Historical breweries

Posted on: 3rd April, 2018

Category: The Wine Buff

Contributor: Tony Eklof

Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.

These days it is all about craft beers with an amazing number of small breweries opening up all over Ireland including here in Clonakilty. It is great to see, although I also have a soft spot for the history of some of the oldest surviving breweries around the world.

My favourite beer from America is Moosehead, Canada’s oldest brewery, established in New Brunswick in 1867. I like the fact that in this age of beer giants gobbling up smaller breweries (including some of the craft brands) Moosehead has remained proudly independent.

Carlsberg has been brewed in Copenhagen since 1847. When I was a college student I visited the brewery with its famous Elephant Gateway, which features four large granite elephants. Tourists entering the gateway always do a double-take when they notice the elephants are all embellished with large swastikas! One is reassured when they learn that the symbols predate the Nazi era by some thirty years and were meant as a good luck emblem. Carlsberg brewed in Copenhagen is a classic pils, and is considerably stronger than the ‘brewed under licence’ variation on the market here in Ireland. Incidentally Carlsberg also do a fine strong malty beer called appropriately Elephant Beer, but to my knowledge it is not available in local markets.

Recently I tried a Bavarian beer, new to Dunnes Stores, called  Schlappe-Seppel. It is a Dunkel or dark beer with a fascinating history. It is named after a foot soldier of the great warrior king of Sweden, Gustav Adolphus, who took control of the Bavarian city of Aschaffenburg during the Thirty Years War. The conquering Swedish army was horrified to find there was no beer available in the city, but one of their soldiers saved the day as he (‘little Joseph’ or ‘Seppel’) was proficient in the skill of brewing beer, and hence the brand was born. When the Swedish army left, Sepp wisely stayed behind and continued to brew his beer. Fascinating now to buy a bottle of German beer, which has a label portraying a conquering Swedish king, ‘the Lion of the North’ on each bottle.

Here in Ireland, the Smithwick’s Brewery in Kilkenny has the honour of being the oldest in the country, brewing their iconic ale since 1710.

The oldest brewery in the world? This seems to be the Weihenstephan Brewery in Germany which amazingly has been brewing its beer since 1040. Could be tricky asking the bartender for a Weihenstephaner if you have already had a couple!

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