Category Archives: Drink

The joy of 5X: the aged beer from Greene King

Why is Greene King’s 5X one of the most remarkable beers in the world?

Blending in British beer
Beer that is fermented for longer can often develop more unique and interesting flavours. Many British breweries of the Victorian era produced an aged “stock beer” that would be blended with a fresh “running beer” to produce a finished product which combined the drinkability of fresh beer with a greater depth of flavour.

A view of the Greene King brewery by Elliott Brown in 2019.

Some of the most successful beers owe a debt to the blending tradition. Newcastle Brown Ale, introduced in 1927, was originally a blend of a dark aged beer with a lighter pale ale. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was blended with two percent aged beer from 1950, although it is unclear whether this process still occurs.

Truman’s Brewery of London continued to produce their No 1 barley wine by blending two thirds fresh beer with one third aged beer up until the early 1970s.

The ageing and blending tradition, inspired by English brewing techniques of the 1870s, remains alive at the Rodenbach brewery in Belgium. A stock beer is aged for between eighteen months and two years and then blended with two thirds fresh beer.

5X, the great survivor
Greene King of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk is one of the largest of the traditional ale brewers in Britain. By the 1990s it was the last major brewery in Britain to retain the stock beer tradition.

Greene King brew 5X to around twelve percent ABV using pale, crystal and chocolate malts. It is aged for between two and five years in four untreated 100-barrel English oak vats. John Bexon, a former head brewer at Greene King, explained, “the microflora in there slowly matures the flavor and it almost sours it like a Belgian Lambic”.

According to Greene King, “5X on its own can taste very tart and sour”, although it is occasionally made available at beer festivals. It has been blended into various Greene King beers over the years.

5X at a rate of between 15 and 25 percent is blended with Burton Pale Ale, a dark and sweet five percent ABV beer made with pale, crystal and chocolate malts, to produce Greene King Strong Suffolk at six percent ABV.

My tasting notes for Strong Suffolk highlight the aromas of vinous fruit and port wine, liquorice, kola nut, oak, malt vinegar, banana and toffee. The beer is full bodied with a very dry finish. Strong Suffolk was produced from at least the 1920s until 2018. It returned as a one-off brew in 2023.

Greene King introduced Morland’s Old Crafty Hen in 2008, a 6.5 percent ABV beer created by blending a stronger version of Old Speckled Hen with between ten and 15 percent 5X.

It is almost axiomatic that the larger the brewer, the more cost-conscious and risk-averse they become. The bean-counters take over and tradition falls by the wayside. Greene King has bucked that trend by continuing to produce 5X, and for this, they should be justly celebrated.

Gineral knowledge: a history of Beefeater

How did Beefeater become the highest-selling gin in the world?

James Burrough establishes the business
James Burrough (1834 – 1897) was born in Ottery St Mary, Devon, the son of a baker. He served an apprenticeship to a chemist and druggist in Exeter.

Burrough emigrated to Canada in 1855 and traded as a chemist. After five years he returned to Britain and established himself in London.

Burrough acquired the Cale Street distillery in Chelsea from John Taylor & Son for £400 in 1863. John Taylor & Son was principally known for its fruit liqueurs.

Burrough’s gin, later to become known as Beefeater, was developed by James Burrough in 1876. It contained nine botanicals; juniper, Seville orange peel, bitter almonds, orris root, coriander seeds, angelica root, liquorice, angelica seed and Sicilian lemon peel.

Burrough described himself as a compounder and rectifier of whisky in the 1881 census. Whisky appears to have represented his main trade in the 1870s and early 1880s.

James Burrough dies and the business continues to expand
James Burrough died in 1897. Management of the business passed to his sons, Frederick Burrough (1869 – 1941), Ernest James Burrough (1871 – 1953) and Francis Thornton Burrough (1879 – 1940).

The business had been registered as a limited company, James Burrough Ltd, by 1907.

The business was relocated to larger and better located, purpose-built premises on Hutton Road, Lambeth, from 1908. The site was named the Cale Distillery. The expansion of production capacity allowed exports to begin in earnest to markets such as India.

A prominent image of a London Beefeater was added to the Burrough’s gin label from 1909.

The United States market was entered, in a modest way, from 1934.

Eric Burrough grows sales in North America
Burrough’s gin began to be advertised in Britain following the Second World War.

Rudolph C Kopf (1905 – 1985), a buyer for Macy’s department stores, was appointed United States distributor for Burrough’s gin in 1946, at a time when sales were negligible.

The Beefeater name had been added in small lettering to the bottle by 1952.

Eric Lewis Burrough (1900 – 1970), a grandson of James Burrough, was appointed company chairman from 1953. He was to develop sales in export markets.

Annual sales in the United States sales increased by 165 percent to $1 million in 1956, aided by the popularity of the dry martini cocktail. Encouraged, Eric Burrough undertook an extensive tour of North America in order to promote sales in 1957.

Burrough’s gin had been rebranded as Beefeater by 1957. Beefeater was a premium gin, a rival to products such as Tanqueray and Booth’s House of Lords.

Expanding sales saw the company relocate to the former Haywards pickles factory at Montford Place, Kennington, from 1958.

A view of the Kennington distillery in 2008. Image used courtesy of Sarflondondunc.

James Burrough was the second largest gin exporter in the world by 1961, with 65 percent of production destined for overseas markets. Beefeater held three quarters of the United States imported gin market.

Beefeater sold nearly a million three gallon cases in the United States in 1962. Sales grew with little advertising, spurred by word-of-mouth promotion and the increasing popularity of the martini cocktail.

Eric Burrough explained that English gin was well-regarded in the United States due to, “the knowledge gained by British distillers over many years” and explained that it was valued for its “softness and delicacy of flavour”. Juniper berries were harvested from a single district in the Italian Tyrol; angelica root came from Flanders; coriander seeds came from Essex. The distillery used its own spring water.

