Friday, 22 September 2023

100 Years of Irish Brewing in 50 Objects: #13 – Pint & ½ Pint Bottles (1920-1950s)

The words of the rose to the rose floated up to his mind: ‘No gardener has died, comma, within rosaceous memory.’ He sang a little song, he drank his bottle of stout, he dashed away a tear, he made himself comfortable. So it goes in the world.
More Pricks Than Kicks - Samuel Beckett (1934)

In Ireland the pint bottle has achieved a semi-legendary status and is remarked upon and reminisced about it in equal measure as it slowly disappears from the fridges and shelves of the bars in this country. There are still many who appreciate its legacy, history and heritage, even if much of these elements are misunderstood, and there are those who enjoy and savour the taste and flavour of a beer poured the ‘proper’ way from a pint bottle into a ubiquitous flared pilsner glass, or just ‘A Glass’ as it is called in Irish pubs. At this point in time there are just a few beers still available in this Imperial measure and method of serve - the Diageo brands of Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks and Macardles, while Bulmers cider is also offer a pint bottles. These are the last relics of what was a huge industry of the past, where most of the beers consumed on this island were served in pint, half-pint and one-third-of-a-pint bottles, and when bottling companies as well as the publicans themselves bottled huge amounts of the output from Ireland's breweries. There was for sure a trade in draught beer served straight from the cask but this was more limited, and probably more often found, in the busy urban public houses.

So in most of Ireland the bottle was the most common way of drinking beer both at home and in the pub, but our love for the pint bottle is a relatively recent affair, as the half pint version was the most popular way of serving most beers for decades here, and certainly for a long period after the formation of the state in the 1922. It remained so until Draught Guinness and other draught keg beers became popular, and took over the pub beer sales in most of country. So these bottles -especially the smaller size - would have been a familiar sight in pubs, grocery shops and homes throughout Ireland.

Prior to the 1920s there was a mixture of bottle sizes that were known and discussed in the trade by how many of said bottles you could fill from a gallon of beer, so there were ‘12s’, ‘13s’, ‘14s’ and ‘16s’, with the ‘16s’ equating to a half pint (10fl. oz. or 284ml) and the others sizes up to ‘12s’ (13.33 fl.oz or 379ml), and although this latter size were sold as ‘Reputed Pints,’ interestingly there is very little mention of Imperial pint bottles up to this period.*

The newly created government of Ireland finally got around to addressing the issues around bottle sizes a not long after its formation when they published the Intoxicating Liquor (General) Act, 1924, which states the following:

9.—(1) The Minister for Justice may by order prescribe the sizes of the bottles in which any specified intoxicating liquor may be sold, and where any such order is in force it shall not be lawful to sell or supply the intoxicating liquor specified in the order in bottles of any size other than one of the sizes prescribed by the order.

And then in 1925 the following appears in the Intoxicating Liquor (Standardisation of Bottles) No. 1 Order, 1925:

AND WHEREAS it has been deemed expedient to prescribe the sizes of the bottles in which ale, beer, porter and stout may be sold:

NOW I, CAOIMHGHÍN Ó hUIGÍN, Minister for Justice, by virtue of the powers conferred upon me by Section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor (General) Act, 1924 , and of all other powers enabling me in that behalf, do hereby order and prescribe as follows:—

On and from the 1st day of October, 1925, all ale, beer, porter or stout sold in bottles containing less than one standard quart shall be sold in quarter-pint, half-pint, or pint bottles [...]

This had to be amended on the 30th of December - possibly because the quarter-pint bottle was an error - to read:

(2) On and from the 1st day of January, 1926, all ale, beer, porter or stout sold in bottles containing less than one standard quart shall be sold in bottles containing one-third of a pint [my emphasis], one-half pint, or one pint.

(This piece of legislation was only revoked in 1983, presumably allowing the sale of any size bottle of beer providing the volume was stated on the label and that volume was correct, although this was probably the case anyway thanks to European legislation and regulations from 1977 regarding alcoholic drink volumes.)

This regulations needed to be enforced and further clarification appear to have been needed so we have another piece of legislation added on the 3rd of February 1926 which offered more information in 11 points, the most interesting being:

2. These Regulations shall come into force on the third day of February, 1926.

So a change from the date cited above.

4. The capacity of each bottle shall be defined by a line stamped on the bottle of not less than three-quarters of an inch in length and distant not less than one-and-five-eighth inches nor more than one-and-seven-eighth inches from the brim of the bottle.

This helps us to see why an where the fill lines appear on these bottles.

6. A bottle which is not completely emptied when tilted to an angle of 130 degrees from the vertical shall not be stamped.

This simple piece of wording shows why the sloped ‘shoulders’ on bottles are the shape and size they are!

7. The denomination of a bottle may be indicated by the abbreviated form of " Pt.", " ½ Pt.", or "1/3 Pt." respectively.

Again, we can see this on the bottles shown above.

8. If a maker's or trader's name is stamped on a bottle, it shall be in letters not exceeding one-half the size of the letters indicating the denomination.

On embossed bottles this defines the maxim size the bottler’s name can be appear.

11. In the case of bottles which are in stock or in use for trade on the date when these Regulations come into force, the provisions of Article 8 of these Regulations shall not apply, and the following provisions shall have effect in lieu of the provisions contained in Articles 4 and 5 of these Regulations, that is to say :—

(a) the capacity shall be deemed to be defined by an imaginary line drawn at one and three-quarters inches from the brim of the bottle ;

(b) the allowance for error permissible on verification and inspection shall be, in the case of a pint or half-pint bottle, not more than one-and-a-half drachms in deficiency nor more than one-and-a-half ounces in excess, and in the case of a one-third pint bottle, not more than one drachm in deficiency nor more than three-quarters of an ounce in excess.

Provided that the provisions of this Article shall not have effect after the 31st day of December, 1927, or such later date as may be defined by subsequent Regulations, and that after the 31st day of December, 1927, or such later date, no bottle which has not been verified and stamped pursuant to the provisions of Articles 4, 5 and 8 of these Regulations shall be deemed to be lawfully verified and stamped.

This is a long-winded way of saying that it is permitted to keep using unverified bottles as long as they conform to the legislation regarding volume, and they are destroyed or recycled by the 31st of December 1927 unless new legislation is published - and indeed it was changed on the 7th of January so that said bottles that were stamped or etched according to the legislation could be continued to be used in the trade regardless of their date of manufacturing.

Much of this legislation is tedious and difficult to analyse but Weights and Measures Act of 1928 clarifies much of what had gone before and more importantly gives is some clarity on the mystery of the numbers, letters and writing on the bottles shown here, and most others that are found in the collections of museums and breweriana collectors. It appears it was possible to incorporate verification marks into the manufacturing process of the bottles as part of the mould in which the bottle was formed and this is seen on these examples as ‘DIC’, ‘SE’ and the numbers ‘127.’

We can break these down as follows:

SE stands for ‘Saorstát Eireann’ the Irish translation for the Irish Free State which existed from 1922 until 1937.

The letters ‘DIC’ can appear quite puzzling but its meaning becomes clear if you look at the government body who was in charge of all of this legislation – The Department of Industry and Commerce.

127 is a little trickier but if we read Part 1 section 7 of the above mentioned act  - Verification and stamping of bottles during manufacture – we see the following:

The Minister may, if and whenever he thinks fit, grant in respect of any factory in Saorstát Eireann a licence in the prescribed form authorising all bottles to which this Act applies manufactured in such factory to be stamped in the prescribed manner during the process of manufacture with a stamp of verification under the Weights and Measures Acts, 1878 to 1904, as amended by this Act or with an impression derived from such stamp, and a factory in respect of which such a licence has been granted and is in force is in this section referred to as a licensed factory.

Therefore certain large glass bottle manufactures such as the company who produced those shown above – The Irish Glass Bottle Company – could bypass the need to apply individual etched on verification details by getting this licence. So it appears that this number 127 is the licence number given to this factory, which operated in Ringsend in Dublin.

Indeed the act goes on to say:

The methods of verification and stamping of bottles to which this Act applies authorised under this section shall, in respect of such bottles manufactured in a licensed factory, be in substitution for the methods of verification and stamping required or authorised by or under the Principal Act.

