Beamish Stout Journeys to America

But Gets a Dawk in New York

Beamish & Crawford was a famous porter brewery in Cork, Ireland. It closed in 2009 with the single brand, Beamish stout, now brewed at Heineken’s ex-Murphy plant in the same city.

In 1950, Beamish’s made a determined push into the American market. Earlier, it had expanded cautiously, a history you can read in its own words in an advertoriathat year in the Advocate, a long-established paper in New York City catering to the Irish diaspora.

In the article, Beamish described its current brewing range:

At present four types of Stout are brewed:

A Porter for consumption “on draught” in Ireland.
“XXX” Stout for consumption “on draught” and in bottle for Ireland and in bottle for the United King­dom.
“Knuckleduster”—a stronger stout for consumption in bottle for the United Kingdom.
“Foreign Extra”—a still stronger and well matured stout, in bottle, for export to all countries abroad, in­cluding, of course, the U.S.A.
And so, with progress and expan­sion, the aim of those who guide the destinies of the Company to-day, Cork men and Irishmen, will have reason to continue to feel justly proud of this Brewery they have known for genera­tions …

Of these beers, seemingly only the Foreign Extra was sent to New York. The Knuckleduster name evoked the pre-war atmosphere in which the Deasy Brewery’s stout earned the moniker the Wrestler, see some Deasy history here by Martyn Cornell.

(Beer et Seq knows a Mr. Deasy in Toronto with Cork antecedents, maybe he is reading, are you related to the brewing Deasys, sir? That would be grand).

Considering the image of “Irish bars” in the U.S. then, one thinks Knuckleduster would have appealed to the trade, indeed to New York beermen in general. But the brand seems to have gone to the more mild-tempered Britain. Oh well.

This four-cornered beer strategy, with gravities rising from four to eight per cent ABV (approximately) was followed by Guinness too, always Beamish’s “bigger brother”. See e.g., R. Pattinson’s tabular data here, and Jess Kiddens’ extensive review of Guinness’ c.1950 activities in which the following appears:

 

As is well-known by brewing historians and Jess Kidden limns in his notes, Guinness bought a brewery in Long Island, NY, the E & J Burke Brewery, to brew Guinness domestically. Burke was the venerable distribution arm for Guinness in America.* The Stateside Burkes finally went into brewing for themselves just after Prohibition.

A Burke Stout and Burke Ale were marketed in the New York area, evidently with Guinness’ approval. Finally Guinness bought up both distributorship and brewery, the former in 1943 according to the Kidden timeline, and the latter in 1949 as confirmed from other sources.

Kidden states that Guinness Extra Stout was brewed and distributed in the U.S. following this purchase, but that (higher gravity) Guinness Foreign Extra Stout continued to be imported. At first blush that’s an unusual arrangement, but I can think of a possible reason for such anomaly.

First the question: why would Beamish choose this moment to enter the U.S. market, when Guinness was making a determined effort to implant itself, quite literally, in the U.S.?

I think Beamish must have looked at it a different way: it would market itself as truly Irish, given its beer was still made in Ireland. On the same page as the advertorial, a box ad for Beamish states “Imported” in prominent type. Additional text puts further emphasis on the Irish origins.

The message to the intended market surely was: Guinness is no longer the real stuff as it’s brewed in America.

I don’t know how long the Beamish imports lasted but Guinness is a formidable adversary. While the Guinness Long Island brewery closed in 1952 or 1954 (accounts differ), Guinness stout continued to be imported, initially via Heublein and later other arrangements.

If Beamish did appear in the U.S. much after the early 1950s, it never made a big splash, I’m sure.

But the path for Guinness was not smooth: in 1952 it was sued for anti-trust violations by Dublin Distributors, Inc. (“DDI”), a local (NYC) business. DDI for years was a sub-distribtor for Guinness, obtaining its supply from Burke, now Guinness/Burke, warehouses in Manhattan and Long Island.

Why would DDI sue Guinness? Because DDI also agreed to represent Beamish, and Guinness, anxious to protect its newly-hatched domestic business, didn’t want that competition and terminated DDI’s distribution for (now domestic) Guinness.

I infer that possibly the litigation was resolved on the basis that DDI could sell Irish-brewed Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the type historically imported by Burke, but not the locally-brewed Guinness Extra Stout.

If so, it wasn’t the best resolution for Guinness, but preferable to years in U.S. courts on debilitating anti-trust issues. In fact on the face of it I’d think the court debacle contributed to premature closing of the new domestic business.

Most accounts recite that people didn’t want to buy domestically-brewed Guinness, but with a dual source of supply confronting consumers, Guinness could not have implemented a  coherent marketing strategy.

By the early-1960s, Guinness bought DDI too, which would have resolved any lingering issues with Beamish.

Note re images: the source for the Guinness product description is identified and linked in the text. The source for the Beamish Knuckleduster label is the excellent BestBeerStuff t-shirt and apparel site. The last image was sourced from the excellent Tavern Trove site, here. All intellectual property in the images belongs solely to their lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*See my Comment below which clarifies that E & J  Burke may not have imported Guinness after Repeal to New York, vs. before Prohibition that is, but another New York company may have.

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Beamish Stout Journeys to America

  1. In this 2009 discussion, Jess Kidden suggests that Burke may not have imported Guinness stout in the 1930’s, but rather another company in New York did, named Taylor. This sounds plausible to me, as why would Guinness consent to the Burkes’ brewing their own-label stout and ale while still importing Guinness stout? http://discussions.realbeer.com/archive/index.php/t-21125.html It remains the fact though that when Guinness wanted to control distribution and finally brewing in New York, it bought the Burke business there, probably due to the very old relationship it had with the family in Ireland and abroad.

  2. Gary, great post! And I’m honoured to be mentioned, of course.
    A framed illustration hangs in my home today of Deasy’s Brewery, which was just a few doors down from my father’s childhood home in Clonakilty. Sadly, we are not related to those Deasys – it’s a rather ubiquitous surname in Ireland, particularly in Cork and Waterford counties.
    Cheers,
    Sean Deasy

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