Beefeater was the leading premium gin in England and the United States by the mid-1960s.

Beefeater increased its share of British gin exports from two percent to over 50 percent between 1953 and 1966. Over 12 million bottles of Beefeater were exported in 1965. James Burrough received the Queen’s Award to Industry for export achievement in 1966, 1969 and 1971.

Export sales are pursued
Eric Burrough retired from executive duties following a stroke in 1967. Alan Burrough (1917 – 2002), a grandson of the founder, was appointed chairman. Alan Burrough was a shy man who had lost a leg in the North African campaign during the Second World War.

Alan Burrough recognised that the United States market had probably reached capacity, and pursued sales in Europe and Japan.

James Burrough was the largest manufacturer of gin in the world by 1970, with annual production of 20 million bottles. Beefeater was sold in almost every country, with just a handful that it was excluded from for political or religious reasons, such as China, Rhodesia, North Korea and some Arabic nations.

James Burrough preferred to produce its gin in England, where quality control could be closely monitored. However distilleries were established in South Africa and New Zealand, following the erection of prohibitive import tariffs in those markets.

An advertisement for Beefeater gin (1971)

James Burrough employed nearly 500 people by 1977.

Beefeater was the third highest-selling gin in the world by 1982, with five percent of the market.

Alan Burrough retired in 1982 and he was succeeded as chairman by his brother, Norman Burrough. Norman Burrough doubled profits between 1982 and 1984.

Beefeater was the third highest-selling gin by volume in Britain by 1987, with a market share of six percent.

James Burrough is sold to Whitbread
The Burrough family, with a 70 percent stake in the company, believed that the business would benefit from lower distribution costs if it was a part of a larger concern. James Burrough was sold to Whitbread, the third largest brewer in Britain, for £174.5 million in 1987.

Whitbread incorporated James Burrough into their existing spirits business, Long John, which produced Laphroaig single malt Scotch whisky.

The James Burrough bottling facility in Kennington was closed with the loss of 300 jobs in 1988. Bottling was relocated to the Long John plant at Westthorn, Glasgow. The Burrough head office and distillery, with a staff of 75, was retained.

Allied Lyons acquires the business
Long John was highly successful, but Whitbread lacked the scale to become a significant player in the global market, and the business was sold to Allied Lyons for £542 million in 1990.

Bottling of Beefeater was transferred to Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven in Scotland from 1992.

By 1992 the raw spirit was diluted with filtered and deionised municipal water, with an unspecified proportion of artesian well water added.

More than 2.5 million cases of Beefeater were sold in 1995.

Pernod Ricard acquires Beefeater
Pernod Ricard of France acquired Beefeater in 2005.

30 million bottles of Beefeater were produced in 2007, using 50 tons of wild juniper from Italy and Macedonia, 20 tons of coriander seed from Russia and Bulgaria, orris root from Florence, angelica roots and seeds from Belgium, powdered liquorice from China, three tons of dried Seville orange peel and “slightly less” dried lemon peel as well as almonds from Spain. Alcohol spirit was sourced from Greenwich. The botanicals are steeped for 24 hours before seven hours redistillation.

2.9 million cases of Beefeater were sold in the 2017-18 financial year.

According to Pernod Ricard, Beefeater is the third highest-selling premium gin in the world as of 2019. Its major markets are Spain, the United States, Canada, Japan and Britain.

The Beefeater distillery continues to operate in Kennington as of 2022.

Great Scot: James Buchanan & Co

James Buchanan helped to establish sales of Scotch whisky in England, and died as one of the richest men in Britain. Buchanan’s remains the third highest-selling Scotch whisky brand in the world.

James Buchanan helps to establish Scotch whisky sales in London
James Buchanan (1849 – 1935) was born to Scottish parents in Ontario, Canada.

James Buchanan in 1923

Buchanan relocated to London, England from 1879 where he worked as a salesman for Charles Mackinlay & Co, a well-known Scotch whisky distributor.

Buchanan struggled to earn sufficient money, and lived in a bedsit and worked 16 hour days. His grit and perseverance ultimately paid off when a friend loaned him the capital to form his own whisky wholesale operation in 1884. He established an office at Bucklersbury in the City of London.

Most whisky sold in London at the time was Irish, but Buchanan created a Scotch blend that could be relied on for its consistency and quality. “The Buchanan blend” was the first Scotch whisky to really appeal to the English palate. W P Lowrie & Co of Glasgow was contracted to produce the product.

Buchanan succeeded due to his efficiency and hard work. He also had the gift of the gab; he was a quick thinker and a great talker. Buchanan was the first person to offer free whisky samples to publicans. He charmed landlords, who he convinced that his whisky offered health benefits.

Buchanan established his reputation when he was awarded a contract to supply the House of Commons with Scotch whisky from 1885. Buchanan was soon marketing the “House of Commons blend” to the general public.

Buchanan won the gold medal for Scotch whisky at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1889.

Parliament took umbrage at Buchanan’s use of its brand in order to sell whisky, and as a result, the Buchanan contract was ended in 1893.

Buchanan acquired the freehold of the Black Swan distillery at Holborn from Sir Alan Young for £90,000 in 1897. The premises became his head office and storage and bottling warehouse.

Buchanan entered into whisky production for himself with the acquisition of the Glentauchers distillery in Glenlivet in 1898.

James Buchanan & Co received Royal Warrants to supply Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales in 1898.

Buchanan had won back the contract to supply Parliament by 1901.

James Buchanan & Co was registered as a limited company in 1903.

Buchanan’s blend was packaged in a black bottle with a white label. Customers referred to it as the “black and white whisky”, and the product was rebranded as Black & White from 1904.

James Buchanan & Co acquired majority control of W P Lowrie & Co in 1906. The purchase included the Convalmore distillery on Speyside.

