Understandably, the licensed trade in Northern Ireland was concerned about its future.
“Crisis in Guinness
The entire licensed trade in Northern Ireland may be crippled unless the British Government can be persuaded to supply immediately to Eire about 200,000 tons of wheat to replace the barley needed for the brewing of Guinness stout and porter.
From Dublin came a direction of Messrs. Guinness to inform representatives of the Belfast and North of Ireland Licensed Vintners' Association that unless they could help secure, through the Northern Government, the wheat required in a few days no more porter or stout could be sent from Dublin. The Eire Government, he told them. would issue no more licences for the export of Guinness until their stocks of foodstuffs were replenished so that barley could be released for the manufacture of the drink.
The Association's case is based on the fact that if supplies of Guinness are completely cut off a big percentage of the 2,500 licensed premises in the North will have to close down, and the remainder will have their trade reduced to 25 per cent. of its present level, for Guinness represents between 70 and 80 per cent. of all the licensed trade in the North. This would not only hit the owners financially, but also mean that several thousand barmen would be thrown on to the unemployment lines.
Publicans have no alternative lines to retail in place of Guinness, as supplies of both English and Irish beer and whiskey and alcohol of all kinds have been already severely restricted.”
Mid-Ulster Mail - Saturday 21 February 1942, page 5.
I can’t imagine that anywhere else in the UK got three-quarters of its beer from a single brewery. But it wasn’t just Northern Irish publicans who were likely to lose out. Guinness themselves would lose a big chunk of their sales. In 1942 more than half the beer they brewed was exported.
200,000 tons of wheat seems like rather a lot. In 1942 a little less than 1.5 million standard barrels were brewed in the Republic of Ireland. You get about four standard barrels from a quarter of malt, making a total of 375,000. Which is 56,250 tons – a little more than a quarter of the amount the Irish government was asking for.
The food supply in the Republic of Ireland must have been affected by the war, especially for things like wheat which had been imported. Ireland still needed to be supplied by sea and German U-boats would still sink ships bound for Ireland, even though the country was neutral. And obviously Guinness was a good lever to force the UK to provide more grain.