Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Giving it Both Barrels: 19th Century Sketches of Smithwick's & Sullivan's Kilkenny XX Porter

The history of brewing in Kilkenny is a topic I keep returning to again and again as there is such a wealth of real history to be mined in old newspapers and publications online, as well as in physical books. Although sadly, I am not aware of any publicly accessible archives for any of the breweries in the city, which is also very much the case for most of Ireland's lost breweries with a couple of notable exceptions such as Perry's in Rathdowney and Murphy's in Cork. My own hometown of Carlow also has some brewing history of course, but its beers and breweries are not as famous and never reached the successes of the two main breweries in the neighbouring city down the road, and although I am still sporadically researching the brewing history of this town - and I have amassed a sizable file about it - it is more often the case that I come across something relating to Kilkenny as far as any local-ish brewing history is concerned.

That was the case with two 19th century Irish scenes by Edmund Fitzpatrick that appeared four years apart in The Illustrated London News, and both of which I chanced upon at different times. In both cases my eyes were drawn to the casks in the corner of the illustrations and the names printed on them, names I was quite familiar with from my interest in Kilkenny's brewing history - although you would have needed to be living a very hermitic life to have never heard of Smithwick's St. Francis Abbey Brewery in this country, or further afield. Sullivan's Brewery, which was on James's Street, has been rebooted or reborn in recent years too, although its new brewery tap is on the opposites side of the river.

Edmund Fitzpatrick was and illustrator and painter who was either originally from Freshford in Kilkenny or certainly lived there for a period. According to one source he was born there 1822 and died in London in 1896 and he was certainly residing there in 1858 as he advertised in The Kilkenny Moderator in November that year that he had 'lately arrived from Paris and London' for a short stay and that he was available for commissions. (The Library of Ireland has a short but interesting biography about his life on their website here.) He has some paintings hanging in Kilkenny castle, so his finer artwork was also held in high regard it appears, which is hardly surprising given the quality and dynamism of his newspaper sketches.

He was quite prolific with his work and created many illustrations for newspapers, some of which were Kilkenny focussed so it has hardly a surprise that he was familiar with the two biggest breweries in the city, and that he decided to include them in his works. The first illustration appeared in The Illustrated London News of March 15th 1853 to accompany a piece about how St. Patrick's Day was celebrated in Ireland. It is a joyful picture of someone's home and full of interesting-looking characters and imagined stories. It also perhaps gives an insight to the dress of the day and what people drank, and what they consumed those drinks from - whiskey and porter at the very least, from stemmed glass and pewter tankards. How real or imagined it is I do not know but I quite like the picture when I first came across it and especially when I noticed the 'Smithwicks XX Porter Kilkenny' on the barrel. The accompanying text and other illustrations certainly have issues that I will not raise here, but it is just nice to see a name check for a famous local brewery.

Drowning the Shamrock on St. Patrick's Night - Drawn by E. Fitzpatrick

The second image is also from The Illustrated London News, this edition from January 24th 1857 and it shows a few travelling school masters debating various subjects. Again, it is full of wonderful characters and more importantly for us we can see a cask of 'Sullivans XX Porter Kilkenny' sitting once again in the right hand corner. And again, the accompanying text is full of 'Oirish' words but I quite like the actions and expressions here too, even if the drawing seems a little cruder and perhaps a little more hurried.

The Irish Schoolmaster - Drawn by E. Fitzpatrick
Regardless, it is good to see Mr. Fitzgerald being fair and giving equal advertising space to both of the big Kilkenny breweries! It might raise the question as to whether he was berated by the Sullivan's into including them in an illustration having used Smithwick's porter in the other one?

Of course, we cannot get too excited about these, after all it is not like the are factual records or photographs, but maybe that is not the point.

Perhaps we should just appreciate the illustrations and the recorded anecdotal history for what it is, just another way of getting the information about our lost brewing history out and findable, and in to the public eyeline - highlighting actual beers that really did exist in Kilkenny in the middle of the 19th century.

