Heineken to axe Irish brewery
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.