The company still needed inspectors from The Department of Industry and Commerce to check batches of bottles and certain fees needed to be paid, but it made the process simpler than that for drinking glasses for example which needed to be individually etched with the year date and the inspector or area number in the presence of said inspector. Other parts of this general legislation alludes to these inspectors being members of Gárda Síochána (The Irish police force), or at least appointed by them.

(The numbers that appear on the bottom of these bottles alongside the obvious initials ‘I. G. B.’ are a little more enigmatic but presumably stand for the mould numbers and variants.) 


Much has been written about the rise and fall of The Irish Glass Bottle Co. but our interests are in how it operated and functioned in the period of our concern - the 1920s. In 1928 an article regarding a visit to the company appeared in The Dublin Leader newspaper:


It was a Wexford man, Michael Owens, who in America first invented an alternative to mouth blowing in the making of bottles. A bicycle pump suggested the idea to him. The modern machines that developed out of that simple idea are still called after Owens, and to-day on the premises of the Irish Glass Bottle Co., Ltd., Charlotte Quay, Ringsend, Dublin, there is at work one of the largest and most modern Owens Bottle machines.

These bottle works are in full swing now. When we first visited a bottle factory in Dublin many years ago the Owen machines were things of the future, and it was all mouth blowing; in fact we blew a special bottle ourselves and took it home as a souvenir. A modern bottle factory is in parts a very hot place, as the heat in the furnace registers about 1,300 degrees C. Until some time back coal was the fuel used; now oil has superceded[sic] it, though at any time the factory can go back to coal if desirable. The main raw material is sand which is got from the Sutton-Malahide district, and needless to say the lime used is also a native product.

The furnace is going since November 1st last, for once the extraordinary temperature of about 1,300 is reached you have to keep it up, and so the works are carried on in three shifts of eight hours each, and the furnace never cools. The machine delivers the red-hot bottles in the course of not many seconds and workers take them up with long tongs—when you deal with red-hot bottles you need a long spoon—and place them on a steel belt revolving through another furnace. The latter furnace is 8o feet long and is quite cool at the other end; it takes about six hours for these bottles to travel the 8o feet, and by that time they are cooled. The machine is equal to turning out about 2,000 bottles in an hour.

Many things have occurred with regard to bottles in quite recent times, The tariff on bottles is 33 1/3 %, bottles under five ounces—at the request of this Company—-being admitted free. Our readers can guess the size of a five ounce and under bottle, when they are told that an ordinary beer bottle is ten ounces.

Who pays a tariff and to what extent do various parties pay it ? If a tariff excludes foreign goods and the prices of home goods do not rise, there is obviously nothing to pay; the only change is that the home Country has the whole home-market. There are foreign bottles still coming in from Germany, and from England. The prices of the half pint beer bottles is 20/- per gross and the question as to who pays the tariff is easy seen in this particular case. The imported bottles are now sold at about 15/- per gross, less duty, which practically means that Germans and English pay the tariff. In due time when the outside competitors find that undercutting will not down the Irish factory, they will give up the game and the Saorstát bottle factories will conquer the Saorstát market. The slight advantage which jam, sweets, etc., have, owing to existing taxation, has given a great fillip to jam making and consequentially the bottle industry benefits. One of the great results of any manufacturing industry in a country is the consequential effects on other home industries. Jam making has been very considerably extended in the Saorstat[sic] and the Irish Glass Bottle Company is doing a very big line in glass jars for home manufactured jams.

Some time ago there were a variety of sizes - rather of internal content—of bottles in the stout trade; the capacity of the bottles ranged from twelve up to even seventeen bottles to the gallon. The Government have stopped profiteering in that line and have made it imperative that every stout bottle contains half a pint. There is already—and there must be after a certain date—what we might call a Plimsol mark on the neck of every beer bottle it registers the half-pint contents. At the Base of some of the bottles now being turned out the words “Bottle made in Ireland ” are embossed, and we understand that this will, in due time, appear on all bottles turned out in the factory.

It is only recently—about two years ago—that the manufacture of white bottles and jars has been started. When we were in the factory last, some six years ago, there were no white bottles being made, and we expressed the hope that that development would come in time. It meant new machinery and large capital expenditure. The old Ringsend Bottle Works over the way are now re-organised, and white glass bottles and jar making are going ahead. The old system of mouth blowing is not wholly discarded, as in cases of special and comparatively small orders it is more economical to manufacture by this method than by machine.

This Company has about five thousand customers. It supplies retailers as well as wholesalers and many of its customers have their names embossed on their bottles. We were glad to see such life and bustle about the place. The Company employ about 120 men, and sometimes the number goes up to about 200, and pay wages to the amount of about twenty-three thousand pounds a year-—a valuable industry. 

This is a great insight into the company at this time and it is presented here in full including the comments on jam jars! It reinforces some of the points and observations made above. What is certainly of interest is the comment that stout was only bottled in half-pint bottles at this time, although there probably were exceptions, as has been stated already.


A helpful advertisement for The Irish Glass Bottle Company appeared in The Dublin Leader on Saturday 8th of July 1939 which shows a half pint bottle and encourages bottlers to use new bottles and not to recycle older ones – a far cry from the current ethos. It shows the prices of all of the legal beer bottle sizes and lists 1/3 pint bottles as ‘24’s’ which harks back to the older way of describing bottles by how many can be filled from a gallon. This size of bottle by the way was used for barley-wine and even for Guinness at one time, where they were called baby bottles - or even ‘Baby Guinness’ by our nearest neighbours, a name that means a different drink these days of course …


It is unclear precisely when this style of bottle with its ‘licence’ fell out of use but they were still being used in the 40s (The design and verification image were still being used in advertisements in 1944) and probably the 1950s – long after the term Saorstát Eireann was made redundant. 

New regulations issued in 1958 introduced a new verification design and regulations for bottles that was to come into force on the first day of January 1959, and which revoked the older legislation. So this appears to be the end of this style of bottle verification and presumably these were replaced by plainer, less embossed bottles of similar shape, and the half-pint version appears to have lost its shoulders in favour of a sleeker look. These bottles presumably feature the new verification stamp, with the date below and the verification inspector or area above. But according to part 6 and 7 of these new regulations:

(1) The stamp of verification to be used at a licensed bottle factory shall be of the form and design prescribed for the purposes or Regulation 5 of these Regulations, save that it shall not be obligatory to include the figures indicating the year of stamping.

(2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1) of this Regulation, the stamp of verification used at a licensed bottle factory in pursuance of Regulation 6 of the Weights and Measures (Stamps) Regulations, 1928 (S. R. & O. No. 72 of 1928), may continue to be used at such factory.

This would appear to state that the bottle factories can continue to use the older style of verification but could change to the new style - without the date - if they wanted to, but it is unclear when exactly they completely disappeared from the pubs and grocers, although it’s probably fair to assume they were gone by the 1960s.


It is also unclear when exactly the pint bottle as a serving size began to gain more popularity in Ireland but it was possibly on the rise over this same later period driven by the abovementioned brands, and in 1976 Guinness changed from the old, shouldered bottle like the one shown above to the new rocket-shaped one we are familiar with today. The half pint bottle of Guinness sadly disappeared in 1995**, and all of this size of serve from the other breweries in Ireland were well gone by this stage, as were most of the breweries themselves and the many bottlers both large and small.

We can see that our love for a pint bottle of any beer is quite recent – or at least relatively so - but that pint bottle is still around, and hopefully will be for a while as a last vestige of a bygone industry and trade.

Liam K

* There is more on the subject of bottles here.

** The bottle change is feature in this post.

Please note, 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 sources, and a link back to this post. The attached image is the author's own and cannot be used elsewhere without the author's permission. Newspaper research was thanks to The British Newspaper Archive and other sources are as credited. DO NOT STEAL THIS CONTENT!

Thursday, 7 September 2023

100 Years of Irish Brewing in 50 Objects: #12 – Colonel Murphy’s Stout Beermat (1969)


Goodness! A rival ..!