And they do say a picture is worth a thousand words ... so perhaps I need not have waffled on so much?

Liam K.

The original images and accompanying articles can be found here and here via Google Books. These images were originally posted by me on my Twitter account on the 18th of August 2019 and on the 15th of November 2021.

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.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

The Burgundy of Ireland - Drogheda Ale or Cork Stout...?

My often-addled brain can get somewhat confused when scrolling through the many advertisements and other texts that I need to absorb before and during the writing of these articles. Or that is my excuse at least for not digging quite deep enough into a by-line for a beer that I wrote about a little while ago in a post on Beamish & Crawford's Cooper Stout. That beer has quite an interesting tale, which I have covered here, and it was in that piece that I made a passing reference to 'The Burgundy of Ireland' which according to adverts in very late 1862 and on into 1863 referred to Beamish & Crawford's XXX stout. In that piece I had originally wrote that this term was for Drogheda Ale but in rereading the piece I corrected it to mean the XXX stout as this Advertisement from the Brighton Gazette in December 1862 shows  ...

But there was a nagging sense of something being wrong with this so I felt compelled to investigate it at some point, as that 'Burgundy' moniker was a little odd for a stout or porter. Stouts are dark red generally, but they are much darker than any burgundy I have partaken of - although that is not a very common occurrence to be fair. Also, I wondered how I had made the original blunder in assigning it to the Drogheda ale before changing it to the stout. (Thinking back now I possibly just associating the general quality and strengths of Burgundy wine to the XXX and did not focus too much on the colour.)

But time passed and other projects made me forget about this until quite recently when the term once again dropped into my brain and I decided to finally research it more. It did not take long for me to come across the following advertisement from The London Evening Standard from 31st July 1862, which predates the one above by a few months ...

And here is another from the same year in The Morning Post of the 1st of August that shows a variant of the same advertisement and you can see how it possibly led to the words being attached to the stout and not the ale from the way it was written and the faded brackets ...

Lastly here is a much clearer - if you squint - advertisement from The West Middlesex Advertiser from November of that same year where the attachment of the Burgundy name is clearly for the Drogheda Ale ...

These are obviously some of the advertisements I first read and that had originally stuck in my head. They clearly state that Drogheda Strong Ale is 'The Burgundy of Ireland' and I think the error came when the advertisement wording for these adverts was reused, communicated and rehashed perhaps, and the term was somehow assigned to the XXX stout instead. This makes sense in many ways as colour wise the strong ale was possibly a deep amber colour, as for example was a vintage amber ale produced by Smithwick's brewery at around this time which is mentioned in an article in The Waterford News and Star from September 1873. I have previously speculated that Drogheda ales were originally dark in colour and perhaps this is another pointer to that conclusion, but let us not jump too far on to the Irish Red Ale train just yet as there can be no comparison with the modern style and this old ale, although all of this might necessitate a new line or two in the middle part of my red ale trilogy. (The Drogheda Brewery Company mentioned in the first to adverts was Casey's brewery by the way.)

Admittedly, newspaper advertisements should not be taken as factual content in areas such as this, but my conclusion still seems to be the most accurate presumption - if one can be the other! It is also worth mentioning that in many cases these are the only records we have of certain beers, so we need to use them as reference points but with care and wariness.

As to the alcohol content I came across The Dublin Quarterly Journal of Science from 1862 that states that the abw (alcohol by weight) was 7% which would equate to 8.87% abv for Cairnes' Drogheda Ale according to this calculator. I am not sure how accurate that is but it would be relatively close and this strength would also help with its association with a wine, even if the colour would have been probably quite a bit paler.

Although there are certainly lessons to be learned all round here - especially by me - it is nice to see Drogheda Ale, which was held in such high esteem by many, getting such a nice reference.

Liam K.