Buchanan opened the largest bonded warehouse in Britain in Glasgow in 1907.

James Buchanan & Co had acquired the Bankier distillery at Kilsyth by 1908.

James Buchanan & Co held the largest reserves of Scotch whisky in the world by 1913.

All reference to the House of Commons was removed from Buchanan’s branding from 1915.

Merger with John Dewar & Sons; acquisition by Distillers
James Buchanan & Co merged with John Dewar & Sons, a rival Scotch whisky manufacturer, to form Buchanan-Dewar in 1915. The move was a defensive one against rising spirits taxation and increasing raw materials costs. The merged business held the largest reserve of whisky stocks in Scotland, and had a combined capital of £5 million.

Black & White was the second highest-selling Scotch whisky in Britain in the 1920s.

James Buchanan was raised to the Peerage as Baron Woolavington from 1922.

Mackie & Co of Glasgow, best known for the White Horse brand, was acquired in 1923.

Domestic sales of Scotch had entered into sharp decline following the First World War following a rise in spirit duties. Buchanan-Dewar was acquired by Distillers Co in 1925.

The Inland Revenue estimated that Buchanan’s annual income amounted to £485,000 a year by 1929, making him the third richest man in Britain.

James Buchanan & Co held over 18 million imperial gallons of aged whiskies in 1931, the largest stock in the world. Black & White was made with a blend of whiskies that had all been aged at least eight years.

Buchanan died in 1935. His gross estate was valued at £7,150,000 and was largely dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.

High demand for Black & White
Black & White had received a Royal Warrant to supply Queen Elizabeth II by 1955.

Black & White was the second highest-selling Scotch whisky in the United States by 1961. It also held a strong position in the German market.

British sales of Black & White amounted to 500,000 cases a year by 1967.

James Buchanan & Co was awarded the Queens Award To Industry for export achievement in 1966 and 1967. Its products were sold in 168 countries.

Demand for Black & White outstripped capacity, and a new blending and bottling plant was opened at Stepps, Lanarkshire, outside Glasgow, in 1969.

The Glentauchers distillery was closed in 1985.

Acquisition by Guinness
Distillers was acquired by Guinness to form the third largest drinks business in the world in 1986. The bottling plant at Stepps was closed with the loss of 340 jobs in 1987. The James Buchanan & Co head office at St James’s Square in London was also closed, and administrative operations were centralised at Hammersmith.

South America accounted for nearly one third of Black & White sales by 1996.

Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form Diageo.

Buchanan’s is the third highest-selling premium Scotch whisky in the world. Its key markets include the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

Black & White was the sixth highest-selling Scotch whisky in the world in 2021.

Notes on the Carlsberg UK merger with Marston’s

Some initial thoughts on the merger of the businesses of Carlsberg UK and the Marston’s Beer Company.

On 22 May 2020 it was announced that Carlsberg UK will merge with the brewing arm of Marston’s. Carlsberg will control 60 percent of the equity in the venture and Marston’s will hold the remainder.

The Twittersphere seems to believe that this is a “classic case” of “Big Beer” exercising control over the British brewing industry. Perhaps it is, but I would characterise it as more of an act of desperation on the part of Carlsberg. Not only will Marston’s continue to hold a large minority stake in the business, but they will receive a one off cash payment of £273 million.

As things stood, Carlsberg UK was undoubtedly in a position of weakness. Despite a major rebrand and overhaul of its recipe, Carlsberg lager remains stuck at third place in the standard lager market, behind Carling and Foster’s. Their only powerful brand in the premium lager market is San Miguel, which admittedly has enjoyed somewhat of a surge in popularity in recent years.

Other than the licence to brew Brooklyn Brewery products, Carlsberg’s most noticeable commitment to craft beer consisted of closing down their Leeds site, the largest cask ale brewery in the world, in 2008. The tie-up with Marston’s effectively reverses this decision, buying into a business that operates six breweries, largely producing cask ale.

Furthermore, the Marston’s tie-up represents a reversal of strategy for Carlsberg. They closed their own distribution network in 2016. Now, four years later, having access to the Marston’s distribution network is an appeal for them.

I honestly wish the venture success. I believe that both businesses are stronger together. Carlsberg has neglected its Tetley cask ale brand, which was the largest in the world as late as the mid-1990s, whereas Marston’s has nurtured and heavily invested in its own. Meanwhile Marston’s lacks strong lager brands, which Carlsberg provides.

Wheeler & Co

Wheeler & Co became one of the largest soft drinks producers in Belfast.

Walter James Wheeler (1830 – 1890) and Dr Henry Whitaker (1833 – 1912) acquired a chemist’s business at 38 Apothecaries Hall, opposite Bridge Street, Belfast, in 1858. Whitaker had previously served as an apprentice pharmacist with Grattan & Co.

Wheeler & Whitaker acquired the lease to a factory on Murphy Street, Belfast, which had access to the Cromac springs, in 1864.

Wheeler & Whitaker was the first Belfast soft drink manufacturer to utilise the Cromac springs, and it was to prove well-suited for the production of carbonated drinks due to its purity and mineral content.

Wheeler & Whitaker was ranked as one of the “Big Five” producers of soft drinks in Belfast by 1871. An extensive export trade had been developed by 1877.

Wheeler & Whitaker was subject to a break-up in 1882. Dr Whitaker took control of the chemists’s business, and Wheeler took control of the soft drinks business.

W J Wheeler died in 1890 and left an estate of £16,932. He was remembered as a kindly man.

Frederick Wheeler (1862 – 1939) succeeded his father as managing director of Wheeler & Co. A driven and determined man, the business expanded substantially under his direction.

Wheeler converted the firm into a private limited company, with capital of £20,000. He led a focus on the export trade.

The First World War was to have a negative impact upon Belfast soft drink producers. Businesses struggled to import ingredients, and to export produce.

