Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Progress of Brewing in Ireland (part two)

Back to brewing in 18th-century Ireland. I'm so glad I bought "Ireland Industrial and Agricultural". The section on brewing is rather good. Especially given the dearth of material on the topic. Though I have unearthed a couple more sources.

"In 1772 the Society entered into correspondence with Mr. Combrune of the city of London, as to the best method of brewing good beer. In a very interesting letter dated 9th July, 1772, Mr. Combrune pointed out that the different varieties of beer were due to different combinations; that there was no royal road to good brewing; that the only way to succeed was an observance of certain general principles, and that though bad beer might be brewed from good malt, the foundation of brewing good beer was good malt. He controverted the statement of Irish brewers that the defects in Irish porter were due to bad hops and bad barley, and attributed them rather to bad malting, and he pointed out that, with proper materials, suitable utensils, and a skilful "artist," there could be no doubt that it would be possible to brew in Dublin porter similar to that brewed in London.

During the early part of the eighteenth century brewing increased in Ireland, a number of breweries were started, and Dublin and Cork became great brewing centres, and in the middle of the century the annual amount of beer brewed in Ireland was about 600,000 barrels of strong beer. The excise tax in Ireland was considerably lower than in England, and as already mentioned, averaged during the eighteenth century, about 4s. per barrel on strong beer, and about 9d. on small beer, and no malt tax was levied in Ireland until 1786. Still, despite the comparatively low duty and the fostering care of the Royal Dublin Society, brewing began to fall off in Ireland, with the result that the amount imported from England increased from about 15,000 barrels in 1750 to about 65,000 in 1785, and to over 100,000 barrels in 1792. The imposition in 1786 of a tax of 7d. per bushel on malt accelerated the decline, as the tax on beer amounted to 4s., and hops were also taxed, and the licence duty was high.

The Irish Parliament and Brewing.

In 1791 the condition of the brewing industry attracted considerable attention in the Irish Parliament The decline in brewing had been accompanied by a great increase in the consumption of spirits. The amount of whiskey charged with duty for consumption in Ireland had risen from a little over 100,000 gallons at the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the duty was 4d, per gallon, to over 3,400,000 gallons in 1790, although the duly had increased to 1s. 1.25d., and it was universally admitted that an enormous quantity of spirits was illicitly distilled, whilst over 1,000,000 gallons of spirits were imported. A strong opinion was expressed throughout the country that the best way to discourage the excessive consumption of spirits was by encouraging brewing. The spirit duty at the time was 1s. 1.25d. per gallon, and the beer duty 4s. 6d. per barrel, and although all malt whether used for distilling or brewing was subject to the same malt tax (7d. per bushel in 1791), the distiller received a refund in the shape of a drawback. It was accordingly suggested that the beer duty should be abolished and that the tax on spirits should be increased. In February, 1791, the Speaker (Right Hon. John Foster, M.P. for Louth County) declared that the average number of barrels of beer annually brewed in Ireland in the past five years was only 400,000 as compared with an average of 600.000 for the period 1760-65, and that the decline was mainly due to excessive legislation and oppressive restrictions. Mr. Beresford urged in reply that the apparent decline in the amount of beer brewed was due to frauds on the revenue; he pointed out that of the eighteen hundred retailing brewers licensed in Ireland at the time, less than half paid duty on even one barrel in the year, and "there are besides these innumerable persons vulgarly called 'shebeeners.' who brew and sell without license or duty." Mr. Grattan declared that "whatever is adopted with regard to spirituous liquors would be imperfect, indeed, if nothing was done in advancement of the breweries. The state of your brewery on a comparative with its state thirty years ago, is that of a rapid decline, the decrease is about one-third ; increase of importation nearly two-thirds; whereas the increase of intoxication, that is the increase of the consumption of whiskey in the course of twenty years, has been enormous. Judge from this growth of poison and this decline of nutriment how necessary the interference of Parliament to sustain the latter (i.e., brewing) as well as to check the former (i.e., distilling)."

After a long discussion several resolutions were carried to the effect that it was desirable to curtail the present excessive use of low priced spirituous liquors ; and that decisive advantages should be given to the breweries over the distilleries by means of alterations in the duties, so as to secure a decided preference for the breweries. Effect was given to these resolutions three years later when the tax on beer was withdrawn. It may be noted here that in 1830 the beer tax was repealed in England also, and that until 1880 no tax was directly levied on beer in either country, though it was indirectly taxed by means of a duty on malt (which, during the greater part of the nineteenth century, stood as 2s. 8.5d. per bushel), and by taxes on hops and sugar used for brewing, and by the levying of licence duties."
"Ireland Industrial and Agricultural", 1902, pages 454 - 456.
It's telling that, despite the lower level of taxation on beer in Ireland, imports from England increased in the second half of the 18th century. Coincidence that this happened just as brewing in London industrialised and the quality of beer increased? I think not. There must have been a reason why drinkers were prepared to pay more for imported English beer. That it was better quality than locally-produced stuff seems the most obvious.

The correspondence with Combrune appears to confirm the view that Irish beer was inferior to English. Malting and it role in the development of beer is often overlooked. After all, it was improvements in malting techniques that madee Pilsner Urquell possible. Without good-quality, very pale malt, Groll couldn't have brewed a pale Lager. And from this comment it seems that poor malting may have been the reason for the low quality of Irish beer.

Here's some proof of those mid-18th century English beer imports:

"The London magazine, 1752" (published in Dublin), 1752, page 332.

I make that 1,430.75 barrels of Ale and 11,447 barrels of Beer. 12,877.75 barrels in total.  barrels. Not far off the 15,000 barrels given as the level of beer imports from England in 1750. I assume Dublin wasn't the only Irish port through which English beer came in.

In the first half of the 18th century 600,000 barrels of beer were being produced in Ireland. It was around that level in the 1820's. However by that time the population of Ireland had increased considerably. So in efffect, the brewing industry had declined.

All these figures must be viewed with some suspicion, given the amount of tax dodging allegedly going on. Given that fewer than half of the licensed brewers paid any duty, it seems pretty likely that there was widespread fraud.


Rod said...

Very interesting post, Ron, thank you

The Beer Nut said...

Spruce beer? Yum.

Jaicmeiriceanach said...

You might be interested in an older take on irish brewing:
"The Celts developed the art of brewing very early and independently from the Egyptians and Sumerians". Also, consider this description of malting from a 700 A.D. Irish law tract (Binchy, p4): “…malt which takes fifteen days to produce: a full day (24 hours) steeping, one and a half days draining, four-and-a-half days under cover, three full days lying exposed until it is heaped up in piles and five full days in piles before being racked, and in ridges after being racked and finally kiln-dried”

Daniel A. Binchy, "Brewing in eighth-century Ireland," Studies in Honor of M.V. Duignan (Belfast 1981) pp 3-6.

Ron Pattinson said...

Jaicmeiriceanach, thanks very much for that. You couldn't get me a scan of the whole article, could you? I'd love to see the whole thing.