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 (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) from whom I have received permission to display these images on this site.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Irish Brewery Advertisements: Castlebellingham Bitter Ale

I am quite partial to old Irish beer advertisements and this is a nice one for Castlebellingham Brewery in Louth for their bitter ale, which appeared in Ireland's Saturday Night newspaper in October 1908. The wording - and those shamrocks - certainly mark it as promotion to drink Irish beer, as well as focussing on both its value and quality.

I felt it needed a wider audience and it is good to be highlighting something other than porter adverts from our history.

This might be a weekly series if there is enough interest in this kind of thing ...?

Liam K.

(I have cleaned, tidied and sharpened the image a little, hopefully without overdoing it ...)

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

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Pub Fiction: The Stars beneath the Sea ...

My favourite pub, The Stars beneath the Sea, sits on a narrow, cobbled street a short ten-minute walk from my home. There are well-worn limestone steps and a cold metal handrail that leads up to a creaky door, and inwards to a brightly lit room with huge gothic-shaped windows on two sides. Dust motes eternally hang in the sunlight, twisting and turning but appearing to never land.

The double height space has a gallery wrapping around all four sides, bisecting the windows on the two sides and a rusty-orange brick wall on the others, it is accessed by a shaky spiral staircase. The walls are covered in rare breweriana and the chairs and tables are all oak or beech, worn smooth by a thousand drinkers. The floor is timber too and looks like it was reclaimed from a ship, as indeed it possibly was.

The bar counter is dark marble, streaked with glittering white threads and cool to the touch - never sticky. The barstools have bottom-shaped but unpadded seats, and the arms wrap around you snugly when you sit, like the embrace of a loved one. There is a hanger for your coat under the countertop and a brass footrest for your feet - well-polished but reassuringly scratched and scuffed in places.

There is a cast iron stove - or two.

The pub serves three well kept beers on cask as well as five on tap - and there is always a stout, a mild or a brown ale available - with a small selection of corked and caged interesting bottled beers. Pints are served - not too cold - in conical glasses, and half-pints in the elegant pilsner shape. Bottles are presented with over-sized Worthington glasses and I am always allowed to uncork and pour my own. Regardless of the choice you make, the bar mat always matches the beer.

The barperson can judge your mood to know if you want the companionship of polite conversation, or to be left alone with your own thoughts, or if you just seek the comfort of a good book. The other patrons of the bar are quiet and respect the sanctity of the surroundings, the talk low just below the not-loud volume of the music, which is jazz and no later than 1970.

The food - served all day, every day - is a selection of pies or sausages, served with a cheesy mash and three types of gravy. There are no crisps, no chocolate, no corn-flavoured snacks, but there are pickled eggs, cubes of anonymous cheese and slices of charcuterie served with white pepper and celery salt. Soft napkins are always supplied, as are tiny metal forks.

There is a cat - or two.

Sturdy French widows lead onto a veranda that hangs precariously over a slow-flowing river, populated with ducks and black swans, and an otter on occasion. There are barges tied up close by and there are tall, repurposed mills, factories and warehouses along the quays opposite, and at just the right time of day their bricks glow golden in the sunlight.

When it gets dark the lights are dimmed and a candle burns on every table, flickering and dancing in time with the music. There are reading lights in certain sections, and a bookcase filled with short story books of every type. Newspapers are also provided and always return neatly and intact to their rack, never a page missing, but occasionally a crossword done.

There is no standing allowed, even at the bar, no one jostles your elbow or leans too close to you. All are welcome and all who enter this sanctum abide by the unwritten rules. There are no arguments, no rumourmongering and no lies being given wings. There is just a sense of calm and contentment, emphasised only by the quarter-hour chimes of the ancient clock that hangs above the bar…

I will have a pint - or two.

Liam K.