The Republic of Ireland gained independence in 1919, and erected tariffs against imported British goods.

Norman Walter Frederick Wheeler (born 1892), son of Frederick Wheeler, placed the business into voluntary liquidation in 1923.

Wheeler & Co was acquired by George A Davison. He was declared bankrupt in 1927.

Wheeler & Co was still in business as late as 1942.

Milking the profits: a history of Mackeson Stout

Mackeson became the first brewery to introduce milk stout.

The Hythe Brewery and the Mackeson family
James Pashley (1596 – 1670) was a brewer in Hythe, Kent. He had established the Hythe Brewery on Hythe High Street by 1669.

Overseas version of Mackeson Stout

The Hythe Brewery was acquired by two brothers, Henry Mackeson (1772 – 1860) and William Mackeson (1774 – 1821) from John Friend in 1801. The Mackeson family originated from Deal in Kent. Henry Mackeson had served an apprenticeship to Benjamin Bell (1749 – 1806), the first Scottish surgeon.

William Mackeson died in 1821 and the business was continued by Henry Mackeson.

Nine men were employed at the Hythe Brewery in 1851.

Henry Mackeson died in 1860, and his son, Henry Bean Mackeson (1813 – 1894) took control of the Hythe Brewery.

Henry Bean Mackeson was a courteous, and well-respected man. He employed 37 men in 1871, and 36 men in 1881. He served as Mayor of Hythe for nine consecutive years.

Henry Mackeson takes control of the business, and milk stout is introduced
Henry Mackeson (1861 – 1935), studied chemistry at Edinburgh and London. He became the head of the business following the death of his father in 1894.

Mackeson was persistent and hard working, and developed the business. He invested in new buildings and machinery, and updated the range of beers provided in order to meet changing customer preference. He was reckoned as one of the finest judges of barley in Britian.

Henry Mackeson was joined in partnership by his brother, George Lawrie Mackeson (1864 – 1950).

Mackeson & Co was incorporated with a share capital of £120,000 in 1900.

Mackeson & Co acquired various patents relating to using lactose, or milk sugar, in brewing from 1908. Stout was already recommended as a source of energy during convalescence, and Mackeson believed that the addition of lactose would further increase its nutritional value. Mackeson Milk Stout, the first milk stout in the world, was introduced in 1909. 9 lbs (4.1 kg) of lactose were used in each 36 gallon barrel. The product was an immediate success.

Henry and George Lawrie Mackeson sold their shareholdings to H & G Simonds, a large brewery based in Reading, for £285,000 in 1920. The two brothers took the opportunity to enter into retirement.

Mackeson became a well-established brand throughout Kent. The brewery employed 120 people by 1929.

Mackeson is acquired by Whitbread
Whitbread, a large London brewer, acquired Mackeson & Co for a generous price in 1929.

Whitbread considered the discontinuation of Mackeson Milk Stout, as sales were small and locally based. However following a successful trial in Sheffield the product was afforded nationwide distribution from 1936. The J Walter Thompson advertising agency was engaged to market the brand towards women, who it was reasoned would appreciate its smooth palate and sweet taste. Over 50,000 barrels were sold in 1939, accounting for nearly ten percent of Whitbread production.

The name of the product was changed to “Mackeson Stout” from around 1942 onwards. The Ministry of Food had placed pressure on Whitbread to removed milk from the name as it was erroneous.

Sales gained momentum following the Second World War. Mackeson benefited from an increasing demand for bottled beers, which, although more expensive, provided consistent flavour and quality. 103,000 barrels of Mackeson were produced in 1948.

Lactose accounted for eight percent of the Mackeson Stout grist in 1954.

Whitbread bottled beers were available in over half the licensed houses in Britain by 1955. Demand was such that Whitbread had to subcontract around 20 percent of its bottling to other companies.

Whitbread dedicated £510,000, some 60 percent of its advertising budget, to marketing Mackeson Stout in 1957. The beer accounted for almost half of revenue at Whitbread by 1960. Sales had effectively quadrupled during the 1950s, and 425,000 barrels of Mackeson Stout were sold in 1961.

Mackeson Stout held around a quarter of the stout market in Britain by 1963. Whitbread trialled a draught version of the beer at this time.

A reciprocal agreement was signed with Bass in 1965, who agreed to stock Mackeson Stout across its estate of 4,100 public houses in exchange for Whitbread selling Bass beers throughout their estate.

Mackeson Stout had an ABV of over four percent in 1968, and sold for a premium price.

The Hythe brewery was closed in 1968. Mackeson Stout production was relocated to Whitbread’s Exchange Brewery in Sheffield.

Mackeson Stout had been introduced in cans by 1971.

Sales were developed overseas. Mackeson Stout was sold in South Africa between 1967 and 1972. The beer was brewed under licence in Jamaica and Trinidad from 1973. It was produced in Singapore from 1978 and in Nigeria from 1979.

Sales of Mackeson had entered into decline by the late 1970s, as lager grew in popularity among female drinkers.

The Exchange Brewery was closed in 1993, and Whitbread relocated production to their Castle Eden, Co Durham and Samlesbury, Lancashire plants.

Mackeson saw its ABV reduced from 4.3 percent in 1988 to 3 percent by 1995.

Mackeson XXX Stout was imported into the United States by the Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio from the early 1990s. Hudepohl-Schoenling were awarded the rights to brew Mackeson XXX Stout under licence from around 2000.

The former Mackeson malthouse in Hythe (2007)

Whitbread sold its brewing operations to Interbrew of Belgium for £400 million in 2000. Interbrew merged with AmBev to form Inbev in 2004.

Mackeson Stout has been produced under contract by a number of brewers since 1999, including Young’s of Wandsworth, Ridley’s of Chelmsford, Cameron’s of Hartlepool, Hydes of Manchester and Brains of Cardiff.

