick's Draught from Phoenix. Also, it might be no coincidence that just like Time ale before them they used a barrel or keg as their pump font, as perhaps a dig at the little red barrel that Watney’s used for their ale font, albeit Smithwick’s version was white and more stylised. (Intriguingly there was an alcohol free version of Smithwick's made in the 80s or 90s I believe - I have undated labels - that was sold as Smithwick's AFB - alcohol free bitter!)

A report on Smithwick’s ‘275th’ anniversary in The Kilkenny People in 1985, admittedly 20 years after the launch of its kegged ale states that ‘public taste […] for ale had begun to change and a demand for a darker, sweeter ale became apparent late in 1965. Smithwick’s draught keg was developed therefore to meet demand.’ So this also seems to rule out the possibility that Smithwick's Draught was a rebrew of an older XX ale or similar from Smithwick's wonderful repertoire of ales from the 19th and early 20th century, more is the pity, and seems to show that they were indeed mimicking in a way, another kegged ale that was selling well at the time - Red Barrel. (Incidentally, these few sentences in an editorial advertisement no doubt approved by the company, blows a large and gaping hole in the Smithwick’s brand’s current - and ridiculous - assertion that their beer has been going since 1710!)

What is certain is that Guinness desperately needed a ‘new’ keg ale to compete with newcomers and that the direction they chose to go was a success, as they soon made progress in the Irish ale market to the point that in a couple of yearsthey were ahead of all competitors - including Phoenix by the way - although they would be soon challenged and pushed by Beamish & Crawford brewed Bass on its introduction in 1968 /69.2

But how or when did Smithwick's become known as an Irish red ale in Ireland? As I mentioned earlier, I think it was only since the last rebrand that included the blonde and the pale, so that is just in the last few year - although I am not quite sure I believe that myself even though I can find no evidence in advertisement and bottle labels to the contrary. It may have been marketed as a red ale on foreign shores before that time but apart from it being lumped in with other ‘red’ ales in newspaper reports in the late nineties and editorials I cannot see it branded as such.

But its nitrogenated distant cousin Kilkenny Ale, certainly was…

Kilkenny was launched by Guinness first in Germany in 1987 and was later released on the Irish public in 1995, as Guinness no doubt felt that Caffrey’s ale was trying to sneak into the market with its nitro ale. The export version of Kilkenny was 5% abv and the Irish version was a little weaker at 4.3%, but it is important to point out that the kegged version was not just a nitrogenated version of Smithwick’s according to any sources I can see in newspaper reports, it was a new formulation to piggyback on the success of the international success of Killian’s Red Ale in my opinion. (Killian’s Red was the subject of a great deep dive by Martyn Cornell, which I have posted a link to at the end of my post.) The bottle export version was also 5% and presumably not nitrogenated in any way and Kilkenny was certainly marketed and mentioned as a red ale in most, if not all, markets. (It is currently sold in Ireland as an Irish Cream Ale - certainly a term that did not exist here until very recently either - and is 4.3% abv, which suggests a recipe change since its launch.)

One curious mention I found was for the launch in Ireland in 1993 of a 5% red coloured ale called ‘1710 Export’ in bottle. A mention in the Evening Herald’s ‘The Diary’ - a social gossip column - in November mentions the beer and states that Guinness’s Smithwick’s marketing manager said that it ‘was not just Smithwick's with a fancy new image “It’s based on and American red beer recipe” “it’s a totally new product.”’ A smoking gun you say...?

Am I the only person who thinks that this may have been a bottled version of Kilkenny ale, which was being brewed in Kilkenny for export at this time? Why would Guinness develop another 5% export red beer when they already had one being brewed in the same brewery? I can find very little more information on this product but if it is not export Kilkenny then and if the quote is to be believed, it shows that Guinness via the Smithwick’s marketing wing was looking into replicating and improving on certain American red beers at this time, or at least one being sold there as an Irish Red Ale. If '1710 Export' was Kilkenny ale being trial launched on the public then the above quote certainly highlights its actual original provenance, and that if far from these shores. 

So, the final iteration of ‘Irish Red Ale’ did not really originate here at all but in America and other foreign markets, although a reddish ale did exist, in Smithwick’s Draught, it was never known as such here. I am not sure where the other traditional ‘red’ that is Macardles ale fits into this colour-wise or otherwise - it is possible it morphed into a darker ale sometime in the 60s or early 70s, like Phoenix may have done at a later date, but it was marketed as a' Traditional Ale'. (Another ale, brewed for export in Dundalk by Guinness, called Twyford was marketed as an ‘Amber’ ale sometime in the 80s I think.)

The other big culprits in this whole red ale saga are homebrewers, and microbrewers who lifted the term as it applied to international ‘Irish Red Ales’ and made it into a believable style, that was then reimported back into Ireland under that name by the early batch of Irish microbreweries aided and abetted by other macrobrewed versions like Murphy’s Red Ale launched in Germany first in 1995 and Beamish Red which was launched in England the following year.

Suddenly we were swamped in red ales by name and style, apart from as I have mentioned, the one ale that most people think of as a red ale - Smithwick's - which makes me wonder why I have spent so long discussing it!

And yes, I am aware it is an Irish ale that is red...

So it looks to me like this age of red ales had no real, provable connection with the two previous eras of red/amber ales apart from the obvious one of the actual colour. There is most probably a connection between Kilkenny Ale and Killian's Red and therefore at a push that Enniscorthy Ruby Ale allegedly brewed up to 1956, and that may have some connection with the older amber ales of the previous centuries but again I can find no proof - and of course they would have been completely different formulas and recipes, unless some of them just coincidentally happened to taste very similar - but we will probably never know that …

That last point brings me towards the conclusion of what has turned out to be quite an interesting - in a niche way and relatively speaking - if convoluted journey in Irish red Ale, and towards an important question that I mentioned in the last post.