Top men at the giant Guinness brewing group must be anxiously watching a little experiment which is going on in Manchester. If things go according to plan it could eventually lead to Ireland’s famous stout facing up to a serious rival in this country. […] If Murphy’s stout scores with Britain’s drinkers, then Guinness – Eire’s biggest export* – may find it has a challenger.
The City Editor at The Manchester Evening News - Tuesday 2nd of July 1968

In July 1968 the Watney-Mann brewery group quietly test marketed a batch of Murphy’s draught stout brewed at The Lady’s Well Brewery in Cork on a target audience in 20 of their Manchester pubs.This soft launch must have been a relative success as it in turn led to a bigger campaign in June of 1969 when Watney-Mann were joined by Bass-Charrington - both giants of British brewing at the time - in trialling and marketing that same Irish stout in their pubs in the hope of unseating Guinness’s grip on the bar counters of Britain. Now under the guise of ‘Colonel Murphy,’ it was trialled in 500 of their pubs in Manchester and Brighton, with the hope of launching it in 8,000 pubs across the island in the future.The name change and choice seems a strange decision, as nitrogenated draught Murphys had just been launched in Ireland the previous year with attractive, trendy branding3. That new branding featured a modern and stylised version of their famous older image of the strongman Eugen Sandow holding up a horse with one hand, which would seem to have been a much more marketable image and story to use and push in Britain. (‘Colonel Murphy’ was presumably named after Lt. Co. John F. Murphy who was the last of the Murphy family to play a direct role in the brewery.)


A newspaper campaign was launched in The Manchester Evening News over a period of months with the tagline we see on the beermat - ‘If you like draught stout, you’ll love Colonel Murphy’ - hardly the catchiest piece of wording and design ever produced.

The advertisement continues:

In their time, the Irish have produced two great draught stouts.
Colonel Murphy is the one you’ve never heard of before,
Because the Irish have kept it to themselves for the past 113 years.
Now at last it’s being shipped over from County Cork to England.
You won’t find it everywhere, but in many Watney-Wilson and
Bass-Charrington houses. And it’s worth looking for.
It’s dark, smooth and slightly bitter, with a grand creamy head.
A noble drink, if ever there was one.

There are obvious issues with this wording such as the comment that there have only been ‘two great stouts’ produced in Ireland - Beamish & Crawford might disagree for starters, although their stout production was in a state of turmoil at this time - and the implication that Murphy’s never exported stout to England in the past. (They had, and they have done so since too of course.) However, we know from experience that beer marketeers are not the most reliable source, or communicators, of Irish brewing history. ‘Watney-Wilson’ appears to have been referencing the Wilson group of pubs that Watney-Mann had taken over in the early 1960s and who had a considerable number of pubs in Manchester, hence the name use here which would have resonated more with local drinkers presumably.4

At the end of August a full page advertisement appeared in the same paper that listed every pub in Manchester and the surrounding area that was stocking Colonel Murphy, a list that ran to 347 different establishments.5 The following month in a half page advert under the title ‘England’s Gain’ the marketing was still focusing on its Irish origin saying that ‘naturally enough the Irish are sad to see it go. It’s dark, smooth and bitter with a grand creamy head. A drink fit for heroes.’ It also played with the exclusivity of the beer by saying, ‘It’s here. Not everywhere. But in many Watney-Wilson and Bass-Charrington houses. Try it.’ So it would appear that the brewing companies were putting a relatively sizable marketing budget behind the launch, albeit just at local level.6


Similarly themed adverts ran through October of 1969 but alas it was a short-lived experiment, and commenting on the pulling of the brand from its pubs a spokesperson for Bass-Charrington said in a newspaper report in November that ‘it would have cost too much to get [it] off the ground nationally’ so they had decided that ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ and that both brewing companies would be selling Guinness in their pubs within 12 months. It also quoted a ‘jubilant’ Guinness spokesperson who said that ‘it was the biggest challenge yet to draught Guinness and the fact that these great companies failed will discourage others.’3

Another report regarding Guinness draught’s success in the English market also discussed Colonel Murphy’s demise while noting that both Watney-Mann and Bass-Charrington had breweries in Cork, with the former owning Murphy’s (Lady’s Well Brewery) having acquired 51% of the shares in 19673, while the latter controlled Beamish & Crawford, both of which were running below profitable capacity, and the hope was that Murphy’s Stout - albeit under a different name in Britain - would change the fortunes of that brewery if the experiment was a success. The article goes on to say that they might have been unlucky with their timing, as it had been ‘a hot summer for their test marketing’ but as it was still on sale up until early winter it’s hard to put much fate in that comment. The reporter also makes the point that ‘the Bass end of Bass Charrington has taken draught Guinness for some time’ so it appears that some of its pubs were already selling it at this time if it wasn't a comment on an older historical connection.The chairman of Watney-Mann, Peter Crossman, also stated in 1970's The Brewing Trade Review that ‘although we had an excellent beer which achieved reasonable sales levels, the investment and effort required to catch up with the public awareness of draught Guinness would have been less profitable to the group than the sale of a product already marketed.’

It is worth noting that at this time approximately 30,000 drinking establishments in Britain were selling draught Guinness and that figure was growing at a rate of 25% per annum,8 but this still seems a strange decision given their abovementioned involvement and investment in The Lady’s Well Brewery which brewed the stout, but perhaps it was a sign of them losing their love for Cork and Ireland despite those adverts they commissioned, where they sang the praises of Colonel Murphy, and indeed by the summer of 1971 they had severed their ties with the brewery and sold their stake in it.


Very little breweriana seems to have survived of Murphy’s English adventure, but there are - as we can see - some beer mats and there are probably some nice conical pint glasses sitting on the back of a few English collectors’ shelves, but it’s nice to know that at the end of the sixties a Cork brewed stout almost put it up to the biggest player in the stout market in Britain.

It's interesting to think what might have happened if they had succeeded …

Liam K

* Apart from irksome use of ‘Eire,' surely most of the draught Guinness drank in Britain was produced in their brewery at Park Royal in London?

Please note, 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 sources, and a link back to this post. The attached image is the author's own and cannot be used elsewhere without the author's permission. Newspaper research was thanks to The British Newspaper Archive and other sources are as credited.

1 The Manchester Evening News - Tuesday 2nd of July 1968

2 The Daily Mirror - Tuesday 11th of November 1969

3 The Murphy's Story - The History of Lady's Well Brewery, Cork by Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil and Donal Ó Drisceoil

4 The Manchester Evening News - Friday 1st of August 1969

5 The Manchester Evening News - Wednesday 20th of August 1969

6 The Manchester Evening News - Thursday 11th of September 1969

7 The Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 11th of November 1969

8 The Daily Mirror - Tuesday 11th of November 1969

Wednesday, 23 August 2023

100 Years of Irish Brewing in 50 Objects: #11 – Mountjoy Brewery Cask Return Postcard (1888)

Returning to the larger yard, we crossed over to the cask-washing sheds constructed principally of iron and tiled roofs. […] Three thousand casks can be turned out of these sheds daily, and thirty men are employed at the work. Facing these sheds there is a space of ground, upwards of an acre in extent, which is covered in casks …
Alfred Barnard, The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland. Volume II - 1889.

In late January of 1888 some post from the Mountjoy Brewery in Dublin arrived on the premises of James Watford who had a wine and spirits stores at number 76 on the High Street in Bedford in England. The bespoke postcard wasn’t anything special or unusual, and was something that the Mountjoy Brewery probably posted in reasonably large quantities every month, being just another part of the accounting, notification and checks that were carried out by all breweries in this era.

The prepaid halfpenny postcard was dated and posted on the 19th of January 1888 and on the back was printed the following message:

Messrs. FINDLATER & CO., Have to this date received the undermentioned Casks, and placed the same to the credit of your account.

There follows a list of cask sizes from Hogsheads (54 Imperial gallons) down to Firkins (9 Imperial gallons) and it is beside this last size that the number 5 is written and below that a list of the reference numbers of those casks and the words ‘ad[d]ressed 23/11/87 + 28/12/87.’ Additionally there is a diagonal stamp across all of this bearing the words ‘FINDLATER’S MOUNTJOY BREWERY Co., LIMITED.’