(With apologies to George Orwell …)

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

That Porter Pour: Another 'High-Low' Film

Every now an again I tweet something and immediately think that I should probably have recorded it in a more easy-to-find and more permanent place like here. That was certainly the case a while back when I found what I believe to be only the second film of the high-low porter pour in action. By now most people with an interest in the subject are aware of the old method of pouring a pint of porter from two naturally carbonated casks which usually sat on the bar. The first pour was from the fresher, more highly carbonated cask, which was then blended in the glass with porter from a lower carbonated older cask. This was supposedly the origin of the gimmicky modern stout pour, cleverly developed by Guinness to mimic the effect in appearance - if nothing else.

The most famous film is this one from the BBC’s lament to the porter’s death in 1973. People have put up other videos supposedly showing the high/low too, but they do not look quite right. Some showing a pour from a modern-ish keg and others showing porter being poured from a jug into a glass - this appears to be just a way of calming down a fresh keg at a very busy Irish music festival.

But in the Northern Ireland Digital Film Archive I found a short clip called the ‘Drinks Flowing in Dirty Dicks’ from 1965 that appears to show the proper high-low pour, with a pint glass being filled with a foaming fresh porter from one tap and then being topped up with a less active cask, as you can see from the how the dark liquid starts to fill up the bottom of the glass. The pint probably needed another top-up and scrape - and we must remember this was being done for a camera, which might also explain why it was not left to rest. (I am aware that the video might not show in all locations, but try reloading the page if you get an error.)

It is worth mentioning again that this sort of pour was probably not something that was done throughout Ireland in the mid-twentieth century. I also wonder if it just arrived with the advent of those tapped countertop casks? Was it used for stout as well as porter? Again I doubt it was or I certainly believe it was not common if it did exist. In a country where The Bottle of Stout was king it is fair to say the vast majority of stout consumed in Ireland was bottled by the plethora of commercial bottlers and by the pubs who bottled their own. I also do not believe that porter in any form but especially on cask was extremely common(?) outside of the major cities from early in the 20th century onward ...

Lots of questions there I admit, but I worry at times that we are trying to rewrite our brewing history to suit our modern perceptions of what we assume was done instead of sticking to the actual facts of what we know, and can see or read about. As I have said before, we all make errors - including myself - but we certainly do not use the words ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘possibly’ enough - not to mention the wonderful ‘I don’t know…’

Liam K.

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)


Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Brewing History: Dark Mild Ale inside The Pale?

Unless you have been living under a large rock you will be aware of Beer Twitter’s current obsession with Dark Mild ales, and although most of the noise on this topic is coming from across The Small Pond the cry has been taken up in certain circles in Ireland too. Currently there is a scarcity of that style on these shores apart from one notable - in every way - exception from Four Provinces Brewery, although there are probably some that would argue that certain brown ales - and perhaps even porters - are close in many ways to that style.

But it would be a mistake to think that this was a beer that was never popular in Ireland - and I use the word popular in a relative manner, as obviously it was those ubiquitous drinks called stouts and porters that ruled here for much of our relatively short ‘proper’ brewing history. It is probably better just to say that ‘mild’ ales, even dark ones, were being brewed and drunk here in the not-so-distant past. A good example is a beer that is awaiting bottling in my fermenter which was/is a dark coloured XX ale from Perry’s Brewery in Rathdowney in county Laois, that I am fairly sure could only be called a ‘Dark Mild’? Annoyingly the Perry brewing records that I have seen do not record their beers as ‘Milds’ in their records, just X and XX ales, but as I have shown previously the use of the word mild with either a small or large M was in quite common use in Ireland for a long period. Perry’s certainly used the word ‘Mild’ on their bottle labels so they appear to have used one term for the recipes and another for their marketing. (I am aware that ‘Mild’ at one time meant fresh in that same way that ‘Stale’ meant stored/aged but as the language changed I am also sure that over here at least Mild became a word for - well - a mild tasting ale that was relatively low in bitterness.)