The ABV of Mackeson was reduced to 2.8 percent in order to qualify for duty relief in 2012.

According to information kindly provided by InBev, Mackeson Stout contained 600g of lactose per hectolitre of final product as of 2020.

* British Newspaper Archive
* The Times Historical Archive
* The Story of Whitbread PLC 1742-1990 by Nicholas Barritt Redman
* Census, birth and death records
* Martyn Cornell
* Ron Pattinson

Beer we go again: E Smithwick & Sons

How did Smithwick’s rise from relative obscurity to become the largest ale brewer in Ireland?

Origins and the Edmond Smithwick era
The Smithwicks were a well-established and highly-respected Catholic family in Kilkenny, Ireland.

John Smithwick (1763 – 1842) entered into business as a wholesale and general grocer with premises on Kilkenny High Street. From modest beginnings Smithwick grew wealthy, and he leased a distillery at St Francis Abbey, Kilkenny, on behalf of his eldest son, Edmond Smithwick (1801 – 1876), from 1827.

St Francis Abbey is a ruinous former Franciscan abbey built in the early 13th century.

The brewery was built around the historic St Francis Abbey, as seen in this 2007 photograph

An adjoining brewery was acquired on lease from 1833. Ireland had relatively few breweries, numbered at just 207 in 1831, against 5,419 in England. Kilkenny was to prove an advantageous location for the production of beer, given that it was situated in one of the most best barley growing regions in Ireland. The brewery soon overtook the distillery to become the predominant business.

Edmond Smithwick hosted Daniel O’Connell (1775 – 1847), the Catholic emancipation campaigner, in 1840. Amongst this fervour of nationalistic mood, there was a revival of a campaign for Irish consumers to purchase Irish-made goods. Smithwick himself argued that if the middle classes supported Irish industry, lower taxes would ensue, as there would be fewer unemployed to support.*

Highly-regarded by the community, Edmond Smithwick was elected Mayor of Kilkenny in 1844.

Edmond Smithwick greatly extended and modernised the brewery in 1851. He also hired a highly experienced brewer.

Edmond Smithwick funded an all-expenses paid trip for over 100 employees to the Great Exhibition of Dublin in 1853.

His brother, Daniel Smithwick (died 1869), established a bottling works.

Edmond Smithwick had commenced exports to British Empire markets by 1855.

The business traded as E Smithwick & Sons by 1861.

Edmond Smithwick was re-elected Mayor of Kilkenny in 1864 and 1865.

Edmond Smithwick had spent thousands of pounds on improvements to his site by 1867. It was one of the foremost industrial concerns in the south of Ireland. The brewery employed hundreds of people. Smithwick had a reputation as a fair employer who paid a good wage.

Edmond Smithwick acquired the precinct of St Francis’s Abbey for £3,100 in 1867.

Edmond’s sons take over the business
Edmond Smithwick died in 1877, and the business was continued by his three sons, John William Smithwick (1835 – 1894), Edmond Smithwick (1839 – 1912) and Daniel Smithwick (1840 – 1883).

The business was incorporated as E Smithwick & Sons in 1890.

The brewery employed around 400 people in 1900.

The market consolidates
The success of the company in the beginning of the twentieth century was credited to its chairman, Michael Buggy (1855 – 1935), a solicitor.

E Smithwick & Sons was one of only 25 breweries remaining in Ireland by 1917, and one of only 15 to brew stout, porter and ale.

James Sullivan & Co, a rival Kilkenny brewery with a production capacity of 20,000 barrels a year, entered into receivership in 1917, and the assets were acquired by E Smithwick & Sons in 1919. The purchase left E Smithwick & Sons as the sole surviving brewery in Kilkenny.

Strong growth under W A Smithwick
Walter Aloysius Smithwick (1908 – 1993), the grandson of John William Smithwick, became a company director from 1931. He was responsible for introducing a large sales team to the business, which was to prove highly successful in increasing revenue. Smithwick’s products had national distribution by 1935. Over 400 licensed establishments in Dublin were supplied by 1937.

Walter Aloysius Smithwick (1908 – 1993)

E Smithwick & Sons was the oldest and most important industrial concern in Kilkenny by 1937, and employed over 140 people in the city.

E Smithwick & Sons won first prize for best bottle conditioned beer in a British Commonwealth competition in 1937.** Shortly afterwards, the beer was rebranded as Smithwick’s No.1.

The Second World War hampered production, with output reduced to just 6,000 barrels in 1942.

Walter Smithwick became chairman and managing director from 1947. He determined to make Smithwick’s the leading ale brand in Ireland. Sales grew quickly under his dynamic leadership, and improved distribution saw annual production reach 50,000 barrels by 1952.

The Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk was purchased for £37,500 in order to supplement brewing capacity in 1954. The news was greeted positively, as it presented an opportunity for W A Smithwick to introduce his superior management skills to the acquired business.

Smithwick’s Brewery was registered as a public company with a capital of £500,000 in 1956. That year Guinness, the large Dublin-based brewery, took a stake in the business.

The Dundalk purchase was to prove problematic. Public taste increasingly favoured keg beer, and Smithwick’s lacked sufficient capital to convert the Dundalk brewery for this purpose. The Dundalk brewery was sold to Guinness, who invested to convert the plant towards the production of Harp lager.

E Smithwick & Sons held over 60 percent of the Irish ale market by 1960, a total of around 60,000 barrels a year. The four products were Smithwick’s No.1, a deep gold ale, Smithwick’s Export Ale, Smithwick’s SS Ale, and Smithwick’s Barley Wine.

Time, a pasteurised beer, was introduced from 1960.

Vintage bottles of Smithwick’s Barley Wine

Smithwick’s Barley Wine won the Olympic Gold Medal at the World Beer Olympics in 1963.