This postcard only tells us part of a story, as it just acknowledges the return of casks to the brewery from a delivery of stout to Watford’s drink store in Bedford, which as well as being involved in spirits and wine were ale and stout bottlers at this time, but we can expand at least a little more on the tale this object can tell …

Mountjoy brewery was founded in Dublin in 1852 by a group of Irish and British businessmen and was one of the largest stout exporters in the city - and country - in the late 19th and into the early 20th century. It was a part of the large Findlater mercantile empire that was well known in the food and drink industry in general. In the late 19th century Mountjoy Brewery only brewed porters and stouts according to Barnard’s description of the brewery, and it appears from advertisements in British papers at this time that they were sending Extra XXX Stout, Extra XX Stout and X Stout in that direction and their brewings widely available in many towns. One of the most popular products was called ‘Nourishing Stout,’ which was also marketed as Crown Stout.1

We will never be sure exactly which stout - or stouts - were being sent to Watford’s but it was likely to have included that Nourishing Stout, as that was extremely popular at this time and for decades after. Indeed back in 1871 Findlater, Mackie & Co. a bottling and drink company based in England and connected to the Dublin firm were sued by Messrs. Ragget for using the term ‘Nourishing Stout’ on their beer. The case was dismissed as the word ‘nourishing’ was not seen as a trademark infringement, just a descriptor. It came out during the hearing that Ragget’s were not brewing the stout themselves, they were sourcing it from Truman’s brewery in London and bottling it under their own label, and it was reported that this was also where Findlater, Mackie & Co. were sourcing theirs!2 Why they weren’t using a Dublin brewed version of a ‘nourishing’ stout from their related brewery - if that report is correct - is a mystery, as Mountjoy were exporting to England at this time, but may have just come down to logistics and convenience, or perhaps some other internal issue. It also emerged that Raggets had already stopped a ‘Nourishing Dublin Stout’ from being sold under that description, and newspaper records show there was one being sold in 1869 with no brewery mentioned and one also being sold in 1872 brewed by Jameson, Pim & Co.3

But back to our casks and what is perhaps also of interest is that Mountjoy Brewery claimed in the 1860s to be the ‘only Dublin brewers who send out all sizes of casks in English measure.’How true this claim is might be difficult to verify but it was certainly true that many Irish breweries were using Irish cask sizes up until at least the turn of the century, and some even longer. An Irish barrel was 40 Irish gallons which was roughly the equivalent of 32 gallons whereas an Imperial ‘English’ barrel was 36 gallons.

What is clear is that there were many casks, regardless of their size, going back and forth across the Irish Sea in the latter part of the 19th century and there was a great deal of logistical work needed to document, trace and return these casks to their rightful owners. This postcard is a literal snapshot of that process and the communication that was needed for tracking individual casks, which would have been recorded on the delivery dockets and invoices sent out by the brewery at the time of dispatch.

To give an idea of the volumes involved the total exports of porter from Dublin in 1888 amounted to the equivalent of 424,205 hogsheads.5 Much of this was probably shipped in some smaller sized casks like Mountjoy’s firkins, so the total number of items shipped may have amounted to close to a million perhaps, of which not all would have returned of course. Even still, this is a huge amount of paperwork and organisation, a side of brewing that can be forgotten about compared to the actual ‘glamour’ of the brewing process itself.

Incidentally in 1888 the Mountjoy Brewery were only sending out the equivalent of 11,595 hogsheads, 6th on the list behind D’arcys, Phoenix, Jameson and Watkins, with Guinness topping the list naturally with 330,088 hogsheads by volume. Although it is worth noting that Mounjoy were in a slump in sales at this time compared to the decades before and afterward where they came second on the list at times.

And these casks would also need sniffing, sorting, cleaning, repairing, stacking and host of other jobs performed on them before they were filled and sent out, and the whole process of recording and retrieving would start yet again. A small glimpse at where some of this took place is mentioned by Alfred Barnard in the opening quotation.

Simple, fragile and ephemeral objects like this brewery postcard are important reminders of our brewing heritage, giving us a glimpse into our past, although admittedly not a very exciting one perhaps.

But because this object exists and was kept and passed on through numerous hands it became a tangible record of what a huge brewing city Dublin was in the 1880s, and that Irish brewing history exists beyond those breweries whose beers and history survived.

Liam K

1 Warrington Examiner 18th September 1875 and Leicester Daily Post 6th June 1889

2 The Law Reports : Equity Cases Including Bankruptcy Cases, Before the Master of Rolls, the Vice-chancellors, and the Chief Judge in Bankruptcy · Volume 17 1874 - Editor: George Wirgman Hemming

3 The Shrewsbury Chronicle 29th November 1872

4 The Birmingham Daily Gazette 19th May 1868

5 The Railway News, Finance and Joint-stock Companies' Journal 1889

More information on the Mountjoy brewery can be found in Findlaters: The Story of a Dublin Merchant Family by Alex Findlater

Please note, 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 sources, and a link back to this post. The attached images are the author's own and cannot be used elsewhere without the author's permission. Newspaper research was thanks to The British Newspaper Archive and other sources are as credited.

Sunday, 9 July 2023

Opinion: On Beer Twitter ...

The beercentric side of Twitter is for me like a favourite pub …

It's one I’ve been going to for quite a while because it’s easy to reach and familiar to me – comfortable perhaps. I’m on at least nodding terms with many of the clientele who frequent it and I interact with all of them a little differently. Some I greet with humour, others with sarcasm and a few with serious replies to their question. Many I can sit beside unbidden to have a chat with and vice versa, some I greet briefly, and a few I just salute. Some I've fallen out with, for now ...

 And of course there are some I ignore completely, as they do me.

I don’t like the politics and opinions that certain other patrons subscribe to - in fact I find their choices dreadful - but I can easily ignore their treatise to join their legions and tend to change the conversation to other topics or just move away to another barstool with a polite excuse. Occasionally a rowdy, group of loudmouths come in and start shouting nonsense but I have the ability to mute them and continue my conversations with others, although sometimes I’ll just sit quietly with my pint, being amused - or often bemused - by their antics and stupidity.

The business changed hands a while ago but it made no real meaningful difference to my visits to the place, even if the new owners did do some odd things like letting back in some of those who were previously barred and limiting the number of drinks for some of their customers. They also created a VIP section that you had to pay to enter, and they changed the furniture around a little, but the fixtures and fittings remained pretty much the same. As did the core clientele, although some folks have left or are threatening to leave, and a few don’t call in quite as often as they used to do.

But for me personally the place operates in the same general way. I can enter through the same front door and choose who to sit with, who to talk to, and who to ignore - although admittedly I'm not on the premises as often as others so perhaps that makes a difference. For me it’s the people within the walls who make the pub - it's only a building after all - and if you enjoy conversing and interacting with them then why leave or change locations? I’ve investigated some other pubs to see what the fuss is about; I’ve even drank in one or two - but they are not quite the same. They feel wrong, they are not a good fit for me and not all of the people I enjoy mingling with are there either. Also, some of the new pubs have too many rooms or are so big that it’s impossible to find others inside, and certainly to hear people speak - and it’s even hard to find a comfortable, familiar-feeling seat.

It’s not a perfect pub by any means but perhaps I’m like one of those shattered old men you see in black and white photographs of a pub from the past, who sit at the bar with their pint and their newspaper and a quizzical expression on their face, and who you can tell needs that place more than it needs them. Who interacts just enough to get enjoyment, who like conversing from the safety of their barstool or that comfortable seat in the snug. Who can preach with the knowledge of never being taken seriously and find a willing pair of ears in moments of acute exasperation or troubled desperation.

Selfish or foolish as it may be, I’ll be staying put until the turn the key in the lock for the very last time, or it burns down around me ...


Liam K

Please note, all content published here is my own unless and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its sources, and a link back to this post.

