Survival against the odds, the courage to follow your own
path, the determination to never give up, the ability to find solutions where
others only see problems, a loyalty to those around you and a sense of what’s
important in life – these are the characteristics that for over 300 years have
made Smithwick’s Ireland’s favourite brewer of ales. This is the Smithwick’s
A CITY STEEPED IN BREWING TRADITION
The Smithwick’s story starts long before a Smithwick ever set foot in
Kilkenny. In the 13th century monks settled at St. Francis Abbey with quality water
straight from the Friar’s well, and using natural ingredients that surrounded the
abbey in abundance these monks began brewing on the site.
A DETERMINATION TO SUCCEED
Shortly after Smithwick’s arrival in Kilkenny, John went into the
brewing business with Richard Cole on a piece of land that Cole had leased from the
Duke of Ormond in 1705. He worked hard and obviously impressed because in 1710 he
became the owner (albeit a secret one). With a taste of success his confidence grew
and in time so did his business interests.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
Edmond Smithwick, son of John Smithwick II, was born in 1800 and like
his grandfather brewing and ambition were in his blood. When he was just 27 he bought
the brewery back freehold and for the first time the Smithwick family name hung
proudly above the door. He proved himself a natural businessman. At a time when
breweries were closing all over Ireland he concentrated on discovering new markets.
KNOWING WHEN TO DO WHAT’S RIGHT
The people of the city gave Edmond the respect he deserved and four
times voted him Mayor of Kilkenny. When famine hit in 1847, he and rival brewer
Richard Sullivan put competition aside to set up a soup kitchen to feed the needy.
He generously contributed to St. Mary’s Cathedral and supported Catholic
Emancipation, a cause close to his heart. Edmond became great friends with the Irish
Liberator Daniel O’Connell who later became godfather to his son Daniel O’Connell
EXTRA CARE MAKES AN EXTRAORDINARY BREW
Edmond started a tradition of always employing the most skilled
people. Expert brewers brought scientific and technical innovations and the result
gave Smithwick’s beers a quality second to none.
UNWAVERING ENDURANCE, UNBEATABLE INGENUITY
Edmond’s sons followed him into the business. In the late 1800’s
export sales began to fall, but the Smithwick family found a way: they increased
production in their maltings, began selling mineral water and even delivered butter
with the ale from the back of their drays. Times were tight but the business
survived and in 1892 Smithwick’s won 1st prize in Dublin’s Rotunda Exhibition of
Brewers and Distillers.
TRIUMPH AGAINST ALL ODDS
James Smithwick, or Mr. James as he was known, took the reigns in
1900. At the time Smithwick’s employed 200 people but output was down to 10,000
barrels per annum. The fortunes of the company were at an all time low. Auditors
recommended the brewery shut its doors but the Smithwick instinct for survival said
“no” and the family dug deep into their own pockets to keep the business going.
KILKENNY’S Nº1 BECOMES EVERYONE’S Nº1
In 1930, James’s son Walter took control. He realised distribution was
the key to success and began incentivising sales agents all over Ireland. On top of
salaries, they earned a commission on every barrel sold. He also purchased petrol
driven lorries to serve customers in the remote west of Ireland. On the 8th of Oct
1937 Smithwick’s No.1 won first prize at the London Bottled Beer Competition.
PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
World War II brought more challenges. When increased petrol charges
made delivery by truck too expensive, James used his ingenuity and quickly found
another route. Beer heading west went by barge and the rest got to its destination
by train or by horse & cart. Raw materials were scarce so he looked for
alternatives: Oats were used instead of barley and Irish Beet Sugar was used instead
of West Indian candy sugar.
FLOODS AND GOOD FORTUNE
After the War business was looking good, then in 1947 melting snows
caused a major flood, submerging the entire brewery. Luckily all the precious
recipes and technical reports were safely stored high on the third floor. In no time
the brewery was back in action but the summer that followed was the worst on record.
Heavy rains caused a national emergency, threatening cereal crops. Disaster was
avoided and the nation was saved from a minor famine and a major lack of great ale.
BRILLIANT PARTNERSHIP INVENTS A NEW BREW
In 1964 one of Smithwick’s oldest maltings customers, Guinness & Co,
bought a controlling share in the business. Peter Smithwick took his reins. His
fresh determination and inventiveness combined with the expertise of the
Guinness sales force produced one of the greatest success stories of any beer in
this century. Together they developed and launched Smithwick’s Draught in 1966.