With all of that in mind I would like to share an advertisement from The Irish Independent in 1915 for D’Arcy’s Anchor Brewery on Usher Street in Dublin where they specifically point out the colour of their ales:

Here we see that under their O’Connell’s Dublin Ales brand they were selling a Dark Extra Strong ale and a Pale Mild on draught - and let us not forget a rare mention for an Irish Best Bitter for bottling! Allowing for dubious marketing and the leeway that advertisement writers have with the truth this might be a nice mention for a Strong Dark Mild? Even if I am stretching terminology, styles and descriptions to the limit then if nothing else it is a nice record of what D’Arcy’s were brewing at this time. If we look at the table I previously posted on the strengths of Irish beers just prior to this period we can see that O’Connell’s Strong Ale varied from 5.1% to 5.5% in alcohol content and although we should not really make any assumptions as to how bitter it was - and alcohol strength has no bearing on a ‘Mild’ anyway as we know - it still seems to point the finger at there being a draught dark ale available in Dublin at the start of the 20th century that was not classed as porter or stout.

Hardly an earth-shattering find or observation but still of note.

Incidentally, D’Arcy’s were also brewing an ‘I.E.P. Ale’ (East India Pale Ale) in 1907, so they seem to have had a relatively interesting range of ales, although this could be what morphed into the ‘Best Bitter’ from 1915 perhaps? As ever, lack of information on our brewing past leads to much guesswork, 'maybes' and - perhaps - dubious assumptions …

Liam K.

Newspaper images © Independent News and Media PLC. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). 

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Blind Ambition: Take Five Irish Stouts ...

B
ack in the late eighties and early nineties I was exclusively a stout drinker, which meant in this part of Ireland that I was by default a Guinness drinker of course. That was after my brief love affair with Harp lager and before my general apathy of drink in general either side of the millennium. After that there followed a brief flirtation with trying different lagers from various corners of the world before I ended up on my current path of beer appreciation via trips to Belgium and elsewhere. So really my return to drinking dark beers came via beers such as Hercule Stout and Fuller’s London Porter to name but two, and moved onwards to Irish microbrewed porters and stouts. Recently I have been bitten by the beer history bug and started exploring our island’s brewing past, which of course has brought me full circle back to the ‘historic’ stouts that still exist in Ireland - albeit the new versions are hardly the same as their past iterations.

With the exception of the Diageo owned Guinness, these 'older' stouts are available as one beer type and serve - a nitro stout - with Beamish and Murphy’s now being simply brands owned by Heineken. As far as the take-home versions of these nitro beers are concerned, two more names have been added to the line up of easily available stouts in can format. O’Hara’s Stout brewed in Carlow - my home county for clarity - and the new Island’s Edge which Heineken added to its range for no apparent reason other than to annoy Diageo as far as I can see. They appear to even give a slight dig at Diageo’s Rockshore brands with its name ...

It has been on my mind to do a tasting between these five nitro stouts for a while but I had difficulty finding single cans of Murphy’s, so eventually I had to purchase a six-pack - only to discover that the cans I found are being brewed in Scotland! I wonder if this is a temporary measure and if kegs are still being brewed in Cork? There is certainly some irony in the fact that both Beamish and Island’s Edge are being brewed in the old Murphy’s brewery in the city but Murphy’s stout itself is not! (It is entirely possible that production in Cork stopped due to Covid pub restrictions and will commence again shortly.)

Anyhow, having finally - and literally - lined up all five stouts I wondered which would actually be my favourite? I must stress that I have a liking for fuller bodied, less bitter stouts, and had tasted all five previously but not in a side-by-side comparison. There can only one way to do a tasting like this and that is (mostly) blind, as other factors will certainly sway your palate if you know which beer is which. I put the names of all the beers on the bottom of matching half-pint tulip glasses and poured them out myself looking straight down on them in case there were obvious head-size issues. Then my independent adjudicator mixed up the glasses so that I did not know which beer was which, and as you can see the look practically identical at this point, with similar colour and head size. I then numbered each one, wrote the numbers on a pad and got to work tasting the beers. (By the way, I tweeted this tasting as I was doing it and kept referring to Island's Edge as Ireland's Edge!)