Friday, 23 June 2023

100 Years of Irish Brewing in 50 Objects: #10 – The Guinness Waterford Tankard (1960s)

But when a cauliflower-wigged tankard of brown stout crowned the repast, his rapture knew no bounds. He pressed it with ecstasy to his lips, and sang joyously –

Porter! Drink for the noble souls!
Raise the foaming tankard high!
Water drink, you water think –
So said Johnson – so say I!

Merrie England in the Olden Time by George Daniel (Bentley's Miscellany, Volume 7 - J. M. Mason, 1841)

There is probably no piece of vintage, beer-related glassware that is talked about in the same reverential tone as the Guinness Waterford tankard. For many collectors of breweriana finding an absolutely perfect example is akin to discovering The Holy Grail, and almost as hard to acquire. Even those who show indifference to Guinness itself have a fondness for the barrel-like shape, the curvaceous handle, and that gold lettering with the harp sitting above. It has, for many at least, a deserved iconic status in Irish - and British - beer history, much more so than the relatively recent interloper that comes in the shape of the tulip pint glass.

Admittedly, the quotation above by George Daniel is a little out of kilter with the timeline, material and origins of the beer-related item we are focussing on here but it is an evocative piece of prose and poetry in honour of a tankard of stout. The wonderfully described ‘cauliflower-wigged’ and ‘foaming’ description of the head on the vessel in that piece is at odds with how we see draught stout’s image now, but it might be viewed by some as a better manifestation and a more inviting portrayal of that drink than the sterile, domed band of nitrogenated bubbles to which we have become accustomed these days.


Although our tankard was indeed made in Waterford it is not strictly speaking the ‘Waterford Glass’ that is world renowned for its quality, substance, and appeal, but rather a different quality of product that was being made by the company for domestic and bar use from when the firm started producing glass in Ballytruckle just outside Waterford in 1947. The material used for these items was soda glass which contains no lead or potash as opposed to the crystal glass that the company is well known for producing. This type of glass was being made right up until 1970 in the company’s plant at Johnstown - where they had moved to - in the centre of the city, and was still being sold for a number of years after that. As well as Guinness tankards the company also produced branded glasses for many other drinks such as Carling Black Label, Idea, Harp, Carlsbergand probably Time, Smithwicks, Phoenix, Double Diamond, Celebration and many others. Interestingly, they also produced another iconic piece of glassware, the stemmed glass for Irish Coffee with the gold band on top and a shamrock on the flattened section of the stem, which were exported to North America in large quantitiesThese, along with the barware and the many lines just for domestic use, meant that the Waterford Glass Company were quite a prolific maker of daily-use glassware as well as high-end lead crystal. It is probably fair to say that almost every Irish household of a certain vintage has a piece of ‘Waterford Glass’ in a cupboard or on a shelf, although most owners would not recognise those pieces as such.

Many of these lines were stickered with a rectangular label on their base with the words ‘Waterford Domestic – Made in the Republic of Ireland’  or a lozenge shaped one in silver and black with 'Waterford Barware - Made in the Republic of Ireland.' Those stickers are obviously now quite rare on any glasses used in the pub trade but some examples still exist with the label in place and intact.

Without some insider knowledge of the company's process of making all of these glasses we can only speculate as to how exactly they were created, but they appear to have been mould-blown by mouth rather than by machine and then, in the cases of tankards, the handles were dropped on and shaped by hand afterwards. This would seem to be the most efficient way of producing such a large quantity of relatively uniform products in a cost-effective way - but this is mostly speculation.


Glass tankards were quite a rare thing in Irish pubs in any part of our history up until the 1960s, with pewter mugs and fluted or plain conical pint glasses (tumblers as they were often called) being used up to that time along with Noniks with their pronounced bump near the top of the glass. In England certainly, and perhaps the rest of Britain, glass tankards were much more in use regionally at least, with dimpled mugs and multi-faceted tankards being relatively popular up to this period. This may be the reason why Guinness decided to launch this style of glass for its new Draught Guinness once they had ironed out any issues with the Easi-Serve dispense of their new stout and were viewing a campaign to install the new system in as many pubs as they could on these islands. Our near neighbours were huge consumers of Guinness in various forms, and the London brewery at Park Royal was in full swing so it would make sense that decisions were made based on that market rather than the Irish one.

The tankards weren’t used at the initial launch of Draught Guinness in 1961 but appear to have been rolled out sometime after 1963, and there are certainly surviving Irish examples of the glasses with verification marks for that year. In fact, early in Draught Guinness’s launch in England it was advertised in dimple mugs, a thought which would horrify and perplex many of today’s most militant Guinness drinkers!

Alan Wood, who took up the position of Guinness Advertising Manager in Britain in 1961 states in an undated note in ‘The Guinness Book of Guinness’ that the tankards ‘just happened’ and were part of that Draught Guinness roll-out ‘throughout Britain’ – and presumably Ireland around the same time. He also implies that the Waterford Glass Company were looking for a line that they could relatively easily produce, which they could use as a starting point to expand into this type of branded, bespoke barware product, and something that would also help with training and apprenticeships. The discussion between the two companies focussed on a lightweight, ‘generous’ looking tankard that would show-off the aesthetics of the beer, and that had a ‘quality feel’ that would suit a pint which would be a little more expensive than the norm. Waterford Glass came up with the design and at a price that very much suited Guinness’s budget. Interestingly, Mr. Wood says in the same note that ‘hundreds of thousands’ were produced and possibly a million!2 (There are currently no figures available as to how many were actually produced although the appear to have been packed in boxes of six, and if every pub on these islands received a box or two then the numbers would soon add up ...)

The golden logo applied to the tankards comes in at least two variants, the first being the lettering that had been around for decades with slight changes up until sometime in the mid-sixties when the company changed to the second version, the Hobbs or Hobbs-face stencil-like font with gaps in the narrow points of the letters. (This was first used in 1963 on posters and named after Bruce Hobbs at the SH Benson advertising company, who was allegedly inspired by street signs in Paris and the crude stencilled lettering on hop sacks.3) The earlier font also seems to have a less commonly seen version of the harp logo which differs a lot from the more ornate versions seen on bottle labels and was possibly for ease of printing, although it was replaced by a lightly simplified version on the later glasses and elsewhere. Also of note is that on some earlier versions of the half pint glass the logo faces a right-handed drinker whereas it usually points outward and away from them - and should do from a marketing standpoint on any glass. The tankards came in pint and half pint sizes, as well as a smaller run of three-pint versions for use as displays in pubs. These have become the real Holy Grail of Holy Grails for collectors and feature the word ‘Draught’ above ‘Guinness’ in the early letter and logo style.

In print, the glasses appear to have been first used in advertising Draught Guinness on posters in Ireland in 19633 and in newspapers in this country by the following year. They first appeared in Britain on advertising posters in 1966 /1967, when ‘the tankard was adopted as the symbol’ for the product.4 (Those advertisements also feature the ‘older’ style typeface, which appears to change around the end of the decade to the newer version, as mentioned above.) The tankard falls out of favour with marketing companies around 1980 and rarely appears after that, replaced by the conical glass for a while and then the aforementioned tulip pint glass we are now very familiar with from advertisements and social media.

Verification marks seem to have been applied around the time that the glasses were originally made and before the logo was applied, this can lead to errors and confusion in dating certain glasses. For example there is an officially verified tankard from 1969 which has the logo for Cork city’s 800-year anniversary in 1985 on the side of the glass. Curiously, this version has the Guinness logo on both sides, which wasn’t a common practice and these may have just been commemorative gifts. If it was used in pubs then this Cork version helps to show how long these tankards lasted in the trade, which would have been about two decades. It should be noted that these tankards weren’t universally used for draught Guinness on these islands, as many publicans used some of the more ‘normal’ styles of practical glassware instead or as well.

The design may have been an excellent conception and these glasses were relatively tough but they were notorious for cracking and breaking at their Achilles' Heel where the handle meets the top of the glass - a fault often seen on specimens found for sale today. They were not really suitable for the modern pub – not to mention how unkind dishwashing machines were to gold lettering – so it is unlikely that the publican's who used them mourned their passing, although many have revived or remade the old red Guinness lightbox tap fronts that carries their image, while serving the beer in curvaceous but unhandled pint glasses just to add insult to injury.

