Thursday, 28 March 2019

Irish brewing in WW II

In WW II, the Republic of Ireland was in a similar position to The Netherlands or Denmark in WW I: not directly involved in the conflict but still greatly affected by it.

Disruption of international trade was the main problem faced by Irish brewing. Which made the shipping in of ingredients and shipping out of beer (Ireland being a big exporter) much trickier. For hops they had always depended on imports, but during the war it was also necessary to import barley. We’ll get to why later.

Luckily, the biggest export market was close at hand: the UK. Before the war, good for around 1 million barrels a year. Almost all of it was in the form of Guinness. Despite owning a brewery in London, Guinness still shipped large quantities of beer from Dublin to the UK.

Irish beer production held up very well during the war. It remained steady in terms of standard barrels and increased considerably in terms of bulk barrels, due to the fall in gravity. I’m slightly surprised by the increase in consumption

The border between the two parts of Ireland is notoriously difficult to control. Its course is fairly random, never having been intended to be an international border, and is crossed by dozens of tiny roads. Was that beer really being drunk in the South, or was some being smuggled into Northern Ireland?

Before the war, a very high percentage of Irish beer was exported, over 50%. Despite the relative ease of exporting to the UK, the war did impact exports. They fell considerably in the middle years of the war. This was partly due to a dispute between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Changes in UK and Republic of Ireland brewing 1938 - 1949
Output; Standard barrels Bulk barrels Consumption bulk barrels Average Gravity Exports: Standard barrels
Ireland -2.68% 20.73% 79.49% -19.35% -28.75%
UK -9.11% 11.50% 10.06% -18.50% -9.68%
Brewers' Almanack 1955, pages 50 and 57.
“1955 Brewers' Almanack”, pages 107 - 110.

Once the war was over, exports picked up again. The 1949 figure of 760,000 barrels may look considerably smaller than the million barrels of 1938, but they’re standard barrels. In 1938, when Guinness Extra Stout had an OG of 1055º, the standard and bulk barrel figures were about the same. But 760,000 standard barrels is around a million bulk barrels at 1042º.

As in the UK, beer gravity fell during the war, from 1052º to 1042º. In percentage terms, the fall was just shy of 20%, which is even slightly more than the fall in the UK. Though it did kick off the war 10º higher. Unsurprisingly, average Irish OG is eerily close to the OG of Guinness Extra Stout at the time.

In most aspects, Irish brewing fared better than that in the UK. Output, in terms of standard barrels, was only slightly down, while in the UK the decline was almost 10%. 

Irish brewing 1938 - 1949
Year Output; Standard barrels Bulk barrels Consumption bulk barrels Average Gravity Exports: Standard barrels % exported
1938 1,652,844 1,755,774 623,238 1051.78 1,066,094 64.50%
1939 1,368,661 1,472,678 643,495 1051.12 770,562 56.30%
1940 1,401,188 1,494,036 651,858 1051.58 789,864 56.37%
1941 1,335,171 1,465,569 623,387 1050.11 767,209 57.46%
1942 1,451,782 1,750,140 659,008 1045.62 905,165 62.35%
1943 1,293,862 1,631,009 759,621 1043.63 691,275 53.43%
1944 1,242,754 1,534,040 937,509 1044.57 483,031 38.87%
1945 1,458,419 1,798,450 982,533 1044.60 661,674 45.37%
1946 1,665,815 2,063,093 1,069,649 1044.41 802,122 48.15%
1947 1,480,769 1,952,583 1,060,552 1041.71 676,485 45.68%
1948 1,490,218 1,988,580 1,046,639 1041.51 700,291 46.99%
1949 1,608,606 2,119,583 1,117,859 1041.76 759,846 47.24%
change 1938 - 1949 -2.68% 20.73% 79.49% -19.35% -28.75% -26.77%
“1955 Brewers' Almanack”, pages 107 - 110.


Matt said...

The future poet laureate John Betjeman, who spent the war in Ireland working as an intelligence officer, wrote that being able to get hold of Guinness in Dublin was one of the few compensations of living there.

antrog65 said...

Obviously before the ‘Craic’ was invented then :-)

Sokratees9 said...

Surely the fact is was highly unlikely to be bombed must have been nice too.

Ron Pattinson said...


Dublin was bombed in WW II.