Takeover by Guinness and investment
Guinness acquired a 60 percent interest in Smithwick’s for £750,000 in 1964. The remainder of the business was acquired the following year for £490,000.

Smithwick’s had been slow to anticipate the increased demand for draught beer. It introduced a lager brand, which failed, in part because it lacked the marketing power of Guinness and rival English brewers. Smithwick’s was also struggling with the capital demands of investing in draught beer.

Walter Smithwick did not regret his decision to sell the brewery. He knew the business needed large amounts of capital if it was to remain competitive, and to fail to take the business public would have seen it struggle to survive. Smithwick understood that a workforce of 250 were dependant on the brewery for their livelihood.

A new brewhouse was established in June 1965. The first keg beer from Smithwick’s was introduced that year. Brewed to be darker and sweeter, it probably drew influence from Watney’s Red Barrel, which was popular in Ireland at the time.

Some Smithwick’s bottling had been transferred to Dundalk by 1968.

The Smithwick’s brewery was expanded in 1969.

Walter Smithwick retired in 1973.

Hop varieties in use in the early 1970s included Irish-grown Fuggles, Goldings and Bullion. Hop pellets were in use by 1985.

Budweiser was produced under licence at the Kilkenny brewery from 1987. A £1 million investment was made to enable lager production at the brewery.

Growth as an export brand
Kilkenny Irish Beer (c.5% ABV) was introduced, originally as an export-only product, in 1987. The Kilkenny name was chosen as opposed to Smithwick’s as it was easier for non-native English speakers to pronounce. The initial market was Germany.

Draught Smithwick’s for the Northern Ireland market was brewed at Dundalk by 1988. Smithwicks Ale bottling was transferred to Dundalk as part of a rationalisation drive from 1989.

Export sales of Smithwick’s and Kilkenny increased by over one third in 1994, with a large market in Canada.

Domestic sales of Smithwick’s declined every year from the mid-1980s, and ale, excluding stout, comprised just ten percent of the Irish beer market by 1995.

A reduced-strength (4.3% ABV) version of Kilkenny Irish Beer was introduced to the Irish market in 1995. A Guinness executive explained that it was a different beer from Smithwick’s. It was a premium-priced product, and was intended to revitalise the declining ale category, and prevent the newly-launched Caffrey’s, a rival Irish ale from Bass, from taking market share.

Dundalk brewed all bottled and canned Smithwick’s, including the Barley Wine, by 1995.

Production of Smithwick’s beer for the domestic market had been transferred to the Guinness-owned Cherry’s Brewery in Waterford by 1997.

43,000 hectolitres (75 million pints) of Kilkenny Irish Beer had been sold across 53 different countries in 1999. The beer was sold in 1,860 domestic Irish pubs.

The Kilkenny Brewery employed 150 people in 2000. It was an efficient site, but was suffering from capacity constraints.

Smithwick’s Barley Wine was discontinued in 2001.

The front of the St Francis Abbey brewery, Kilkenny (2012)

The Kilkenny and Dunalk breweries were closed in 2013, with production relocated to St James’s Gate, Dublin, the home of Guinness.

Smithwick’s remains a leading ale brand in Ireland, with estimated sales of around 58,000 barrels in 2020, according to data from Euromonitor.

* It remains unclear exactly which Mr Smithwick was speaking at this Kilkenny meeting, but Edmond Smithwick (1801 – 1877) is the most likely.
** The Brewing Trade Review Bottled Beer Exhibition was the awarding body

Water way to go: Apollinaris

How did Apollinaris became the highest-selling mineral water in the world?

Establishment of the company and growth
George Murray Smith (1824 – 1901) was the head of a successful London publishing business. He first encountered Apollinaris spring water whilst dining with Ernest Hart (1835 – 1898), the editor of the British Medical Journal, in 1872. Smith appreciated its taste, and determined to acquire the spring.

George Murray Smith (1824 – 1901) in 1901

The Apollinaris spring is situated in the German Rhineland. It is an alkaline and highly-aerated water, and contains sodium chloride and calcium, sodium and magnesium carbonates. The Apollinaris spring was first commercially exploited, in a modest way, from 1852.

Smith partnered with Edward Steinkopff (1838 – 1906), a Frankfurt-born merchant, to establish a British company with the worldwide distribution rights to Apollinaris water in 1873. The Apollinaris Company had its head office at 19 Regent Street, London. Steinkopff became company chairman and Julius Charles Prince (1851 – 1914) was appointed as managing director.

Murray Smith was a skilled businessman, and he organised faster, more efficient and safer distribution of Apollinaris from Germany. Meanwhile, Steinkopff was praised for his high energy, and his bold and prudent business decisions.

Company growth was to prove swift; just under 1.8 million bottles were sold in 1874, the figure had risen to over ten million bottles in 1881.

Apollinaris water soon established a prestigious reputation. Queen Victoria used Apollinaris as a mixer for Scotch whisky or claret. Over 19.5 million bottles were sold in 1895.

Foundation of a public company
Apollinaris acquired Johannis, a rival German mineral water producer, for around £400,000 in 1897.

Apollinaris & Johannis was formed as a public company with a capital of £2,380,000 from 1897. Steinkopff and Smith divested their shares, largely to Frederick Gordon (1835 – 1904), the pioneer of the first modern hotel in London. Gordon became president of the company.

Frederick Gordon (1835 – 1904)

Gordon merged Apollinaris & Johannis with A & F Pears, a struggling soap manufacturer, in 1898. The contemporary press expressed scepticism regarding the merger, although Gordon insisted that cost-efficiencies in distribution and sales between the two companies could be made.

Apollinaris & Johannis held Royal Warrants to supply the King and the Prince of Wales by 1902.

Frederick Gordon died in 1904.

Over 30 million bottles of Apollinaris were sold in the 1905-1906 financial year.

Steinkopff died with an estate valued at £1.3 million in 1906. He dedicated £1 million to charity and the remainder to his daughter.