Many also disappeared out of pubs by way of theft. In 1978 in Lincolnshire in England two ladies were convicted and fined £25 each for stealing two ‘special and distinctive [half-pint] Guinness mugs’ from a pub having been reported to the authorities by the publican – both women admitted to ‘taking the glasses worth £1.20, out of the pub in their handbags’ according to a local paper. It appears from this that Guinness charged the publican £1.20 for a half-pint tankard.


There were other, later versions of this Guinness tankard too. A pressed glass edition was available from probably the 1980s with gold or beige lettering and it can be easily identified by its flattened, moulded handle as distinct from the hand-added, rounded handle on the originals. German glass producers Sahm also produced a 400ml similar tankard with the Hobbs typeface in gold in the 1970s. There was also a French-made half pint version with a more rounded handle5, and Viners of Sheffield produced an attractive pewter version too, both of these are probably also from the seventies.

After the Guinness tankard was launched it opened the gates for almost every other Irish brand of beer and soon tankards were everywhere in pubs in Ireland in the sixties and early seventies. Time, Smithwicks, Double Diamond, Phoenix, Carling Black Label, Celebration, Bass, Watney’s Red Barrell and Macardles all had glass tankards of various types and designs, many made by the Waterford Glass Company as mentioned above. The Harp tankard, in its second or third version, was the last to be used in pubs, probably in the mid-nineties and long after the other brands had disappeared - or their tankards had at least - or changed to something less cumbersome to suit a changing drinker. [EDIT: The Franciscan Well Brewery were using a branded glass tankard for their beer up until quite recently, and possibly still do - thanks to Keith @j_k357 on Twitter.) Unbranded glass tankards were also used in Irish public houses for a time, before finally falling out of favour in the late nineties apart from the occasional hold-out like J & K Walsh in Waterford who were using a tankard for Guinness and other beers up until relatively recently.


Perhaps the glass tankard is due a revival here in Ireland? Maybe an enterprising microbrewery will include one in their selection of beer glasses?

So hopefully one day soon we can pour a proper stout into a branded glass tankard again to create that cauliflower-wigged stout, and raise that foaming tankard high …

So say I!

Liam K

1Waterford Crystal – The Creation of a Global Brand, 1700-2009 by John M. Hearne

2 The Guinness Book of Guinness 1935-1985 edited by Edward Guinness

3 The Book of Guinness Advertising by Brian Sibley

4 The Book of Guinness Advertising by Jim Davies

5 The Guinness Archive Online Collection

Please note, 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 sources, and a link back to this post. The attached images are the author's own and cannot be used elsewhere without the author's permission. Newspaper research was thanks to The British Newspaper Archive and other sources are as credited.

Thursday, 8 June 2023

100 Years of Irish Brewing in 50 Objects: #9 - At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien (1939)

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night –
Excerpt, ‘The Workman’s Friend’ from At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

There seems to be a tenuous - or at times blatant - connection between certain generations of Ireland's most well-known writers and our beer and general drinking history. Be it Joyce, Behan, Beckett or in this case Flann O’Brien, there is always something mentioned or alluded to in the text that directly or indirectly links back to a past of public houses, or lost beer brands, or a long-forgotten part of our drinking culture. At Swim-Two-Birds is certainly an interesting book, and although it might not be classed as overly challenging compared to other novels such as Joyce’s Ulysses, it is by no means an easy or simple text for most readers to get their heads and hearts around given the writing style, storyline and movements of the characters. But that tradition - for want of a better word - of drink being an almost integral part of Irish literature is there from the start in O'Brien's book, as there is a mention in the opening pages to a mirror bearing the names of ‘Messrs. Watkins, Jameson and Pim’ and their ‘proprietary brand of beer’ (presumably O’Connell’s Ale) which the book’s narrator uses as a shaving mirror in his bedroom.

But of course, this book is best known for its reference to that ‘Pint of Plain’ from the opening quotation.


Brian O’Nolan, or Flann O’Brien or Myles na gCopaleen or George Knowall to give him just a few of his semi-official names, was born in Strabane in 1911, one of twelve children. He lived most of his life in Dublin working at various jobs while writing books, newspaper columns and other works. He certainly had a quite difficult live but his biography is not the focus of this piece, but rather it is his first novel At Swim-Two-Birds and in particular a piece of poetry - or 'pome' - written by a fictional poet* called Jem Casey and titled ‘The Workman’s Friend.’ The verses are recited in a public house by Paul Shanahan, one of the main characters in the book and is an ode to the comfort and healing qualities of a ‘Pint of Plain.’ The book itself, although well received by his peers, wasn’t a bestseller on publication, and indeed it wasn’t really until it was republished in the 1960s that it would be seen as a classic piece of Irish literature by a wider audience.

The verses of this ode to ‘a pint of plain’ have been much spoken of, printed, sung, and repeated since they were first published and the term is still used right up to this day in print and on social media, but what exactly was ‘a pint of plain?’ As it appears that many use it without thinking on the actual meaning of the word ‘plain.’

'Plain' in this case is short for ‘plain porter,’ a term whose use goes back to the 1700s, and it was the weaker sibling to ‘stout porter.’ And stout in this case means a stronger porter (the word stout was used for other styles of beer too in the past), and although we won’t go into the much-repeated and often wrong history of porter to any great extent here, we can generally say that most breweries in Ireland had two strengths of this dark beer for non-export consumption, or at least two styles that were more most popular with drinkers on this island.

So, in very general terms, many Irish breweries in the late 18th and on into the very early 20th century had a weaker porter called variously X Porter, X Stout, Single Stout and other names, and also a stronger version generally called Double Stout, Extra Stout, XX Porter or XX Stout. (This is somewhat of an over-simplification, as even these various porters which are casually grouped together here could be wildly different in strength and ingredients depending on the era and the brewery - but you get the point.) There were other porters being brewed, including ones for export, with some breweries producing various other strengths in between, but this is a fair summation of the two types most commonly available. The lighter in strength of these beers came to be known by drinkers as just ‘plain’ - hence the ‘Pint of Plain’ - and the stronger was more often than not known just as ‘stout.’

Most stout was bottled by independent bottlers or by the publican or grocer and getting a pint of draught stout from a cask appears to have been relatively rare, especially outside of the main urban centres on the island. The bottle of stout ruled the countertops and tables in the pubs in most of Ireland, with its weaker sibling, plain porter, available mostly in the big cities like Dublin and Belfast. Some porter was indeed bottled but much of it was served from casks and was essentially a live 'conditioned' product containing active yeast to produce carbonation. It would remain being sold that way until the early 1970s, when the production of Guinness’s porter - the last of its type – ceased and was totally usurped by Guinness Draught.

And so should have died ‘The Pint of Plain’ …


Except it didn’t, or at least the term itself remained, but instead it was transferred to a pint of draught stout and usually the Guinness version (rather than Murphy’s or Beamish) which is marketed as a such rather than a 'porter' regardless of its strength and taste. It is certainly possible to make an argument that draught Guinness is the modern equivalent of that lost porter in alcohol content, and thanks to the marketing gimmick and the aesthetic need of the two-part pour, which was supposed to imitate the high and low carbonated mix of how Guinness’s porter was served in some public houses - mostly in Northern Ireland.# There is also the fact that stout is a type of porter (as it is also a beer regardless of what people seem to think) when taken in the modern sense and usage of the words.

But if we revisit the text we need to take the words verbatim. So that given the time it was written and what was available in the public houses that the author was familiar with then the drink referred to was a cask conditioned single porter, and some would therefore say that this lost porter is the only drink that the moniker ‘Plain’ can be used for - even though some characters appear to drink just stout elsewhere in the book.

Does that mean we can’t ever use the term ‘a Pint of Plain’ ever again? Well one could again argue that the only truly legitimate pint of plain can be something that is called ‘porter’ by the brewery, is served on cask, and said brewery would also need to brew a stronger version they call their stout so that they have both it and a ‘plain.’ There might be a little leeway on the cask stipulation but the assertion certainly needs to obey the other rules for the term to be used, and then and only then, some might argue, can you say that you are drinking a ‘Pint of Plain’….

