Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 6

Use of beer or spirits, whether either or which is encreasing

THERE is a great decrease in the consumption of whiskey; the poorer classes have little to spare for drams, as the fortunate rise in the price puts them in a great measure out of their power; I fear to this only is the change to be imputed, for, though there is no licenced distillery in the county, the private stills abound in every direction, but the price is not lowered to the consumer, the publican receiving the benefit of the rise in price. The abolition of the distilleries, except those of great magnitude, has been of no use to any person but the owners of private stills. In the year 1800 the consumption of spirits decreased astonishingly; the price was above the reach of the generality, which in some measure weaned them from its use: this, with the high price for agricultural produce, enabled the small farmers to pay high rents, and to lay up guineas in some smoky corner; but, as whiskey is now cheaper, and agricultural produce still high, the use of spirits is rather more frequent. A drunken gentleman is now happily a rarity, and the lower classes are nearly as soberly inclined. Fairs and markets are almost the only places, that drunkenness prevails in, but it generally ends in a few broken heads, and often a little swearing before a magistrate; matters are generally accommodated by the friends of the parties.

The destruction of the distilleries had not the effect, that the legislature intended, but a quite contrary one; for private stills are now more numerous than ever, and more whiskey is made than in the former distilleries. It has also almost ruined the revenue of the county, for in 1803, before this ill advised abolition, it was upwards of 36,000l.; there were five distilleries and two breweries; the former have disappeared, and only one petty brewery remains, and, though there has been a great encrease of the stamp duty, window-tax, hearth-money, and other taxes, the present revenue is short of 10,000l. 

The beer or ale of this county is a most abominable compound, indeed not worse than the trash made in almost every part of Ireland; it is astonishing how those of better rank can taste it, but habit will lower the palate down to any standard of depravity; happily the brewers are gradually receiving their just punishment, in the encreasing use of water at table in preference to their poisonous mixtures. It is not a little suprising that, some one honest brewer does not break through this combination against the health of the public, and brew, as formerly, pale ale with hops and malt alone; but they have been so long used to drugs I suppose they have lost the art: if such a man could be found, an ample fortune would attend him. It is very extaordinary, that those, who are fond of good and wholesome beer, do not brew for themselves, for, independent of having a wholesome beverage, they would have what is very difficult to be procured, good barm, which, as every family must bake, becomes a matter of no small moment; from want of this indispensable ingredient, heavy unwholesome bread may frequently be seen at the tables of the rich, though, where it can be procured, the bread of this county is generally excellent. Potatoe-barm is very much used, but from frequent mistakes in the process it often fails. The following receipt has been given to me by a lady, who has constantly used it with great success. Add flour to beer until of the consistence of batter, to a quart of this put a table-spoon-full of good brown sugar, set it in a warm place, but not near the fire, shake it twice a day; it will be fit for use in eight days.

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