Beamish Stout Journeys to America

Beamish & Crawford were famous porter brewers in Cork, Ireland. The brewery closed in 2009. Beamish stout is now brewed at Heineken’s ex-Murphy plant in the same city.

In 1950 Beamish made a determined push in the American market. Read the background in an advertorial-style piece that year in the Irish-American Advocate, a long-running New York weekly that closed decades ago.

 

 

In the article, Beamish reviewed the 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, it appears only the Foreign Extra was sent to New York. A fine image of the modern-sounding Knuckleduster label appears at the BestBeerStuff t-shirt and apparel site.

This four-cornered brewing strategy, with gravities rising from four to eight per cent ABV (approximately), was followed by Guinness too, Beamish’s “bigger brother”. See e.g. Ron Pattinson’s tabular data here, and Jess Kiddens’ survey of Guinness’ c.1950 marketing. Kidden includes the following:

 

 

As beer historians have long known, in the 1940s* Guinness bought a brewery in Long Island, New York, the E. & J. Burke Brewery. Purpose: to brew Guinness domestically. Burke had been the venerable distributor for Guinness in America, going back to the 1800s.

The Stateside Burkes finally went into brewing for themselves, shortly after Prohibition. A Burke Ale in 1934, and Burke Stout in 1938 (see Kidden timeline) were offered in New York. This 1934 ad for Burke ale touts its “winter ale” qualities, suggesting a robust beer of the stock type.

A 1938 ad in the Advocate depicted a tall bottle of Burke stout with an “old sod” look, promising a traditional, “dry” flavour.

In 1949, Guinness owned the Burke brewery. It had started brewing Guinness-branded stout there, having ceased finally to brew Burke’s stout. Why would Beamish choose this time to expand in the U.S. market, when Guinness was making a determined effort to brew Guinness locally?

Inferentially, Beamish could market itself as truly Irish, given its beer was still made in Ireland. This seems confirmed by its advertising. On the same page as the advertorial, a Beamish box ad states “Imported” in prominent type. Other wording in the ad placed emphasis on the Irish origins.

The message to the intended market seemed clear: Guinness in America was no longer quite so Irish as in the past. For a time after Guinness started brewing in Long Island it still imported Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, but this was stopped to avoid confusion in the market. See David Hughes’ discussion in his book “A Bottle of Guinness Please”.

In 1952 Guinness was sued for anti-trust violation by Dublin Distributors, Inc. (DDI), a local business. DDI for years had been sub-distributor for Burke, obtaining its supply from Burke-owned, later Guinness-Burke, warehouses, and wholesaling through the New York area.

But DDI had also agreed to represent Beamish, for its push mentioned. It argued some of its customers wanted an all-Irish stout. Guinness, trying to protect its domestic business, understandably didn’t want that competition. It terminated DDI’s distribution rights for its Long Island stout.

It appears the litigation was resolved on the basis DDI could distribute Irish-brewed Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, the type historically imported by Burke, but not locally-brewed Guinness Extra Stout. Some years ago when an earlier version of this post appeared, I believe I saw a news item confirming this, but cannot locate it now.

If this occurred, with a dual Guinness supply again in the market, Guinness’ market profile was again muddied. For his part, David Hughes attributed the failure of Guinness’s brewery in Long Island to the beer brewed: too strong and sweet, although it made adjustments in the early 1950s.

In the mid-1950s, Beamish and Guinness are duking it out in New York for a small, mostly ethnic market. An interesting news item in the Advocate listed a series of Irish products the Irish Export Board was promoting in New York in that period.

Both stouts were featured, also food and other items. A marmalade maker, Lamb’s, featured two sorts, one a special old kind made with coarse-cut peel aged for seven months to lend a “winey” flavour. (Sounds good).

By the early 1960s, Guinness buys out DDI. But that was years after closing the Long Island brewery. Would Guinness have succeeded with domestically-made stout if Beamish hadn’t made a determined pitch for the American market, and but for the lawsuit by DDI? Or was the product just “wrong”, as Hughes has argued?

Guinness in recent years re-established a brewery in America, near Baltimore. It produces lager but not the classic Guinness stouts.** The earlier experience was probably telling in this regard, although we are not so sure it would be a mistake to brew Guinness in America again.

Note re images: source of images above is identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Hughes says 1943.

**It has brewed a draft milk stout at its Open Gate facility, and other experimental types.

 

 

 

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