Does any of this really matter? Is any of this significant in any way?

Personally the answer is yes, as the importance for me lies in the research and the recording of the facts - with some amount of conjecture admittedly - that I have put into these posts. For too long we have let the marketing gurus of Irish breweries twist the facts to suit their flawed narrative, It is high time we set the record straight on as much of Irish brewing history as we can - and many have been doing this a lot longer than me I must add.

There are huge gaping holes in this incomplete history that I cannot currently fill that may bridge the gaps between centuries, styles, and recipes that I may discover in the future, and I am quite sure that this is a subject I will return to time and time again. If and when I come across new information then my hope is that these posts will evolve in time and perhaps my conclusions and opinions will change give new information.

But for now, I am happy to reiterate that there is no link between the three Irish Red Ale eras, although a red coloured ale of sorts probably existed in all of these times.

I am also happy to repeat what many knew already, which is that Irish Red Ales (in capital letters like that) as a moniker for a group of similar-ish beers is a very new term.

But I am most happy to report that the same group of beers brewed by some of the many microbreweries on the planet are one of my favourite styles, so let us not fixate too much on the subject of labels and just drink and brew more red ales, although I fear it is too late to stem the arguments - and also that I might just have made things worse...


(Martyn Cornell's Killian's Red Ale article I mentioned above is here.)


(Please let me know of any errors you see in this piece and I will do my best to rectify them - or argue my case.)

All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without my permission, full credit to its source, and a link back to this post. References to newspaper is available via email or DM to me. The image at the top of the post is my own.

1 Chapter 9 of The Murphy Story by Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil & Donal Ó Drisceoil

Beamish & Crawford - the History of an Irish Brewery by Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil & Donal Ó Drisceoil

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Brewing History: Irish Red Ale Part II - All in the Malt?

In part one of this trilogy on red ales in Ireland I focussed on the ancient and often repeated mentions of its name that seem to be the lead-in to almost every chapter of every book written about Irish brewing history. It would be wrong to say I proved or disproved that such a beverage existed but I certainly did enough to make us question parts of the tales that were told and retold before being recorded, and I queried the actual words and language used. I concluded that Irish-made red ales probably did exist as part of a group of many other alcoholic drinks but that it certainly was not the only beverages produced here in ancient times.

In this part I will be back on somewhat firmer territory, as I explore reddish coloured Irish ales from the slightly better recorded past of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, where at least we can look at written records and mentions of that time and interpret them in a much more meaningful way than we are able to do from old manuscripts.

In many ways this is of course a pointless exercise given that ‘Irish Red Ale’ in upper-case letters is such a relatively new term and these newer recipes cannot be exactly the same as any historical versions, but given that an invented version of our older ale brewing history has been sucked into the vacuum created by the lack of knowledge and reporting of what was actually brewed by Irish brewers back beyond the 1960s, I think it justifies probing into that lost world of Irish beer history.

Similarly, the knee-jerk reaction that we never had any red ales prior to that time needs to also be addressed, as even by accident we surely brewed a few red ales during the last few centuries? This of course is a bit of an assumption too, so let us explore what we know about red ales in socially recorded history and other sources from the above-mentioned period in Ireland ... but let us look at it as a search for a uniquely Irish and malt-focussed red coloured ale, instead of making assumptions that no such product existed.

A quick online search for the mention of the words ‘Red Ale’ in relation to Ireland only throws up those ancient mentions that were discussed in the last post, or later references that will relate to the next one. (Apart from a 16th century mention where it is used as an attribute along with other negative words such as ‘ropye’ and ‘longe’, and this may explain its lack of use as a descriptor, as that word obviously had some unwholesome connotations for a time.) Instead we need to look at words which could be interpreted as red coloured beers and the best word for this is probably ‘Amber’ - and I know exactly what you are thinking, that I am trying to shoe-horn mentions I have found for the colour of beer into my warped narrative to justify my reasoning, and to a certain degree I am, but please bear with me for a little longer as I explain - and back up - my thinking.

Firstly, unlike the older period of language that I discussed in the previous post, here we are dealing with a period when there was an explosion of words to describe colour, probably helped by the increased appreciation of poetry and song, and the sheer increase in volume and availability of books and other publications. So why would we not start using russet, amber and other words to describe tints and shades of a reddish nature?

Secondly, if the term red ale was being classed as a negative attribute, then surely it would be ludicrous to attach it to your beer when advertised or described? That term may have drifted on in brewing circles beyond the 16th century mention above.

Thirdly it could be down to marketing, as words like amber sounds much more appealing than plain old 'red' ale anyway - it is not a descriptor that any advertiser would have selected for a beer. Selling a beer in a packed marketplace of other breweries was a difficult job, so every advantage was needed including using the best sales pitch, and if the term 'Amber Ale' became the norm than all brewers would use it surely?

They next issue of course is the that to many people amber is not quite red, but colour is subjective as we know and even the modern ‘Irish Red Ale’ is not actually red - its shade varies and it could certainly be compared to some darker shaded variations of what we call amber. (The colour purple is the best example I know where people rarely get the shade - or often the basic colour - right. If asked to pick out a purple object many people will pick out every shade from mauve to blue to even burgundy and tell you it is purple, and many other colours are similar - certainly amber is one of those.) The real problem with that ‘Red’ moniker for ale is that none of us would really use that word to describe the shade of those modern beers would we? They are much closer to deep amber, russet perhaps, or dark ginger than they are to a red so why do we think that colour name would have been used in the past? Another important point is that amber and red still seem quite interchangeable in beers nowadays as colour descriptors, so our perceptions are still quite fluid.

