Use by Guinness of American Stave Barrels in Late 1800s

In my last post I included four consuls’ reports from 1891 summarizing local trade information on the source of staves used for barrels to hold different kinds of beer. For Cork, Ireland, the evidence showed clearly that porter brewers used American wood.

My post just before that one made it even more clear as the firm that gave the Cork consul this information advertised in an 1880s Cork exhibition catalogue that it used Orleans oak for porter and Memel wood for ale barrels.

American wood also ruled for porter in Dunfermline, Scotland, and, at least to a degree in Liverpool.

In contrast, the report for London made clear almost all staves for casks were from Memel or other European ports, and little American wood was used. This meant London porter production had to use traditional Memel or other suitable East European oak, if not still English materials for its oldest surviving vats and perhaps some casks.

What about Dublin? The Dublin consul’s full report makes clear that Guinness had to use almost exclusively American oak staves for its barrels, see here and the partial extract below. The consul offers an interesting explanation why American wood did not adversely affect porter while not being so benign in relation to ale.

The explanation is somewhat confused, as he relates the effect solely to colour, which is not the full story. As technical discussions later made clear, a taste was imparted by American oak felt unsuitable for ales, and indeed it seemed for most English porter. As so often, laymen ended by not explaining the technics right, and even people in the trade, who probably imparted the information Reid used, may not have understood the situation correctly.

My feeling is, Guinness made a cost calculation due to the cheaper net cost of American wood (factoring its matchless durability), and the rest can be laid to fictive or at best “heroic” explanations.

But on the point of what kind of wood was used, taken with the 1902 Journal of the Institute of Brewing article I’ve referenced, it’s pretty clear Guinness used barrels mostly coopered from American white oak around the turn of the century.

Other evidence that Guinness used such barrels is found in David Hughes’ 2006 “A Bottle of Guinness Please”, see here. True, Hughes referred to Baltic wood as well but it is obvious a huge producer as Guinness, taking all the evidence together, relied strongly on American oak stands c. 1900.

Certainly in 1930 Guinness used only American wood, as confirmed in this business report.

The Dublin consul was unusually prescient on the need to conserve the American white oak forests, as well.