But of course in reality you can call your pint anything you like.


Finally, the poem’s title of a ‘The Workman’s Friend,’ or versions of it, seems to have been a common enough term even before the publication of At Swim-Two-Birds, as The Irish Independent on the 2nd of January 1917 carried in a piece about price increases in Dublin the following comment:

‘The pint of “plain” or workingman’s drink, goes up to 5d.’

This shows that the connection between plain and workingmen – unsurprisingly – is older than the book, and probably quite a bit older, plus given the wording it seemed in common parlance, and of course beer itself was often seen as a worker’s drink anyway.

Quite rightly ...

(Here's the link to object #10)

Liam K

*Possibly based on a poet called James Casey

# It is worth highlighting that there is very little evidence of the practice being widespread, and much of the country was drinking stout from bottles anyway. Incidentally, the jug pour was probably more common, where a high carbonated porter was poured into a jug to left settle before being used to top up glasses. There is a video of this exact practice which some claim show the high-low pour but it shows no such thing. I have written more about this topic here.

Further Reading:

A Biography on Flann O'Brien here.

More on the Pint of Plain by Gary Gillman here.

Martyn Cornell has some porter history here.

And the complete poem or 'pome' is everywhere ...

Please note, 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 sources, and a link back to this post. The attached image is the author's own and cannot be used elsewhere without the author's permission. Newspaper research was thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.

Friday, 26 May 2023

100 Years of Irish Brewing in 50 Objects: #8 - Label Facsimile for Greenmount Brewery (c. 1870)

Perry Archive in Portlaoise Library
The PALE ALE was beautifully clear, bright, and sparkling. It had a very pleasant bitter flavour of the Hop, and was full-boiled to the taste. It contained more than the average of alcohol and substances which give to Ales of this kind their nutritious and exhilarating properties.
The Samples I examined were well fermented, and would keep a due length of time. They contained all the essentials of PALE ALE of the first class, viz. :- Flavour, brilliancy of condition, and keeping qualities. […] “Greenmount Pale Ale” must become a formidable competitor to the English and Scotch Ales.
I remain, Gentlemen,
Your obedient Servant,
Professor of Applied Chemistry.

Saunders' News-Letter 23rd May 1868

If you walk down Clanbrassil Street and cross the busy Robert Emmet Bridge over the Grand Canal on the south-side of Dublin then head further south on to Harold’s Cross Road you will pass on your right hand side a row of pleasant-looking brown brick low-rise apartments and some equally plain but inoffensive offices, and behind those a collection of commercial and residential structures that cover most of the site. Early maps label the area as Cherry Orchard (not to be confused with the same-named suburb of west Dublin) which might relate to a larger area stretching in a thin plot further north beyond the canal or may just demark a space where there was once an actual cherry orchard - most likely both. The area is now known as Greenmount and has been for many years, presumably after Greenmount house which was just southwest of this location, with the name is still in use in the warren of lanes and streets around here, and it has been home to much industry and business over the centuries – including a brewing enterprise.


Greenmount Brewery was a joint venture between the elegantly name Robinson Gale Perry and an enigmatic Mr. Alexander, plus possibly other partners, and traded as Alexander, Perry & Co. Mr Perry was part of the Perry family of brewers, maltsters and businessmen from Laois, being one of the sons of Robert Perry and born in 1833 in Rathdowney. His unusual middle name is in fact his mother’s maiden name, an Elenor Gale also from Laois. There is no doubt that there is a bigger story that should be told regarding the Perry family and their various enterprises, including the brewery in Rathdowney which lasted into the 1960s, but for now we will focus just on Greenmount brewery site and history. Regarding the Mr. Alexander whose surname is also on the company name there appears to be very little trace but there was an Edward Alexander of Greenmount listed in Thom’s Almanac from 1870, which could be the missing joint owner. Indeed, there are Alexanders connected with the well-known Pim family who owned the nearby clothmaking company and all - including the Perry family - were Quakers so there seems to be a strong likelihood that this is the correct family at least. (A curious note on the company name is that many in the past and present seem to think the owner’s name was ‘Alexander Perry’ due to the comma being misplaced in the company title, with corrections appearing in newspapers such as times where donations were given by the brewery to various causes.)


There is a relatively full description of the brewery featured in The Irish Times on the 12th of December 1867, eighteen months or so after the brewery was started, which gives some detail of the building and its operations.


We have pleasure in laying before our readers the following short description of the brewery lately erected by Messrs. Alexander, Perry and Co., at Greenmount, Harold's-cross-bridge.
This brewery was commenced on May 1st, 1865. A rough sketch of the proposed position of the different utensils and the necessary dimensions of the building was furnished by Mr. Robinson Perry, one of the partners, to Mr. John McCurdy, the eminent architect, in Leinster-street. After severe competition the contract we awarded to Mr. S. H. Bolton, of South Richmond-street, and the construction reflects great credit on both architect and builder, for its superior style and finish.
In the lower portion of the building is the malt-room, where the process of brewing first commences. The malt Is drawn from air-tight bins, and emptied into a hopper, from which it is elevated and discharged into a separator and joggler; the former removes all the dust and small grains, the latter retains all the stones, &c. The malt falls on to metal rollers and is crushed, then elevated to a large hopper placed over be mash tun.
The upper portion of the building is occupied with the next operation, which is to boil the water for the mash. This is dine in large wooden backs, lined with copper, the water being heated by passing steam at a high pressure through copper coils lying on the bottom of each vessel. The hot water is conveyed to the next stage, and through a mashing machine, on entering which the malt Is allowed to fall on to it, and the two are mashed up by a series of rakes revolving at great speed inside this machine, discharging the two into the mash tun, where they are allowed to stand for some time. This tun is fitted with a false bottom, which permits the extract from the malt to pass through, leaving the "grains" behind. This extract, now called worts[sic], runs direct into the coppers, where the hops are added. The worts[sic] are then boiled a sufficient time to imbibe the flavour and bitter of the hop, and are discharged direct into a hop-back. This is a square vessel, supplied with a false bottom, which permits the liquor to ran off to a large cooler, leaving the hops behind, where it is rapidly cooled by a fan, and is then allowed to pass over one of Morton and Wilson's patent refrigerators, which quickly cools It down to the temperature desired by the brewer; the wort lastly rubs into the fermenting tuns. The fermentation being completed, the beer runs down into swan-necks or puncheons in the cleansing cellars. The barm being all worked out of the drink in these vessels, the clear beer racked into casks, where it is left to arrive at maturity.
There are two large cleansing for this process, also a large store, where piles of the different ales and beers are ready for delivery. In the cask department the casks are all washed by machinery, then steamed, and dried by heated air.
The boiler-houses and engine-room are situated at one side of the brew-house, from whence all the shafting, &c., is driven. All the iron work and the large pillars were erected by the eminent firm of Courtney, Stephens and Co., and the shafting by Mr. Edward Toomey, of the Phoenix Works, all of which are a credit to both these Dublin firms.
The brewery is capable or turning out 1.000 barrels a week, and for compactness and economic principles cannot be surpassed; the use of pumps, requisite in other breweries, being dispensed with hastens the process, thereby ensuring [the] keeping quality in the beer.
The mild ale and bitter beer brewed by this firm are of an excellent quality, finely flavoured, and have a good body; and we believe that before long to Greenmount Bitter Beer" will be as well known and appreciated in Ireland as Bass and Allsopp are in England.

It is thanks to descriptions such as this that we can get an inkling of the internal workings of the lost breweries of Ireland and, as flawed and weighted as many newspaper reports can be, at least we can have some record and proof that these places existed and how they operated. (A later write-up in the same newspaper related to a different enterprise on the site mentions a description of the actual building as being ‘five stories high and 100ft long’ with an average ‘depth of 213 feet’ and two stores running parallel to the main building 100ft long and 30 or 40ft wide. It appears not to have been altered externally for the new business.)*

We also get a possible start date of 1st May 1865 for the enterprise and it appear it was newly built at that time, plus early maps show virtually no structures on the site. The first newspaper mention is in an advertisement dated exactly a year later on the 1st of May 1866 in The Freeman’s Journal for the sale of an adjacent premises which is said to be ‘adjoining the Greenmount Spinning Mills and Brewery’ so we can be relatively sure it existed by this time at least.

