Friday, 5 December 2008

Heineken to axe Irish brewery

Beamish & Crawford to close as
Dutch giant consolidates in Cork

When the Irish government made the ludicrous decision to permit Heineken to own both Beamish & Crawford and Murphy's breweries in Cork, it signed the death warrant of Beamish. Heinken has owned Murphy's for many years, brews lager as well as stout, and clearly prefers to concentrate production there rather than a Beamish, which fell into the hands of the Dutch giant as a result of its takeover of Scottish & Newcastle.
The closure of Beamish in March 2009 will mark the end of a historic period in Irish brewing. Beamish & Crawford is the oldest brewer of porter and stout in the republic. Beamish and Crawford were farmers from the north of Ireland who went to Cork to sell beef and butter and saw that large amounts of porter and stout were being exported to Ireland through Cork from London and Bristol. They decided to stay in Cork and build a brewery. They were brewing porter and stout by 1792, several years before Arthur Guinness in Dublin abandoned ale and switched to stout production.
At one stage, Beamish was the biggest brewer in the United Kingdom, which then included the whole of Ireland. Beamish produced 100,000 barrels of porter and stout a year, compared to 60,000 barrels at Guinness. Both companies were badly hit by the potato famine, which saw not only starvation among the people but a mass exodus to the United States. Beamish never recovered its dominant position while Guinness was able re-build sales by using the canal network that radiated out from Dublin. Guiness also became a major exporter with Foreign Export Stout.
Beamish also faced competition in Cork from 1856 from a new brewery founded by members of the powerful whiskey distilling family of Murphy. Their brewery was built on the site of the Lady's Well, a religious shrine, and was known for years as the Catholic brewery, while Beamish was called the Protestant brewery. Employees of the two breweries were not encouraged to socialise.
While Murphy's fell into the hands of Heineken, Beamish also had a turbulent life in the 20th century. In 1962 it was bought by the Canadian group Carling O'Keefe, which in turn was bought by the Foster's lager group of Australia. This allowed Beamish Stout to be sold through Courage pubs in Britain as Courage was owned by Foster's. Eventually Courage was taken over by S&N, which gave the brand little promotion in Britain but, incongruously, marketed it in France alongside its French subsidiary Kronenbourg.
Beamish is based in a fine black-and-white Tudor building, the Counting House, in Cork where the floor of the entrance is built out of plates from an old mash tun. Now all this rich brewing history is to be axed by its new and ruthless Dutch owners. It has not been announced whether or not the Beamish brands will continue to be brewed.
Meanwhile Guinness, which will scale down operations at St James's Gate in Dublin when it moves to a new greenfield site, has announced that it will close the Smithwick brewery in Kilkenny, where another historic Irish style -- red ale -- is brewed. Traditional brewing in Ireland is under sustained attack.


Blogger Lars Marius Garshol said...

It's sad about the brewery building, but beyond that I don't know if I care a whole lot. Beamish, Kilkenny, and Smithwick may be historical, but today their beers are of indifferent quality at best. If they were to stop brewing them it would be difficult to feel that this is any kind of loss.

One hopes this would leave shelf space and keg space for real Irish craft beers, like those from Franciscan Well or the Galway Brewery. Irish brewing was in a horrible state as it was, and scaling down the pseudo-Irish brewers seems like good news to me. Maybe it will wake some people up, and make them turn to real Irish beer?

5 December 2008 at 13:28  
Blogger The Beer Nut said...

Sustained attack? Traditional brewing is dead and gone, it's with O'Leary in the grave. The age of large proper regional breweries is long past, having been steadfastly assassinated by the forerunners of Diageo Ireland and Heineken Ireland. Further to what Lars says, it has been many decades since the Smithwick brewery in Kilkenny produced anything worth drinking.

However, I don't share your optimism on the future of Irish beer, Lars. The end of these breweries (Diageo's Great Northern in Dundalk is also scheduled to close) will not result in a millimetre of shelf space being surrendered to microbrews. Only the drinkers can change that situation, and most of them are happy with Guinness or Heineken.

No tears here for the end of a foreign-owned brewer of poor-quality beer.

5 December 2008 at 14:39  
Anonymous norrie_stout said...

Its a sad day for the Peoples Republic of Cork, I remember being there with my wife after we first got married and had our passports stamped so we could cross the southgate bridge to live on the other side up just off friars walk.

As money was tight, our treat of a summers evening was to go to Lennox for fish and chips, and stroll down to the banks of the south channel just behind Beamish and Crawford, savour the flavours that the roasting would let off from time to time and watch the ducks play on the river. Depending on our mood after wondering around town for a bit we might have a pint of either Beamish, her favourite, or mine being a true norrie, a pint of Murphys, none of this Dublin pretentious Dublin muck, we were after all in the Peoples Republic and had no pretentions, we knew we were the rightful seat of government in this land but fate struck us a cruel blow.

I will miss the brewery going as much for as its stout, but all importantly those long summer nights when you can smell the hops and barley on one side of the city giving you one flavour, and you walk across to the other side of the city and you smell the slightly different but equally delicious aromas of murphys.

PS O'Leary was right all those years ago, he should have shot the present shower in the Dail too and saved us all a few bob! Romantic Ireland as well as the rest of us now is in the grave!

1 April 2009 at 23:24  
Blogger The Beer Nut said...

Up to North Mall with you for a beer made by an actual Irish brewery.

1 April 2009 at 23:30  
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