But I love facts and science so I found this reference in a scientific book from 1757 by John Rutty called ‘A Methodical Synopsis of Mineral Waters’1 where he discusses the effect of minerals on colour and mentions his choice of descriptors for those colours. This is what he says about amber and ale…

‘In the description of certain colours arising on some mixtures, the words amber and brown amber may be thought to be less definite than those of high-coloured beer, which, viz, a reddish brown, was generally intended by the term amber or brown amber.’

So he used the term ‘high-coloured beer’ as a descriptor for a reddish brown colour, and by my interpretation the term amber was used to describe that beer colour. Reddish brown? That certainly seems to be the shade we are looking for here. Just to be clear, this book was not an Irish book, it was printed in London but is still a fair example of the interpretation of beer colour. (It is also worth pointing out that other countries had 'red' or amber ales too of course, but we are just dealing with Ireland here for obvious reasons.)

In the 19th century in particular there are quite a few references to the amber ales and many seem to be using this term, perhaps to differentiate themselves from porters, and probably also from Irish pale ales. If we look at an example from Lane’s brewery in Cork from a previous post we see that in 1843 they were brewing ‘Extra Stout and Bottled Porter, East India Pale, XX and Amber Ales’ so we can see a clear differentiation between their Pale and XX, and their Amber ale.

There is also a very nice mention of an amber coloured beer from 1856 in another previous post that showed how Lady’s Well Brewery (Murphy’s), also in Cork, started its life not wholly as a porter brewery but as a producer of a wide variety of beer in the hope of becoming an Irish competitor and exporter akin to Bass, Allsopp, etc., and their beers included a ‘Lady’s Well Ale’ that was described as having ‘a clear, amber colour’.

Somewhat ironically, Smithwick’s in Kilkenny also had an amber ale, as a visitor to the brewery in 1876 sampled ‘October ales, eleven months old and clear as amber’. So it is with a little fanfare we can say that this famous Kilkenny brewery did indeed have a reddish ale back then along with their other beers, although it appears to have been a far cry from the present iteration - more on this in the final part of this trilogy.

Again, I know that these mentions would hardly be surprising if we were looking at brewing in a general all-world context but with the focus of many of the world’s beer and travel writers firmly set on Ireland’s porter history, it is good to repeat and reinforce our much-more-than-that brewing aptitude that tends to get lost in the noise of brewing fakelore. (The alternative reason for much of my writing is not only to attempt to pull fact from fiction red ale wise, but also to show off any styles I come across that are currently not associated with that blinkered brewing history, be it Milds, Pale Ales, Imperial Ales or in this case Amber Ales.)

And those mentions above are not outliers, as newspaper mentions over the centuries mention many more ‘Amber Ales’, for example:

Saunder’s Newsletter in October 1784 printed an editorial of general complaints about issues in Dublin city and one sentence reads, ‘That fine and elegant amber ale, for which this city, forty years ago, was so remarkable, is no longer to be had; but in its stead, a wretched, ill brewed compound possessing every ill quality a malt liquor can have.’

Michael Lowry on Meath Street in Dublin was brewing ‘an Amber Beer of superior quality’ in 1795, again according to an advertisement in Saunder’s Newsletter in February of that year.

In October of 1805 again from Saunder’s Newsletter, the proprietor of the brewery at 48 Mecklenburgh Street in Dublin was brewing ‘Amber Ale, Pale Ale, superior strong Porter, and excellent Table Beer.’

In 1907 according to an advertisement in the Dundalk Examiner the Great Northern Brewery - in Dundalk - were brewing ‘single porter; XX bottling stout; amber ale; and strong ale.’ Indeed that same brewery advertised its Amber Ale quite strongly early in the 20th century, with one newspaper advertisement showing photograph-like images of a glass of that Amber Ale for 1938 that shows it to be quite dark - certainly not a ‘golden’ type of amber. (We should also note that this brings us a generation away from the third age of Irish Red Ales in the 1960s, and although I possess a label for this beer, I am unsure when exactly it ceased to be, but Smithwick’s bought the brewery in the 1950s and Smithwick’s was brewed here later on in the brand’s life under Guinness's tenure.)

(Interestingly or not - I can find no mention in print of a famous cousin of amber ale and that is the 'Ruby Ale' brewed by Lett’s Mill Park brewery in Enniscorthy - the only thing I can see is that much repeated label. I do not doubt that it existed but it must have been sold by word of mouth as very few advertisements for Lett’s ales in general seem to exist.)

What any of these beers would be categorised taste-wise is not something I can say for definite, but from the scant descriptions they seem to have had a little bitterness on the hop front, so perhaps like a dark coloured pale ale? Although in reality I would suspect that these beers I referenced were quite different from one another.

But all of this is very ambiguous still - although I am convinced enough that there were look-a-like if not taste-a-like red ales in this period - and the complete absence of the actual word ‘red’ in some way up to this point probably has you thinking that I am yet again clutching at ale-soaked straws to justify my stance, but let me share something else that might just make you into a believer that some of these ales were indeed ‘red’ in colour, at least by modern style standards, and see if we can add a certain maltiness to our ale ...

By chance I recently came across a very interesting book that was published 1872 with instructions on brewing Irish porter and stout - and I need to do a separate full post on this book itself, as it gives detailed recipes for Irish dark beers and how to brew them as well as the workings of Irish porter breweries at this time. The book also lists the usual ingredients such as hops and water, but it was a chapter on malts that caught my eye. In it the anonymous writer - who appears to be an eminent journeyman brewer - talks about a specific ‘pale’ malt that was used by Irish brewers as a base malt for their porters. The author of the piece describes the malt thus:

‘The usual kind of malt employed in brewing Irish porter is of a darker colour than what is generally used by English Brewers’… ‘which in flavour and colour resemble a malt nearly approaching dark amber, but not quite’ 

The writer states that this is still called a 'pale' malt as it is pale relative to the other much darker malt used for the making of porter, and he goes on to state that the malt has…

