Moving into an old house is a bit like marrying into a family where instead of mingling blood, we mingle ink on property records. We redecorate; we inhabit kitchens, living spaces and bedrooms; we rarely think about the others who washed dishes, entertained guests, and slept within the same walls. However, every now and then we do, as I was reminded that my house used to be the Murphy’s place.
Most original parts of this 1915 working-class bungalow have been replaced. The latest was the front porch. Over the years, I kept an eye on mortar crumbling and bricks sliding off piers through a basement window placed oddly (for the view), but fortunately (for monitoring) underneath the porch. Besides deteriorating structural elements, I saw only dead leaves, a green plastic flower pot and a couple of brown bottles, happily hidden from street view by lattice.
When the contractor crew finished digging for the new footers, they said they’d set aside some glass they thought was interesting. After they left, under cold, damp and darkening skies, I gazed upon the “interesting” heap of naked beer bottles and rusted cans. Ugh. I’d rather read about archaeology than do it, but this was my house history, even if it wasn’t news that folks enjoy drinking beer on the front stoop, – and sometimes opt for the most expedient disposal method. I got myself an empty recycle bin and began the filthy work.
Every bottle was dirt-smeared gray. Big clots of wet soil and decomposing stuff clung to some. Whitish bits… ghosts of product labels stuck to some bottles. Then a brown bottle with something green on the neck caught my eye. Though the paper was eroded at the edges, it showed a clear image of a harp behind lettering that read, Imported Guinness Stout.
Lower down on the face of the bottle, about two thirds of an off-white, oval label remained. There was the harp, in finer detail, but just half of it with “Trade Mark” barely legible. Around the edges in bold…
GUINNESS FOR… STOUT ST JAMES’S GAT…DUBLIN
…and inside that…
Guinness Exports, Ltd
So among the American beers before pop-top cans (after 1962) was an Irish import, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, also known as FES, and described by the company,
“Foreign Extra Stout is a beer like no other. The most full-flavoured of all. Singular and striking. Uniquely satisfying. Brewed with extra hops and roasted barley for a natural bite. Bitter and sweet. Refreshingly crisp.”
Good advertising-speak for a bitter and high alcohol (8%) brew. Though all the other labels had worn away, enough bottles matched for me to know that Dennis Murphy (1895-1977), the former owner, identified strongly with his Irish roots, – and liked a drink with a kick.
Dennis Maurice Murphy was born in County Kerry, came to the US in 1915, fought in World War I and became a US citizen. He worked to support his parents before he married Anna, another Irish immigrant, in 1920. He made tires before he landed a job with the city fire department. On his pay, the Murphys were able to buy a house and raise three daughters. Dennis topped off his career as District Fire Chief, and well deserved to savor his special brew on occasion.
I tried to attach dates to Mr. Murphy’s Guinness FES. I studied label images never finding an exact match (though the image above is close), and what I read on history of Foreign Extra Stout in the United States was inconsistent. Some say the product was not popular when it returned here as Prohibition ended and World War II stopped its import again until 1956 and it was withdrawn shortly afterwards. Perhaps liquor purveyors in this Irish “Hungry Hill” neighborhood, purchased extra stock to keep on hand for good customers – like Mr. Murphy.
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guinness_Foreign_Extra_Stout#cite_note-FAQ-3
Guinness in America https://sites.google.com/site/jesskidden/guinnessinamerica
Beer Cans http://www.rustycans.com/HISTORY/history.html
Guinness Collectors Club http://www.guinntiques.com/brandidentity.aspx
Guinness Company Site http://www.guinness.com/en-gb/thebeer-fes.html
A Bottle of Guinness Please; by David Hughes http://books.google.com/books?id=_tOZqDtYv9QC&pg=PT132&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false