Wednesday, 1 March 2023

100 Years of Irish Brewing in 50 Objects: #3 - Cask Label for Perry's IPA

erry’s “Indian Ale” has the reputation of being stronger and better in quality than any other pale ale, whether manufactured in England or Ireland. And having once tasted that particular beverage one is inclined to be in complete agreement with that claim. In point of fact, the fame of this ale has extended to England and Scotland and large quantities of it is found in the wine cellars of connoisseurs in those two countries. […] There is one great advantage in drinking Perry’s Indian Ale; one cannot drink three glasses of it without feeling happy. Neither is it possible after so many glasses to remain unmoved; but better still, there are no “after effects” from this beer – and that is the verdict of one who knows.

Leinster Leader - 27th May 1933

Unlike bottle labels, which are a relatively common find for the small number of Irish breweries that survived into the first few decades of the 20th century, cask labels seem to be much rarer. This is of course because they were produced - and needed - in smaller quantities, and because they ultimately ended up back in the brewery who issued them or they became detached from the casks during handling or cleaning, but they do become available at times and facsimiles litter the internet on various sites, perhaps from stock acquired from closed breweries. It is at this point even difficult to know which breweries used them and which used coloured rims to differentiate their various beers – like Guinness did – or used other methods. This relatively rare survivor measures 164mm (6 7⁄16") in diameter and possibly dates from the late 1920s or the 1930s.

I am sure that some of the more casual drinkers in Ireland would be surprised that there was an Irish IPA available in this country at this time, as many see them as a recent phenomenon over here, but as many will also know, the history of calling a certain style of beer ‘India Pale Ale’ or something close to that, dates back over a century from the time when this label was issued, and its history in this country dates back almost as far.

For example, Eliza Alley, Sons & Co. in Townsend Street in Dublin were selling their ‘East India Beer’ in 1842 and declaring it similar to ‘Hodgson’s Pale Ale’ which was one of the more popular versions available in England – and beyond of course – at this time. Pale ales were available well before this date but this is an early reference to something that was at least implied to be an IPA, to use its modern moniker. This style of beers was brewed by various breweries in various guises for the next hundred or more years in this country and the last brewery to brew a beer under this name was the shown label’s owner - Robert Perry & Son Ltd. of Rathdowney in Laois, who were still brewing a version as late as 1964 according to their brewing records, although by this time it may have just been called ‘Perry’s Ale.’

Freeman's Journal - 12th August 1842

The brewery visit quoted above mentions that Perry's only used Irish malts and no adjuncts and that appears to be true at this time but in later recipes for their IPA they were using Californian barley, inverts sugars, malt extract, and caramel, as well as the usual Oregon and English hops. Their range in the 1930s consisted of a Pale Ale, IPA, X Ale, XX Ale, X Stout, XX Stout, and on at least one occasion a Special Stout.  There is another version of this label that shows that there was a bottling IPA being shipped to independent bottlers and public houses as well as a draught IPA that was served straight from cask, and indeed the source quoted above mentions ‘four varieties of draught ale being available and two varieties of bottled ale' – the two bottled probably being their IPA and the XX ale based on surviving bottle labels from this era.

The barrel sizes used by Perry’s around 1900 were 52 Gallon hogsheads, 32 gallon barrels, 16 gallon ½ barrels and 8 gallon ¼ barrels to use their own terminology from showcards showing their range and size from that period. These are different to Imperial barrel sizes used elsewhere on these islands, where a ‘Barrel’ was 36 gallons, and it may have created havoc for those who needed to keep account of barrels and returns back to Ireland from England and elsewhere, unless they had 'export' barrel sizes? These Irish volumes were a leftover consequence of Ireland having their own system of measurement in the past, and that obviously included other volumes like pints and gallons too - so the Irish pint was a smaller serve than an Imperial pint at one time, and this may have had other consequences as will be seen when we discuss glassware at a later point in the series.

Somewhat later, in June 1950, a photograph appears in the Waterford Standard that shows part of a ‘big cargo of beer casks from Liverpool’ that has been loaded onto ‘one of a fleet of lorries’ being readied for dispatch to the brewery in Rathdowney, and gives an idea of the volume and size of a ‘barrel’ of used at this time, and by now Perry’s may have changed to the Imperial barrel size of 36 Gallons.

Finally, here is another quote from The Leinster Leader writeup from 1933:

During my visit to the Brewery I witnesses an incident worthy of narration. I was seated in the office when an employee entered and spoke to my host who offered him some money. This the man declined and spoke in undertone to Capt. Pim who nodded his head and with a smile wrote something on a piece of paper and [I] must have betrayed my curiosity for Capt. Pim explained that the man and two others had for personal services rendered requested that they be given as payment a glass each of Perry's Indian Ale; and the paper he had given was an order to that effect. It was then I decided to sample that ale for myself and came to the conclusion that those men were rare good judges of an excellent drink.

What this says about the quality of the beer over the need or want of the employees to drink on the job is a subject that could be up for debate, but it certainly sounds like a ringing endorsement for Perry's IPA, although any editorial advertisement such as this needs to treated with at least a hint of scepticism.

(The Captain Pim mentioned here ran the brewery at this time and may be related to the Pim in Jameson, Pim & Co., the brewing company that merged with Watkins brewery in Dublin in the early 1900s, and possibly to the Pims who had a brewery in nearby Mountmellick in the 19th century. Perhaps not, but it would seem that the brewers of Ireland were a quasi-incestuous lot, as the same names appear time and time again in various breweries and related enterprises throughout the country.)


The idea of being able to buy a pint of Irish-brewed IPA poured from a wooden cask is certainly of great nostalgic appeal to those who enjoy our Irish beer history and would love to taste any connection with our long-lost brewing past. And it can be sampled in some ways, as certain homebrewers have repeated those recipes with minor success (and albeit with some changes, interpretation and substitution), all they need is a wooden cask, a nice brass tap - and a label to stick on its end for that last piece of authenticity ...

Liam K

(Here is the link to object #4)

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.

Newspaper images ©The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( from whom I have received permission to display these images on this site. Label and label image are the authors own and cannot be used elsewhere with out the author's permission.


The Beer Nut said...

I think the Pims were all related: they were a large and successful mercantile family with interests in baking and banking as well. Funny, I thought that the Quaker repudiation of swearing oaths would have prevented Captain Alfred from joining the army, but he served in the Royal Irish Rangers and was a veteran of Ypres, before taking over the brewery.

Liam said...

Cheers John, thanks for those nuggets!

Martyn Cornell said...

Can't have been a Quaker if he was in the army - absolutely forbidden.

The Beer Nut said...

Oh yeah, the shooting people bit would have been problematic as well. I guess he wasn't but the family definitely was, perhaps not by the 20th century.