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Apollinaris was a popular culture staple, especially among the middle and upper classes. It was referenced by many leading novelists of the era, including Henry James, Edith Wharton and James Joyce.

A & F Pears was sold to Lever Brothers in 1914.

War time troubles
Only Perrier could rival Apollinaris as the best-known sparkling mineral water in Britain by 1914.

Apollinaris & Johannis had a capital of over £3 million by 1915. The company employed about 100 clerical staff and 60 to 80 warehouse workers.

Post-war economic chaos in Europe severely hampered company operations, and exports faced the challenge of increasing import tariffs across the world.

Apollinaris & Johannis was forced to diversify, and a range of British-produced soft drinks had been introduced under the Presta brand by 1930. The company name was changed to Apollinaris & Presta from 1931.

Apollinaris was rendered increasingly expensive as the value of the German currency grew throughout the 1930s.

The German government had introduced a moratorium by 1936 which prevented Apollinaris & Presta from withdrawing funds from the Nazi-controlled country. Exports from Germany had become highly restricted by 1939.

Apollinaris & Presta was appointed sole distributor of Perrier water in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 1938-9.

The Apollinaris spring was expropriated by Heinrich Himmler’s SS in 1943.

British rationing controls restricted the company from producing Presta soft drinks between 1943 and 1948.

Company control of the Apollinaris spring and bottle works were regained in 1947-48. The site had been starved of investment during the war years.

Apollinaris & Presta entered into financial difficulty, and lost its stock market quotation in 1955. The spring and bottling works were acquired by Dortmunder Union, a German brewery. Schweppes acquired Presta and the distribution rights for Apollinaris across the British Commonwealth and the Americas.

Apollinaris was the highest-selling mineral water in Europe by 1978.

Schweppes acquired a 28 percent stake in Apollinaris in 1991. Schweppes acquired the 72 percent of Apollinaris that it did not already own from Brau & Brunnen, the successor to Dortmunder Union, for €151 million in 2002.

Apollinaris was acquired by Coca-Cola for an undisclosed sum in 2006. It was the second highest-selling mineral water in its native market. Presta is also still sold in Germany.

Coca-Cola ended retail sales of Apollinaris in Germany in 2021. The drink continues to be sold in hotels, restaurants and bars.

Raising the Barr: a history of Irn-Bru

How did Irn-Bru become the third highest-selling soft drink in Britain?

Robert Barr establishes the business
Robert Barr (1834 -1904) was born in Falkirk, Scotland, a sizeable town roughly located between Glasgow and Edinburgh. He initially followed his father into the cork-cutting trade.

The cork-cutting trade came under threat with the rise of the screw-stopper, so Robert Barr established a soft drinks business in Falkirk from 1873. Barr had likely been exposed to the soft drinks trade through his cork-cutting business, and probably noted its high growth potential.

The soft drinks enterprise employed five men, three girls and two boys by 1881.

Robert Barr was a Liberal in politics, a keen sportsman, and a generous benefactor to charitable causes.

A G Barr enters the business
Andrew Greig Barr (1872 – 1903), son of Robert Barr, managed the Falkirk business from 1890. He had originally served an apprenticeship as a banker, a profession for which he demonstrated great potential.

A sister factory was established at 184 Great Eastern Road, Glasgow, and Andrew Greig Barr managed it from around 1892. He would develop it into the largest carbonated soft drinks factory in Scotland.

Robert Barr had passed full control of the soft drinks business to Andrew Greig Barr by 1899.

Iron Brew was introduced in 1901. It was based on an American soft drink of the same name, first produced in the late nineteenth century. The Barr recipe contains 32 flavouring ingredients, mostly originating from India, including “fruit essences”, including citrus, quinine and curry powder. Vanilla likely comprises one of the flavours.

The Falkirk and Glasgow works employed at least 500 workers by 1903.

Andrew Greig Barr contracted typhoid fever and died from acute pneumonia in 1903. He left a personal estate valued at £18,409.

The largest soft drinks manufacturer in Scotland
Upon the death of their brother, Robert Fulton Barr (1868 – 1918) and William Snodgrass Barr (born 1881) became joint-managing directors of A G Barr & Co.

Robert Barr died of heart failure in 1904.

A workforce of around 1,000 were employed by 1913.

The Parkhead site was significantly expanded in 1914, to create one of the largest soft drinks factories in Britain.

A G Barr & Co was the largest soft drinks manufacturer in Scotland by 1918.

Robert Fulton Barr died in 1918, and the business was continued by William Snodgrass Barr.

W S Barr passed the chairmanship of the company to his nephew, Colonel Robert Barr (1896 – 1949), from 1931.

The Parkhead site in Glasgow employed around 100 people by 1931, and was the largest soft drinks factory in Britain.

A small amount of iron was present in Iron Brew from 1937 onwards.

Government rationing regulations saw Iron Brew withdrawn from sale between 1942 and 1948. A G Barr continued to advertise Iron Brew during this period. When Iron Brew was reintroduced to the British market it was renamed Irn-Bru in order to differentiate the drink from competing products.

Robert Barr (born 1907) became chairman from 1947.

A G Barr becomes a public company
A G Barr & Co was registered as a public company in 1965.

A G Barr overtook Tizer of Manchester to become the fourth largest soft drink manufacturer in Britain in the late 1960s. Irn-Bru dominated the Scottish soft drink market, and was introduced to England from 1970.

Tizer was acquired for £2.5 million in 1972. A G Barr wanted access to the company’s distribution network in England to promote sales of Irn-Bru. Tizer had been struggling with falling sales for a number of reasons: drinks were not sold in cans, there was no advertising budget, there were no sales to the supermarkets and the flavour essences used had been subjected to cost-cutting.

The Tizer purchase transformed A G Barr into the largest specialist soft drinks manufacturer in Britain.

