Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Beer History: Who Brewed Ireland's First Porter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liam

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