‘A very sweet and pleasant flavour and the farina of the malt has rather a brownish tinge. This gradual slight charring develops also a peculiar and agreeable bitter taste, which is communicate to the porter or beer and thereby renders it more agreeable to the palate…’

He goes on to tell London brewers that the can somewhat replicate this malt by mixing ‘English made Amber’ with some standard pale malt but that by having this other ‘pale’ malt as used in Dublin, which had superior flavour he states that you can… 

‘… produce a wort if mashed alone of a deep red appearance…’

Well my thoughts on this are pretty clear, if this unique malt was being used by porter brewers then was it possibly being used by ale brewers too? Perhaps mixed with a little ‘real’ pale malt but either way it would have produced an Irish ale that was amber red, and unique to Ireland - an ‘Irish Red Ale’ even, although different from what the new definition and usually stated recipe of course. But this surely helps with my case that there were malt-focused red ales in this epoch too, but they were different to what went before and what came after? (It is also worth mentioning that our brewer/author persuaded a London maltster to replicate this uniquely Irish(?) malt and market it under the name 'Hibernia' ...)

We need more evidence that this of course and with a dearth of information on Irish malting we will fall back on Alfred Barnard and his volumes on ‘The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland’2. Barnard did not tell us much about the actual details of the beers produced by the Irish breweries that he visited but his recording of a visit to Plunkett Brothers, the famous Dublin maltsters, around 1890 is one of the only records regarding what was being malted in Ireland around this time that I am aware of.

Barnard does indeed list some of the ‘numerous’ malts being produced by the Plunketts and those include ‘black, candied, amber and high dried malts, all of which are shown in tall glass vases bearing labels related to the history of the product, etc.’ He was particularly taken with a ‘golden brown malt’ that was used for ‘both ales and stouts, where flavour and richness of quality are desiderata.’ Elsewhere in his report he mentions the candied malt again and states it is ‘sweet-tasting’ and also states that ‘this make is peculiar to Plunkett Bros., and is used in conjunction with pale malts, for public house mild ales’ and that ‘it imparts a delicious aromatic smack to ales'.

These are all quite interesting as malts go but I do not think they can be our elusive amber-ish malt that our brewer speaks of, as these seem to be used in addition to other malts. So although they also seem to be unique to Dublin, and Barnard with all of his travelling and visits had never heard of them, they are probably not exactly what we were looking for even if they do deserve more research, especially that candied malt, and they may be relevant, which I will get too later.

But further on during his visit Barnard visits a separate maltings on Cork Street and discusses the ‘preparation of amber brown malt made by a very old-fashioned process’ using oak chips to fire the furnaces to achieve this colour, and no doubt a unique flavour. Could this be our elusive malt? Indeed it might be - or perhaps a variation of it - and if nothing else it shows that if Barnard was commenting on them as he was, then Dublin maltsters seemed to be malting to different specification than their English counterparts, even if they did export their malts over to there.

So if Irish ale brewers were using this amber brown malt - even if it is not the one in the brewing book - and perhaps adding that candied malt to it, which from how it is listed in order after black and before the amber must mean that it was quite dark and therefore would produce something that to my admittedly limited thinking would be an ale that to the modern eye would be classed as a red ale, even if it was used as only part of the grist.

So are these malts the proof of 'red' ales existing in Ireland in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century at the very least? Well sadly we do not know for sure, but with all of those mentions of amber ales above, plus the amber brown and candied malts that Barnard seemed so taken with, I find it hard to believe that either by themselves or as a mix they were not used in brewing ales at some point - perhaps for those lovely sounding ‘public house mild ales’ he mentions!

Another very important detail is the importance of those malts and their impact on the beers being brewed and given the tone of both the brew instruction book and Barnard’s praise of the quality and aroma of the malt I find it difficult to believe that malts would not be show-cased by the breweries supplied with these malts for the production of their 'everyday' ales. The malt would surely be the most important ingredient flavour wise, with the hops taking the backstage roll.

Given all of this can we finally say that there were malt-forward, reddish ales being brewed in Ireland in this period? I am quite convinced that these beers existed, but possibly focussed on the east coast and - ironically - within 'The Pale' around Dublin, although perhaps in other major cities too as per the Cork references above.

By the way, this idea that Dublin and its environs were fonder of darker ales is reinforced by a small note in a brewing record for Perry’s brewery in Rathdowney in Co. Laois that stated that certain ales were to be darkened for the Dublin market - with caramel colouring in that case I believe. Indeed, Perry’s used caramel, invert sugars and malt extract in some of their beers in at least the early part of the 20th century. Some of which, from my own attempts to replicate these beers, changed them into something almost reddish brown in colour.

I am aware that this is mostly based on pure conjecture, but just to reiterate, I do believe that given the evidence above that there were unique - malt-wise at the very least - Irish red ales. These were similar in colour and possibly taste to the modern versions of red ales although probably stronger flavour wise, certainly more so than the known macrobrewed versions. The malt, and recipes in general, would probably have been different from what I know of those beers produced today too.

These Historic Irish Amber Ales - I think I prefer that term - would have just been another part of our rich and varied range of beers, alongside pale ales, milds and IPAs. They have no connection with the ales of ancient history I discussed in the previous post, or at least I cannot see a link back to those versions that can be in anyway provable, and I still feel that they have no link to those of our very recent brewing history, even given what I have said in the last few paragraphs.

But we did have ‘red’ ales, which I think we all knew already anyway, right…?


Part III is here.

(Please let me know of any errors you see in this piece and I will do my best to rectify them - or argue my case.)

All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without my permission, full credit to its source, and a link back to this post. References to quoted newspaper is available via email or DM to me.

Newspaper image is © The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( from whom I have received permission to display this image on this site.

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Brewing History: Irish Red Ale Part I - Lost in Translation?