The second part of a write-up on the brewery on the 1st of June 1868 in Saunders' Newsletter very much repeats the Irish Times article regarding the brewery itself to the point of near plagiarism, but it does add the snippets that the brewery gave employment to sixty men at this time and that the site covered three statute acres. The opening section of the article reads like an advertisement - which it probably was – but it does supply us with more information such as how the brewery had an ‘extensive trade in their Irish ales [..] in the west of England, Scotland, and Wales’ which we shall confirm later. The piece also rails against the Irish ale retailers love of Bass and Allsopp’s ales and how Greenmount now 'supplies private families themselves to the extent of nearly three hundred [quarter?] casks per week.’ This can perhaps give us a snapshot of the retail trade in ale in Ireland at this time and how difficult it was for smaller, newer breweries to compete with established brands on the grocery floor or public house counter - plus ça change!

The article goes on to mention what was being brewed at the time, with the pale ale being ‘fully equal to Burton’ only cheaper, there is also a bitter beer that is ‘not so strong, but finely flavoured, bright and sparkling, with good tonic qualities.’ The piece goes on to say that there are two kinds of stout made there, an Imperial and an XX porter, ‘with the latter possessing a good body, and equal to any we have ever tasted.’ The Imperial was thought of as ‘very fine, but expensive’ but  it ‘is becoming celebrated, and is one of the most popular drinks in Liverpool and other seaport towns in the west of England, where extra strength is looked for.’ This 'stout' may be being confused with the Imperial Ale because as we shall see there are no other mentions of an Imperial Stout elsewhere, and might show that the writer might not be fully versed in the beers of the brewery after all! The only other fact of note is that the malt for their bitter beer was supplied by Giltrap and Sons, Newark in England – whether it was only used for this beer is not totally clear but it certainly reads as so.

To add to the above descriptions the brewery incorporated an extra element of cooling in 1870 with the installation of an ice machine made by Messrs. Siebe Brothers of Lambeth, London, which as well as making blocks of ice ‘as clear and solid as the “Wenham Lake” ice,’ was utilised in ‘cooling the worts[sic] by sending the half-frozen water in air-tight tubes passing through the vessels.’


We can add more information to the beers listed above. and perhaps a little clarification too. by looking at some newspaper advertisements from the period.

The label facsimile - which is used like a logo on a financial record held in the Perry archives in the local studies department of Portlaoise Library - shows that at one time the brewery was selling pale ale, extra stout and imperial ale and this can be verified by newspaper advertisements from 1869 and very early 1871. The quote at the beginning of this article is part of an advertisement for ‘Greenmount Pale Ale” which ties in with the label facsimile and gives us a reasonable description of its qualities, albeit from what was probably a paid source.

There is a particularly nice advertisement in The Monmouthshire Merlin of the 13th of February 1869 which shows that Greenmount Brewery were selling “Dublin Imperial Ale” in Newport, Wales from an agent called Robert Perry, who is quite possibly a relation of the brewery owner.

Prior to that, according to The Bristol Mercury, the brewery was looking for a local agent as early as January 1867 to sell ‘”Mild” and “Pale” ales; also, “Single” and “Double Stouts” in the city, and in the same month they were soliciting trials of their East India Pale Ale in The Freemans’ Journal in Dublin.  From November 1867 they were advertising a ‘Bitter Beer’ for sale at 1s a gallon in various editions of Dublin newspapers which was ‘not so strong a Pale Ale’ and had ‘a light tonic quality.’ The word ‘beer’ at this time meant a lighter and cheaper type of malt-based beverage in Ireland.

More confirmed export evidence can be seen in The Croydon Chronicle from the 28th of May 1870 where an agent took out a reasonably large advertisement complete with exclamation marks for their ‘Dublin Pale Ale’ and which was claimed ‘for flavour and quality this ale surpasses any other offered in the district.’

By 1872 an agent advertising in The Wexford Independent could offer Pale Ale, XXXX Strong Mild Ale and Dublin Porter in hogsheads, barrels, half barrels, and quarter casks from the October brewings of the previous year, plus there were advertisements in other parts of the country in other years too, showing that their beers were relatively widespread in parts of Ireland.

Interestingly, by January 1872 in another advertisement for their pale ale in The Freeman’s Journal that contains yet another positive report from Robert Galloway, the company name of ‘Robinson G. Perry, and Co.’ is used, which suggests the recent departure of Mr. Alexander from the business.


But by the end of 1872 a new enterprise – The Irish Whisky Distillery Company – had been formed with a view to converting the brewery into a distilling entity, and among the directors is ‘Robinson G. Perry, Merchant, Rathdowney Brewery, Queen’s County’ along with a William James Perry and some other high-profile business people. The abridged prospectus published in papers in December 1872 state that on the 15th of October of that year that Fredrick William Zurhorst agreed to purchase the ‘premises, known as the Greenmount Brewery, for the sum of £36,000, to be handed over to the company, with all the necessary appliances in complete condition for the Distillation of Whisky, within three months from the incorporation of the Company, capable of turning out 200,000 gallons of Whisky annually.’ The conversion from brewery to distillery was fully completed by 1874 and another of Ireland's breweries disappeared from view.

So it would seem that there was more money projected to be in whisky than in pale ale, and although there is a further chapter that involves the history of the distillery, including a fire and a conversion to an oil company, our interest in the site as part of our lost brewing history ends here.

Robinson Gale Perry died in Brentford in England in 1917 at the age of 83.


For an epilogue we will go back to June 1868 and a response by Samuel Haughton to that article that appeared in Saunders’ News-Letter quoted from above that sang the praises of the brewery. Carlow born Samuel Haughton was a priest, doctor and writer on scientific subjects. Amongst other things, he is gruesomely known for ‘The Haughton Drop’ - the calculation needed for a humane and swift end for those about to be hanged, but he was thought of generally in good terms. He was a supporter of temperance and Father Mathew so it comes as no surprise that his comments regarding Greenmount brewery are less than flattering. He speaks of the evils of ‘Seductive Liquors’ and ‘deplores that money and intelligence are so freely employed in a business that creates much of the misery and crime that exists around us.’ But his real issue is with the comments by way of the Galloway quote used in the original piece which stated that intoxicating beverages are nutritious, plus that sales of said products are good for the country as a whole, as implied in said article. He takes a huge swipe at Galloway saying, ‘I doubt if there be one intelligent man now to be found among scientific men to maintain that this poison can afford any nutriment to the human frame.’ He goes on to berate the press by saying, ‘Let not then the editors of our public press any more give currency to the idea that alcoholic liquors of any description aid men in the performance of their bodily or their mental labours.’ Lastly he aims his well-spoken words at the brewers, refusing to agree that they are manufacturers - as stated in the piece - and saying that ‘a manufacturer is one who takes raw materials of little previous value, and by art makes them into things of great value. The brewer, and the distiller also, does exactly the reverse of this. He takes articles of the first necessity, and of the highest value to man, and transforms them into poison, injurious to the health, and ruinous to the happiness of man.'

He must have went apoplectic when he saw the brewery - by far the lesser of two evils for many temperance people - converted into a distillery in his lifetime.

But at least he had shuffled off his mortal coil before the ‘Guinness is Good for You’ campaign began …

(Here's the link to object #9)

Liam K

(There is a photograph of the oil company set up by the artist Louis le Brocquy’s grandfather here which is on the same site, and the entrance and the five-story building are probably from the original brewery site, even allowing for damage caused by an 1877 fire.)

*The description above is from an article on the distillery in The Irish Times on the 18th of November 1873, and again the implication is that there was very little change to the external parts of the building but that floors were added internally and a new chimney.

Please note, 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 sources, and a link back to this post. The logo/label shown is part of the Perry Archive in Portlaoise Library and the attached image is the author's own and cannot be used elsewhere without the author's permission. Newspaper research was thanks to The British Newspaper Archive from whom I have received permission to publish images.