The Way We Were: Hop back in time to Ireland’s original craft beer hipsters

IPA is not a new thing – in the mid-19th century, it was popular among the beard-strokers

April 16th, 1859

Walk into any decent off-licence in Ireland today and the beer section feels very different to one just five years ago. The abundance of craft beer is remarkable. There are now about 75 microbreweries operating in Ireland, compared to 15 in 2012. And the queen of craft beer is the IPA, India Pale Ale, a drink that has gone from one beloved of nerds to the butt of hipster jokes to the mainstream.

It’s hard to keep up with the variety of IPAs, from session IPAs (the “session” refers to a drinking period allowed during the workday back when that was acceptable, and thus their lower alcohol content), to fruity IPAs using citrus and stone fruit flavours, to cloudy or “murky” IPAs, to the countless brands and variations. IPA is the epitome of contemporary beer drinking. But this is not a modern phenomenon. The IPA fans of 21st-century Ireland are doing nothing new, as an examination of newspaper ads run by beer merchants in the 1850s and 1860s shows.

On April 16th, 1859, an ad for East India Pale Ale ran in The Irish Times. "Bass and Co's East India Pale Ale, in fine order," the ad ran, before listing prices of large bottles (4s 10d per dozen), the price of a kilderkin (33s), and the price for five, eight or 10-gallon casks (2s per gallon). People were drinking IPA in Ireland in the 1850s? Yes, and plenty of it.



A side note on that “kilderkin” measurement. Kilderkin refers to an 18-gallon beer or ale cask. The word kilderkin comes from the Dutch for “small cask”, and was the equivalent of two “firkins”, another Dutch word for “fourth”, as in a quarter of a beer barrel. So a kilderkin is half a barrel, a firkin is half a kilderkin, and a pin is half a firkin. Got it?

With colourful cans and cult brands, you'd be forgiven for thinking that IPA is a new thing. But India Pale Ale's name is derived from its original export destination. In the late 18th century Bow Brewery, near the East India Docks in London, began exporting a hoppy beer to India, where it benefited from the long boat journey, which improved its taste. Its success led to bigger brewers, including Bass, developing IPAs for the British (and, of course, Irish) market. That's where we pick up with the Irish Times ads informing 1850s beer nerds about what cool IPAs they should be drinking.

That original ad was run by Findlater, operating from 30 Upper Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street), and with the IPA available from 67 South Great George’s Street (now the restaurant Brasserie Sixty6), North King Street and 82 Lower George’s Street, Kingstown (now Penneys in Dún Laoghaire.) Alex Findlater began trading in Dublin in 1823, initially on Burgh Quay.

Selling point

Another ad followed on December 1st, 1859: “Alexander Findlater and Co beg to intimate to their customers and the public that they are now in a position to supply the new season’s brewing of the above celebrated ale, in first-rate sparkling condition, in large and small bottles.” Like craft beer today, seasonal IPAs were a big selling point. On November 10th, 1864, Thomas Murphy recommended its IPA to customers, “considered by many fully equal in condition and flavour to any English or Scotch ale”, as endorsed by Prof Macadam of Edinburgh, who, through analysis, said the drink was “similar to those in common use by first-class brewers of Pale East India Ale.”

So before you think your taste in IPA is novel, remember there were people stroking their beards in bars here 160 years ago thinking the exact same thing.