On the 15th of July 1856 Eugene O’Curry, who was Professor of Irish History and Archaeology in the Catholic University of Ireland, delivered a lecture relating to ecclesiastical manuscripts with the catchy title ‘Of the so called “Prophecies” anterior to the time of St. Patrick. (“Prophecies” as described to Conn of the Hundred Battles)’, where he references a manuscript ‘On the Original and Ancient Account of the Baile an Scáil.’

In it O’Curry relates in his own words a fragment of a story where Conn and his companions were led to a ‘royal court, into which the entered, and found it occupied by a beautiful and richly dressed princess with a silver vat full of red ale, and a golden ladle and golden cup before her.’ This was translated from Old Irish and O’Curry could not date it exactly but implies it must be from before the middle of the 11th century. Looking at a copy of his source material reproduced in old Irish script, the word that is important to our story is ‘Derg-Lind’ and later in the same source the word is repeated as ‘Derg-Laith’, which was translated as the Irish words for 'Red Ale'.1

So there we have it, one of a few clear mentions of red ale being brewed in ancient times from an extremely reputable source, and so began a continuous brewing of red ales in Ireland that has continued right up to the present day...

Or at least that is what many a publication and the marketing people of many breweries both big and small would have you think.

And here lies the problem, we have been so brain washed by a couple of beer brand’s blurbs on our brewing history that many people believe that Irish red ale as we see it today is the same beer that has been produced in this country for centuries if not millennia, but it is my belief that we need to look at the various mentions of red ales brewed in Ireland as separate and unrelated brewing periods to attempt to make sense from it, and for convenience I will break it down into three periods: ancient, historical and modern.

‘Ancient’ mostly relates to myths, prose, and poetry from our very distant past although usually repeated, transcribed and recorded at a much later date. ‘Historical’ relates to the 19th century and the decades either side of it, and the 'Modern' period deals with the beers that would appear from the middle of the 20th century onward that were eventually promoted under the term ‘Irish Red Ales’.

I will deal with those later periods in two separate posts so for now we will return to Professor O’Curry who in 1872, almost two decades after the lecture referenced above, posthumously had published another series of lectures, edited by William Kirby Sullivan called ‘On the Manner and Customs of the Ancient Irish’ which was to become an important and much referenced book regarding Irish life in the far distant past and included a few more-than-interesting pages on food and drink in ancient times. In that section is transcribed the often-repeated poem from a manuscript on the life of a prince named Cano, which lists the various ales being made in different parts of Ireland at this time. (If you are unaware of the poem you will find it in the book's link listed below.) According to O’Curry, Cano was killed in 687 A.D. and the manuscript is from ‘about the year 1390’ and he suspected it to have been originally taken from material from no later than the 12th century.2

In this poem there is mention of ‘The red ale of Dorind’ and that ‘About the lands of the Cruithni, about Gergin, red ales like wine are drunk freely’, so again we have early references to red ales in the country in the distant past.

This book was widely available and certainly would have been used by many historians as a source text, and no doubt certain passages like the poem these two lines are taken from would have fed the musings of writers of the mythology and poetry of our past, so I certainly feel it influenced more than just students of our history. The poem has been repeated in a slightly different translation in other sources since the one that featured in O’Curry’s book, and there appears to be two versions of this poem, which vary only slightly from one another but I have looked at one version from the Yellow Book of Lecan held in Trinity College Dublin, which is transcribed in Irish from this source, and here are the two mentions of red ale in Irish:

Cormand dorindi derga - [The red ale of Dorind]

Cormand derga anal fin - [Red ales like wine]

(I have also looked at scans of these manuscripts (The poem starts in the middle of column 794) and the translations seem accurate to my untrained eye, although I had trouble making the word ‘derga’ out of the collection of letters after ‘cormand’ on the second mention, but as a few experts have translated it thus then I will take it to be so.)

So what is my problem with all of these wonderful mentions of one of our national drinks? Well at this point I need to emphasise my extreme lack of expertise in old manuscripts, the Irish language and history in general, but I do feel there are a few issues with some of this content even to my amateur eye and mindset - and with taking it all at face value, which quite a few brewing books, articles and brewers have done.

Let us start with the first mention and the words ‘Derg-Lind’ and ‘Derg-Laith’ and leaving aside the ‘Derg’ part for now we can look at both ‘Lind’ and ‘Laith’, and the issue here is that neither word necessarily means beer or ale according to any sources I can find. 

‘Lind’ is also seen written a ‘Lin’, ‘Leann’ (as in O’Hara’s Leann Folláin stout - the latter word meaning wholesome or robust) and other variations, but this word does not necessarily mean beer, it appears to refer to any type of alcoholic liquor. O’Curry himself states in ‘Manner and Customs’ that the word ‘Lin’ - which he suggests is of Anglo-Saxon/Old Norse origin by the way - is ‘sometimes used for ale, but it is rather a general term for liquor rather than a special name for beer.’ Another excellent more modern online resource that looks at older meanings of words, the eDIL (Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language), under the spelling ‘Linn’ also gives it to be ‘In general sense drink, liquid’ although it does mention beer as another definition, but then it also mentions milk and other liquids. Modern standard dictionaries do mention 'Leann' as meaning beer but do also reference it to mean just liquid and interestingly if the word is combined with another it seems to emphasise that it just meant a liquor, so ‘Leann Úll’ becomes cider, ‘Leann Piorra’ is perry, ‘Leann Sinséir’ is ginger ale and so on, which seems to reinforce to me that it just meant a beverage. The word ‘Laith’ or ‘Laid’ or even another variant - ‘Flaith’ - has similar issues, as again it can mean ale but can also mean any intoxicating liquor.  

For another source for the use of these words, we can look at Broccán’s hymn to St. Brigid, where the word ‘Derglaid’ is used in relation to the miracle of turning a bath of water into beer, but ‘Laid’ might not mean ale at all. So might it refer to a different alcoholic beverage? Perhaps clever Brigid dumped a little whiskey and some colouring into the bath and proclaimed it a holy miraculous liquor!