I started with writing a few simple notes after each number regarding the immediate perception of what I was tasting, which read as follows:

1 - Mild tasting, a little bitter and dry with quite a light flavour/mouthfeel.

2 - Stronger, more bitter but better balanced. Pleasant body and mouthfeel.

3 - Full flavour with a soft quality - not dry.

4 - Very mild and light tasting, a little dry and bitter.

5 - Fullest in flavour and body, lovely balance and not too dry or bitter.

I sipped some water and went through them again in different orders before dividing them in to three groups.

A - (5) This was the fullest flavour and most appealing to my tastes.

B - (2 & 3) These were the next fullest in flavour and body, and quite alike in certain ways.

C - (1 & 4) These were the lightest, driest and the weakest flavour-wise for me.

I then compared stouts number 2 with 3 and although they were close in taste and possessed similar qualities I had to decide which I preferred, and I then did the same with stouts 1 and 4. I now had a ranking of the 5 beers for my tastes and palate, and to make it more interesting I also attempted to name the brands. I went as follows in descending order with my favourite at the top:

5 - O’Hara’s

3 - Beamish

2 - Murphy’s

4 - Guinness

1 - Island’s Edge

It is hard to describe my nervousness as I picked up each glass and looked at its base, with my adjudicator writing down the actual beers beside my guesses on my note pad.

I was wrong on four of them - so this is my actual list in descending order of favourites:

5 - O’Hara’s

3 - Murphy’s

2 - Beamish

4 - Island’s Edge

1 - Guinness

As you can see I got the beers in the groups right, although I mixed them up with each other. I was quite happy to have picked out the O’Hara’s, although it was easy in hindsight, and it is a beer I am quite familiar with of course - but it was still quite tense as I got down to the last three beers. In fairness all the stouts were generally alike in taste and flavour, there were no ‘bad’ beers or even close to poor in the selection - hardly a surprise given the brewers - just some that were not to my taste preferences.

So what does this mean?

Well not a lot for anyone other than me, as this was my palate on a given day and relates to my personal preference. But I was surprised on two fronts, firstly that I preferred Murphy’s to Beamish, as I always thought it was the other way around. (Maybe the Scottish brewing has added to it!) Secondly that Island’s Edge and Guinness were so similar, with the Island’s Edge having that slight advantage flavour wise - maybe it is the tea and basil it contains! Island’s Edge has had a bit of bad press but I think much of that stems from people knowing they were drinking it and having preconceived notions perhaps? It would certainly be interesting to repeat this blind side-by-side tasting on actual draught in a pub.

Guinness being my least favourite is not a surprise to me in many ways given my tastes, it is perfectly brewed to be an everyman stout and not to stand out in any way, so there is certainly a logic to my mind in where I placed it. Where I would rate a large bottle of Guinness among some other non-nitro stouts might be a different matter I suspect - but that is a blind tasting for another day ...

Cheers!

Liam K.

Just so you know:

I served all of these at cool - but not fridge-cold - temperatures, as this is my preferred temperature for beers in general and dark beers in particular - the colder the beer the less flavour you perceive.

Yes, those are O’Hara’s glasses and no they did not directly provide them - this is not some kind of sneaky, bribed promotion for their beers - I was given a box of these glasses by my local off license a few years back.

I am sure some of you are shocked regarding my ranking of these beers, but my palate, my rules, my opinion. Feel free to try it yourself, I would love if you did, just be honest and leave all the ridiculousness that usually surrounds Irish stouts regarding glassware, lacing and head size out of the equation - it is (mostly) meaningless social media clickbait …

That independent adjudicator - my long-suffering better half - can verify all the above if need be!

(All content shown here including pictures cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its source, and a link back to this post.)