Brewing and distilling have long been important in Cork. The main ingredients, barley and water, are in plentiful supply while hops (for beer) are imported. Significant malting operations developed to supply malted barley for both brewing and distilling industries. Produced on a small scale for centuries, beer and whiskey increasingly came from larger companies from the late 18th century.
In the 1770s there were fifteen breweries in Cork, but by the mid-19th century the industry was dominated by five companies. Beamish & Crawford’s Cork Porter Brewery took over an existing brewery (Allen’s) in 1792 and soon developed their site on South Main Street. Just across the street was an older distillery, Lane’s South Gate Brewery which was founded in 1758 and produced both stout and bitter ale. It was taken over by Beamish & Crawford in 1901-1902. Not far away was another brewery established in 1805 by Samuel Abbott on Fitton Street (now Sharman Crawford Street) and transferred to Sir John Arnott in 1861. Known as St. Finn-barre’s Brewery, the business thrived until the 1890s. It was taken over by Murphy’s in 1901 and the brewery itself was closed down. Close by was Crosse’s Green Brewery, run by Cashman in the early 19th century. One of the last breweries to be founded in Cork was Murphy’s Lady’s Well Brewery which opened in Blackpool in 1856. Today Beamish & Crawford and Murphy’s are still in operation.
Most of these breweries concentrated on the production of porter which was a type of beer that became popular from the 18th century. The dark coloured beer was favoured by the market porters in London, hence its name. Porter could be made in bulk and improved when left to mature. Commercial breweries improved the quality of porter being produced in Cork from the early 19th century and it became very popular. Later that century, breweries began to produce stout, a stronger beer which soon achieved an important place in the market.
Whiskey production was another significant industry in Cork from the late 18th century. Rum and brandy were gradually displaced by whiskey as production of the latter increased. Often using English and Scottish distilling expertise, several distilleries were established in the city from the 1780s and there were seven in operation in 1807. Most were on the north side of the city including those at Millfield, Dodge’s Glen, the Green Distillery, the Watercourse Distillery and Daly’s John Street Distillery. North Mall distillery, beside the north channel of the River Lee was associated with the Wise family, while St. Dominick’s Distillery was set up by Thomas Walker at Crosse’s Green on the south side. In the 1820s distilleries were established in the county at Riverstown (John Lyons & Company), Bandon (Allman’s) and two in Midleton (Hackett’s and Murphy’s).
The industry was under pressure from the mid-19th century from a combination of the 1830s temperance movement, population decline from the 1840s (as a result of the Great Famine 1845-1850) and a move away from spirits and towards beer. The result was that by the 1860s, Millfield, St. Dominick’s and Dodge’s Glen distilleries in the city had closed, as had the county concerns at Riverstown and Hackett’s in Midleton. The remaining city distilleries (Watercourse, John Street, North Mall and the Green) and Murphy’s Midleton distillery amalgamated in 1867 to form Cork Distilleries Company (CDC). This merger allowed the new company to rationalise production in the different properties. A new distillery was established at the Glen, Kilnap in the 1880s which produced whiskey until the 1920s.
Cork companies continued to concentrate on whiskey produced by pot stills, instead of the newer and more efficient patent stills. The result was that by the late 19th century, Cork distilleries were losing their share of the market and by the 1930s Cork Distilleries Company was the only remaining distillery in the county. It increasingly concentrated its production at its Midleton plant and in 1966 became part of Irish Distillers Limited along with two Dublin distilleries, John Jameson & Son and John Power & Son. In 1975 a new distillery was built in Midleton adjacent to the original site and whiskey continues to produced there.