The other word used for beer, 'Cormand' - see also 'C(h)orma', 'Corm' and often 'Cuirm' (there appears to be many spellings) - is probably a little more straightforward, as most mentions I can see refer to it meaning an ale or beer, with the implication that grains were used in some manner in its brewing. Although it is possible that this word did not begin its linguistic journey as a meaning for beer, but O'Curry states it is related to the Greek word Korma for a fermented grain-based drink and is possibly of Celtic in origin, which would of course make sense. I might add that I have found an interesting source from 1786 which mentions that the word does not necessarily mean beer and gives the example of 'Cuirm Caoral' [Caoral = Caoraíl? Meaning blazing/Glowing?] as meaning 'red cuirm or wine.' What is equally interesting is that a few sources such as the translation of a poem in this publication from 1870 translates 'Cuirm' to mean feast, a meaning that is sort-of referenced in the eDIL meaning of the word too in connection with an ale-feast and entertainment. It is difficult to bring that meaning back into the original examples above and to get the wording to make coherent sense, but it might be worth noting that if one sees 'Cuirm Leann' or similar mentioned somewhere it may mean a 'Feast Drink' and not an 'Ale Drink'? This is perhaps a timely and good example of the evolution of words, no matter what the language...

But those two lines that I extracted from the poem above that use the word 'Cormand' probably do refer to a grain-based liquor, although the first line of the poem ‘Cid dech do lindaib flatha?’ ['What is the best liquor of sovereignty?'] would make us think that the poem is indeed about general alcoholic beverages and not specifically beer, so as with much of what I have mentioned and referenced it gives us pause for a rethink if nothing else.

Of course that is the reason I am pointing out all of this - and some of it involves a fair degree of straw-clutching I admit. It is to raise a little doubt in the mind of other beer writers as to whether any of these words we have taken as meaning ‘beer’ can be seen as being definitively correct if we look back at the original sources, especially those from a distant past. I would argue that we cannot assume that all beverages labelled with any of those 'L' words - at the very least - should be categorised as beers, as they could quite possibly be meads, ciders, or any combination of those drinks such as braggots or other concoctions. In fact we can be pretty sure they did apply to these beverages given the meanings I have shown above.

But let us get on to safer and less shaky ground with the word ‘Derg’ or even ‘Derga’ for the colour red, surely that is straight forward enough? After all we still have the word ‘Dearg’ in modern Irish and even I with my limited vocabulary of Irish words can translate that to mean 'Red' …

But did it always? If we look at the English language, we know that in the past the word ‘Red’ covered a multitude of shades from orange - the colour was named after the fruit by the way, not vice versa - to perhaps burgundy shades, so why would it also not be true in the Irish language? I am not very sure about the language of colours in ancient Ireland but I would hazard a guess that, as in many languages, there was not a colour name for every hue, especially the spectrum that starts beyond deep yellow and continues to burgundy shades. I think it is quite feasible that red when mentioned with drink of any kind could have meant a mid or deep amber shade, or even perhaps a dark-to-near-black crimson.

Although I must point out that I have also seen 'Derg-Buide' (Red-Yellow) in texts to mean - presumably - something orange in colour, but the eDIL again backs up my original premise by translating ‘Derg’ to mean ‘(a) Of colour, red, ruddy (used of colour of blood, flame; also of orange or tawny hue as of ale, gold, etc.)’ It was the ‘tawny’ hue of ale that struck a chord, as to me that would refer to a pale brown or perhaps dark golden colour. 

Incidentally - or perhaps not - there is another meaning for the word ‘Derg’, and this is for something intense or fierce. I am not seriously suggesting that this would be the case here but it certainly raises some interesting possibilities if we went down the implications of that meaning for a drink…?

Poets and prose writers can also be blamed for some of the erroneous mentions, and an example of that false narrative can be found in an undated original poem published in the Dublin Weekly Nation on the 10th of May 1890, which was printed in its original Irish version and then translated into English by the contributor of the day.

Here is a very relevant passage in English first:

It is there that men never would wonder

At waves of the floods of drink

And the ale running red from the coppers

Full filled to the frothing brink

And here is the Irish Version:

I ann nach gcuirfidhe and t-ioghnadh

Faoi an dilinn dá thonnadh ann,

A’s air nós na Gcopaire buidhe

Bhios lionta lán de liunn

I can see no reference of a variant of 'Dearg' for red in that last couplet and using my extremely poor translation skills it reads:

And like the yellow copper,

Will be filled full of drink

The 19th century translator has added the word ‘Red’ to his version to make it sound a little more poetic, much like I have cheekily used the word ‘Drink’ here to help with the rhyming scheme, although in this case yet another spelling of ‘Leann’ - ‘Liunn’ - probably did mean ale, given the mention of a 'copper' (The brewing vessel presumably, but he could mean just a copper pot or jug?), although the original writer might at a serious stretch have meant spirits. Here we can see how easy it is to weave some poetic alliteration to say that the ale was indeed red, even though the original source mentions nothing of the sort. Poetry and the aesthetic of the words can often overshadow facts and accuracy, and this is true in marketing speak as much as in prose. (Although I will be the first to admit - for example - that something called St. Brigid’s Tawny Braggot might not be extremely appealing if launched on the general public…!)

So, what does any of this mean? Well, I think certain meanings probably comes down to interpretation and the context of the words to a degree, but from the examples above (and there are more), we could certainly interpret that there were historic malt-based beverages that may have been the same colour of the beers that are categorised as ‘Irish Red Ales’ today, although they would have been completely different in many other ways of course. For example if they contained any bittering herbs or adjuncts, we can be relatively sure that they would not have contained hops. That modern(ish) Irish brewing ingredient is unlikely to have arrived on this island until well after the period we are discussing.

