Thursday, 3 November 2016

International Stout Day 2016 -
Brewing Murphy's XXX from 1916 - Part 1

A History Lesson

Earlier this year myself, Mark Nixon and Alain Dekoster visited the UCC Library to have a look through the Murphy's Brewery archives. As 2016 is the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, brews from that time were of particular interest -- some Irish micro breweries released "inspired by" products to capitalise on the occasion, but we went in search of the real thing. The archives contain records from around the foundation of the brewery up in 1856 up until when Heineken took them over in 1983. Our thanks go to the staff at the archives for assisting us on the day.

The Beers

In the 1860s Murphy's had the imaginatively named West India, London Extra, London Porter, Extra London, X Beer, № One, Double Stout, and Common Porter (despite the initial excitement about West India possibly being an IPA, it too was a porter), but by the turn of the 1900s Murphy's had simplified their portfolio to just four beers:
  • Murphy's Plain Porter -- OG 1.045, FG 1.015
  • Murphy's X (stout) -- OG 1.049, FG 1.015
  • Murphy's XX (stout) -- OG 1.067, FG 1.019
  • Murphy's XXX (stout) -- OG 1.087, FG 1.0285


XX grist from 1912
Much to my surprise, Murphy's imported a lot of malt from England. At the time there would have been quite a number of Irish maltsters but transport would have been an issue; bulk loads would need to be shifted by rail and more commonly water, and Cork city has an extensive port. The same maltsters appear over and over again in the records of the time:
  • Gilstrap of Newark on Trent (destroyed by fire in 1930)
  • Donegan*, probably Daniel Donegan & Sons, 19 Merchants Quay (offices and/or stores) and 5 (Lower) John Street (maltings), Cork city (right behind the Murphy's brewery)
  • Donegan Chil, barley from Chile malted by Donegan (thanks Ron!)
  • Riverstown, probably the ale brewery and maltings in Glanmire, opened by Denny Lane in the 1800s, and sold to Murphy's Brewery in 1901, according to this.
  • Thurply - while it sounds English, this was misread by me and is actually Murphy (thanks again Ron!)
  • Thorpe, a massive maltster in Essex. Closed in the 1970s. Some nice information here.
  • J J Murphy*, 4 (Lower) John Street, Cork city. 
  • Ao Calif - this is actually do Calif, which means Californian barley malted by the above, in this case Murphy (thanks yet again Ron!)
  • Bairds, still in existence.
XXX grist from 1911
* Donegan and Murphy appear in the same grists, but they may not have existed at the same time. Searching Guy's Cork City & County Almanacs shows both, but never concurrently. E.g. Donegan is in the 1884 Almanac, but not Murphy. Conversely, while Murphy appears in the 1912 Almanac, Donegan does not.

Common to all grists is Black, origin unknown. Only one malster in Ireland was making patent black malt for sale, Plunkett's of Dublin, but it's quite possible, and even more probable that Murphy's did their own roasting as we know Guinness do. And your eyes don't deceive you: there are no speciality malts other than Black in any of the grists!


X hop load 1912
There were no commercial hop farms in Ireland until around 1961, so all hops were imported. It's documented that conventional wisdom at the time in Guinness was that American hops should make up half the hop load, and it's no surprise to see them in Murphy's too. Unlike the exotic names of today's hops, back then they seem to have taken their names simply from where they were grown, or from the person who grew them. Kents show up in the earlier brewing records, but not from around the time.

  • Burley - possibly from this oast house in Rainham, north Kent.
  • Wacher - unknown, possibly also from Kent
  • Oregons -  Emil Clements Horst had one of the biggest hop plantations in the world at the time and was known to be supply Guinness. More here. Maybe he supplied Murphy's as well.
  • Hallertaus -  From the Hallertau region of Germany, a traditional hop growing area.


Brewing was single infusion mash at around 66 to 67°C for 90 minutes with XXX done in smaller batches for which Mash Tun Number 2 was only ever used. Batch sparge at around 71°C. Boil was 90 minutes.


We don't know the origin of Murphy's yeast, but we do know that it was a very poor attenuator, resulting in full bodied, fairly sweet beer. Attenuation of around 66% was typical. The only Irish ale yeasts commercially available are White Labs WLP-004 and Wyeast 1084, which are known to have originated in Guinness (who currently use two yeasts, which strain is used depends on the market) and attenuate slightly better than 66%. Wyeast 1968, White Labs WLP-002 (both apparently from Fuller's of London), and Danstar Windsor, all English ale yeasts, are probably closer to what Murphy's used in attenuation terms. Update: on further discussion with Ron it's entirely possible that Murphy's yeast came from a London-based brewery. While it's possible it's Fuller's there are another number of likely candidates, Whitbread, Truman, Barclay Perkins, Courage, etc.

Calling in the Big Guns

To faithfully reproduce a beer from the archives, we felt we had to enlist the help of beer historian, Ron Pattison. Ron does one of the best beer blogs in existence, Shut Up About Barclay Perkins; check it out if you haven't already. Ron did a trawl through the records, and we discussed it back and forth for a while. This is the resulting recipe for 5 gallons (imperial) of Murphy's XXX:

94% Pale malt
6% Black malt 
Fuggles 90 mins 4.00 oz
Fuggles 60 mins 4.00 oz (or Willamette)
Hallertau 20 mins 5.00 oz
OG 1089.1, FG 1028.5, ABV 8.02%, apparent attenuation 68.01%
IBU 127, SRM 35
Mash at 153ºF for 90 mins
Sparge at 160ºF
Boil time 90 minutes
Pitching temp 60ºF
Yeast WLP-004 Irish Ale

Yes, that IBU figure required a double take! Ron confirmed that XXX would have been aged, and possibly blended, which would have reduced bitterness. Even though it would have been relatively sweet 127 odd IBU is too bitter!

Coming up in the Part 2, what I brewed, why I brewed it, and how it turned out....


  1. You've a typo on the XXX FG at the top. I've never seen gravities to four decimal places before.

    1. Thanks John, fixed. My notes from the day show FG 1.0285, but I didn't record the reference, so maybe I was averaging! Murhpy's were fairly inconsistent in their brewing at the time.

    2. We always record 4 decimal places on gravities. It just looks odd as 1.0285, it looks less odd as just 28.5

  2. Thats interesting stuff, look forward to hearing what it tastes like