A G Barr reformulated Tizer to recapture how it tasted the 1930s.

Robin Barr (born 1938) became chairman from 1978. He developed sales of Irn-Bru in the English market.

Mandora, the soft drinks subsidiary of the Mansfield Brewery, was acquired for £21.5 million in cash in 1988. Mandora employed a workforce of 400 at its factory on Bellamy Road, Mansfield. The deal transformed A G Barr into the third largest soft drinks manufacturer in Britain. A G Barr invested £300,000 to upgrade the warehousing facilities at the Mansfield site in 1988.

The Mansfield site was closed in 2011, and production was relocated to Scotland.

Only Robin Barr and two other unnamed individuals know the 32 secret ingredients for Irn-Bru. Robin Barr personally mixes the 32 ingredients himself.

Gin blossoms: a history of Tanqueray

How did Tanqueray become one of the highest selling gin brands in the world?

Charles Tanqueray
Charles Tanqueray (1810 – 1865) was one of ten sons born to the Reverend Edward Tanqueray (1762 – 1847), who served as the rector of Tingrith in Bedfordshire. The Tanqueray family were descended from Huguenot refugees from France, and had been associated with Tingrith since around 1710.

Charles Tanqueray was apprenticed as ginmaker to Currie & Co of Bromley by Bow, one of the largest distilleries in London, alongside his elder brother Edward Tanqueray (1805 – 1838).

The two Tanqueray brothers partnered with Arthur Currie (1804 – 1875) to acquire the Bloomsbury Distillery, an established gin manufacturer at 3 Vine Street, Bloomsbury, in 1835. The building has not survived, but the street still exists, and has been renamed Grape Street.

Charles Tanqueray was an ambitious man, and he wanted to create a gin to rival, or even better, those of Felix Booth (1775 – 1850) and Alexander Gordon. He experimented ceaselessly through trial and error to perfect his recipe, and finally settled on just four botanicals: juniper, angelica root, liquorice and coriander seeds, the same four used by Tanqueray today.

Edward Tanqueray died in 1838, and Charles was assisted by his brother John Samuel Tanqueray (1817 – 1902) in the 1840s and 1850s. Arthur Currie left the partnership in 1847.

Charles Waugh Tanqueray
Charles Tanqueray died in 1865 and his brother William Henry Tanqueray (1814 – 1887) took over management of the business.

Charles Waugh Tanqueray (1848 – 1931), the son of Charles Tanqueray, took over management following the completion of his apprenticeship to a grocer in 1867. Charles W Tanqueray was perhaps more commercially-minded than his father, and under his leadership sales grew and exports increased. A keen sportsman, he was an upright Christian gentleman with a keen social conscience and a determined character.

Most Tanqueray gin was sold at a strength of 40.19 percent ABV in 1877. Some gin was also sold at 35.19 percent ABV.

Tanqueray Gordon and acquisition by Distillers
Charles W Tanqueray approached Reginald Charles Wilford Currie (1854 – 1922), the proprietor of Gordon & Co, gin distillers of Goswell Road, London, regarding a merger of their two companies in 1897. The two businesses merged to form Tanqueray, Gordon & Co, a company with a capital of £500,000, in 1898. R C W Currie became the managing director, and Charles Waugh Tanqueray took the opportunity to retire. Following the merger all production was centralised at the Goswell Road distillery and Gordon’s London Dry Gin became the priority brand.

Largely due to the growth of the temperance movement and a substantial rise in excise duty, alcohol consumption in Britain declined in the period following the First World War. Perhaps as a way to make up for declining sales at home, Tanqueray was first exported to the United States from around 1918.

Tanqueray Gordon was acquired by the Distillers Company, which was heavily involved in consolidating the spirits industry, in 1922.

R C W Currie, managing director of Tanqueray Gordon, died in 1922.

Tanqueray Gordon was by far the largest gin distiller in the world by 1926.

Charles W Tanqueray outlived his only son Charles Henry Drought Tanqueray (1875 – 1928), and died in 1931.

The Goswell Road site was nearly by German bombing during the Second World War.

The distinctive Tanqueray green bottle, with a shape based on a cocktail shaker, was introduced from 1948.

The growth of Tanqueray overseas
The success of imported Beefeater gin in the United States demonstrated that there was a market for premium gin, and Tanqueray began to be promoted in earnest in America from the mid-1950s. Tanqueray was to prove popular with affluent Southern Californians. The smooth character of English gin mixed well with a Martini cocktail.

A 1969 advertisement in Newsweek

100,000 cases of Tanqueray were sold in the United States in 1961. Sales doubled in 1964.

John P Tanqueray (1934 -2012), the great-grandson of Charles Tanqueray, was appointed export manager for Tanqueray from 1964. He credited the success of Tanqueray in the United States to snob appeal, explaining, “our product appeals to status seekers and consumers who want an outstanding gin”.

Tanqueray became one of the leading spirit brands in the world. 600,000 cases of Tanqueray were exported to the United States in 1975, where it was the highest proof gin, and generally the most expensive.

United States sales reached one million cases in 1979, second only to Beefeater in imported gin.

A new distillery and recent developments
The Goswell Road site struggled to keep up with increasing demand, and production was transferred to a purpose-built 26 acre distillery in Laindon, Essex from 1984.

Charles Tanqueray & Co won a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1985. Tanqueray was the highest-selling imported gin in the United States.

Guinness acquired Distillers in 1986.

John P Tanqueray retired as commercial director of Tanqueray Gordon in 1989.

Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form Diageo. The combination of two spirits giants left the company with an excess of productive capacity. As a result, the Laindon distillery was closed with the loss of 220 jobs in 2000, and all production was relocated to Cameronbridge in Scotland.

Tanqueray held over 50 percent of the United States gin market in 2002.

Global sales of Tanqueray grew by 15 percent in 2018.