But given that we were almost certainly fermenting other sugar sources such as honey, apples and who knows what else then it is hard to say for certain what any of these possibly-red beverages might have been, and we cannot say for sure that red ales existed at this time. As I have shown above, even those sources that mention variants of relatively safe words like 'Cormand' or 'Cuirm', which we take as definitely meaning grain-based drinks might have lost something to misunderstandings, assumptions and the basic evolution of language, especially as these tales were told verbally down through the generations. And it is worth noting that even if red coloured beverages did exist, they could have used different ingredients such as Madder or other adjuncts to achieve colour as well as for flavouring or bitterness.

And so after all of that, I think all we can possibly say to the question of whether we had red ales in Ireland in the distant past is to give a shoulder shrug and a mumbled, 'Well, maybe...', while staring at our shuffling feet. (I often think that we do not use the words ‘might’, ‘possibly’ and ‘perhaps’ enough when we talk about these subjects - the issue may be that historians do not like vagaries and prefer definites…?) My own opinion even after all of this is that we did have some reddish coloured ales, but just as a part of a wider range of grain-based drinks and other beverages. I have shown that there is enough uncertainty around the language of drink and the language of colour to pull back from the ubiquitous and often repeated mentions in our history and mythology of only an ancient ‘Irish Red Ale’, with no references to almost any other beverage.

What I think we can safely say that the very modern version of Irish Red Ale has no identifiable linear connection with brewing in the distant past, unless it was purely inspired by the past’s poems and prose, which I will be arguing against in the last part of this trilogy. Before that - in the next post - I write about Irish red ales in the context of the historical references of the 19th and early 20th century, where at least we have some proper(ish) records to discuss and dissect - and luckily for me, none are in Irish or inked on vellum this time ...

(Part II is here...)


(Please let me know of any errors you see in this piece and I will do my best to rectify them - or argue my case.)

All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without my permission, full credit to its source, and a link back to this post. References to quoted newspaper is available via email or DM to me.

The image at the top of the post is taken from the first publication listed below.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

A Guinnessless Bottled Guinness Label?

As many of you are aware (and as per my previous post) I do have a soft spot for Irish beer labels, and while browsing through a newspaper - specifically an edition of the Newry Telegraph from February 1885 - I came across this advert for the Newry Mineral Water Company and 'their' Extra Stout. The writing around the advertisement mentions Guinness and James’ Gate, but if this an actual facsimile of the label, then it is a rare example of a bottler not using the Guinness name on their product, which according to David Hughes’ “A Bottle of Guinness Please” did happen on occasion up to this period.

Of course, this is just an advertisement and although it does say ‘See that our Brown Label is on the Bottle’ it does not state that this is the actual label. It is also possible that the whole top part of the advert is a copy of the label but this seems very unlikely, as most labels seem to have been oval or round at that time. I must admit that it seems strange that they would wax so lyrically about the beer without putting it on the label, especially give that Guinness had such a good reputation.

Regardless of whether it was a real label or not it is yet another a nice find to put out into the beer history world, especially with the bottler’s trademark of an arm holding a heart, which is the same one as used by Allan & Co from Liverpool who also bottled Guinness. Indeed, David Hughes mentions them both together in his book, so they must have been connected ...


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 images are © The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( from whom I have received permission to display this image on this site.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Beer History: Who Brewed Ireland's First 'Stout'?

Having previously looked at who brewed the first porter and other beer styles in Ireland - or at least flagging the first mentions of them in newspapers - I thought I should delve into that most quintessential of Irish beers. No not red ale, that is a whole other multipart story, I am talking about stout of course.

I better clarify that I am not talking about the most modern iteration of stout that dates from around the mid twentieth century or later, I am talking about a dark beer that had the word ‘stout’ in its name that was being produced by an Irish brewery.

And yes, I am being a little pedantic about the name itself, as stronger dark beers were possible being produced but not being sold as a ‘stout’ version. We are just looking at the actual word when used in conjunction with something darkly brewed, as it could of course also be use for a paler ale.

As far as I can see the first use of the term was in January of 1779 when the following advertisement for Alderman Warren’s brewery at No. 6 Mill Street in Dublin appears in Saunder’s Newsletter:

They were clearly brewing porter and I think this qualifies as the first dark ‘Stout’, regardless of whether it would be recognisable - or drinkable - by today’s stout aficionados. A John Magee may have been the actual brewer according to later advertisements, and those just mention the production of ‘Irish Porter’. Whether this means it was discontinued or just not being specifically flagged is impossible to say.

A few months later in August 1779 another advertisement appears in Saunder’s Newsletter by a Robert Pettitt who was based off Dame Street in Dublin:

Robert Pettitt had previously sold London Porter and here we can see he was selling a product called ‘Irish Brown Stout Porter’, and it is certainly nice to see that full title in print. No brewery is mentioned but given that I cannot find any other breweries producing a similarly name product, is it safe to assume that this is also from Warren’s brewery? Probably not, but in January of the following year the advertisement was changed to include the following:

'This being the first House opened for Sale of Irish Brown Stout Porter in this City, claims the Protection of the Public, to whom the Proprietor returns his most grateful Thanks, for their Encouragement, which far exceeds his most sanguine Expectations.'

Wonderful wording and it seems to be that this is the first retailer - I am taking 'house' to mean shop or warehouse not public house, which it appears not to have been - to sell and clearly advertise an Irish 'Stout Porter’ for sale.

There are very few mentions of Irish brewed stouts for a good few decades after but a few others stood out...

In April 1808 Messrs. Madder & Co. of Hope Porter Brewery on Watling Street in Dublin ran an advertisement in Saunder’s Newsletter that stated:

'… that the demand for their Brown Stout having exceeded their expectation, their stock of it for immediate use is entirely exhausted…'

(Nice to see a namesake for a modern Irish brewery there, and it appears from other notices that there is a complicated story about the Madders, their fallings out, and the setting up of a rival brewery at Black Pitts by a son - Samuel jr. - but that would need to be a whole different post…)

In 1812 The Belfast Commercial Chronicle carries an advertisement for ‘100 Tierces [of] Brown Stout Porter’ which were received from Cork but sadly no brewery was mentioned, we could possibly guess which brewery but that would hardly be factual...?

In May 1816 and also in The Belfast Commercial Chronicle an advertisement of a dissolution of a partnership between Clotworthy Dobbin and John W. Wright, which states that the business will be carried on by Mr Dobbin and that he is ‘well supplied with Double Brown Stout Porter’ in his brewery in that city Belfast.

It is October 1828 before I finally spot a Guinness product being described by those words in an Irish newspaper, but this might just be the words of the seller - Francie Magee - as he lumps it in with Barclay & Co.’s listed offering, possibly to save space. I doubt this is the first time that Guinness used the word ‘Stout’ but it’s the earliest mention I came across ...

So there we go, a pointless exercise in one way but it is nice, as ever, to pull this information out of the virtual pages of newspapers and drag them into a somewhat more accessible and searchable format.


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. References to quoted newspapers are available via email or DM to me.

Newspaper images are © The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( from whom I have received permission to display these images on this site.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Beer History: Who Brewed Ireland's First Porter?

"Porter was first brewed in Ireland in 1776 ..." says a well-known online encyclopaedia …

"Porter made its way to Ireland in 1776 ..." says an American Brewery's website …

"It [porter] was first brewed in Ireland in 1776 ..." says yet another online source …

We have been in a similar situation before of course, and these are just three of the quotes you will comes across when you attempt to investigate the history of porter brewing in this country, and I think we are seeing a pattern here with perhaps an unhealthy dose of plagiarism. So with this gnawing into my brain, I decided to do my own bit of research into any factual accounts of Ireland's first porter, having previously investigated who brewed Ireland's first IPA and first lager.

I am not going to dare to enter the argumentative world of porter's general history and beginnings but to add some context timewise we can say that the general consensus is that the name 'porter' has its origins in London in or around 1720 or perhaps earlier and was a name for a brown beer. After that I suggest you dig through the findings and writings of those you have been doing this longer and better than me. Here I just want to focus on its earliest recorded appearance in this country by that name, and to see can we pinpoint and confirm - or reconfirm - a date for when it was first brewed here and who produced it. 

That first mention I can find for porter in this country is in The Gentleman's and London Magazine, where in 1746 the Dublin Society (who we came across in a previous post) were giving a premium or reward for:

'... the best Ale at 3d per Quart (not less than 20 Barrels) brewed by any common Brewer before April 1747 [and] for the best 2d Ale or Porter (not less than 30 Barrels) ...'

This may mean that porter must have been relatively well known by this stage in Ireland and was - perhaps - already being brewed here. We also might infer that porter was being classed, by the Dublin Society at least, as a weaker beer compared to the 'best' ale, but as to how weak or strong these beers were I do not know for sure. It is worth noting that the Dublin Society may have offered this premium in previous years too, but I have not come across the reference yet so this is the earliest reference I can find. So, nothing definitive as such in this mention but it is certainly interesting, and it is nice to see in print - but in truth we can surely believe that porter was being imported into this country well before this point?

The earliest newspaper advertisement I have come across for 'London Porter' is from Pue's Occurrences on the 25th of April 1749 when it was for sale in Dublin, as we can see here:

Even though - again - we can assume that porter was a relatively well-known commodity in Ireland, and certainly Dublin and other sea-trading cities on the island, by this time, it is good to see a mention like this in print. The big issue to keep in mind is of course that this is clearly not its first appearance but, these are just the first mentions I can find - for now. I personally believe that given the amount of trade between Ireland and England it would have made its way to this country not long after its 'invention', just as its precursors probably also did - but I have no proof yet.

But what is certainly more interesting is this advertisement from the Dublin Courier from early August 1762:

This is not terribly clear text so here it is transcribed:

'We have the pleasure to inform the public, that Thwaits's [sic] Irish Porter (now brought to perfection) is upon draft at several houses, particularly at Malones, on the Upper Combe, a few doors above Meath-Street.'

The 'now brought to perfection' would lead us to believe that this was not there first attempt at brewing a porter. So, although I have seen a few books and articles suggesting 1763 as the first brewing of porter in this country we can see here that it was certainly 1762 - if not in all probability a little earlier. I suspect most of the sources that quote 1763 are referencing Lynch & Viazey's Guinness's Brewery in the Irish Economy, where they report that Thwaites told The Irish house of Commons in that year that they had finally perfected the brewing of porter as the pushed for the introduction of restrictions on the imports of English porter. As to how many years it took them to perfect it, we might never know precisely. Equally as important to many pub historians is that this advertisement also flags one of the places where draught Irish porter was supped for the first time - in an establishment called Malone's on The Coome near Meath Street, not far from Thwaites' brewery at Cork Bridge, at or near the junction of Cork Street and Ardee Street. (It is also nice to point out in the above advertisement the spelling of draught beer as 'draft', proving that this is another word that is not an Americanism but rather a forgotten Englishism, or perhaps Irishism.)

So, we can definitely push the first brewing of an Irish porter back a year from the few earliest mentions I have found, and reconfirmed the name to the brewer. As for all those sources online? Well, we have taken those back thirty years for porter's first appearance here and thirteen for when it was first brewed.

I have no doubt that we could push both of those dates back a little more if we knew where to look ...


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. References to quoted newspapers are available via email or DM to me.

Newspaper images are © The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( from whom I have received permission to display these images on this site.