Part 6: The other Guinness breweries in recent years
Wednesday 13th May 2015
I alluded earlier to other breweries in Ireland which were acquired by Guinness and have been closed during the last decade. I will never get the chance to visit them now and yet all have interesting stories, so I would like to indulge the reader with a brief history of each.
So, I’ll start with the furthest south in Waterford. The story of Guinness’s history of brewing in the city began rather late, yet the site that their brewery was on dates from 1792. This was when the company of Davis Strongman established their presence on Grattan Quay.
The location choice was very deliberate as it made it easy to bring in raw materials and also to export beers to mainland UK. In fact they had a good trade with South Wales. A new brewery was established on the site in 1905. See photo above right.
Parallel to the life of this brewery was that of Cherry’s which was established in the city in the 1770s. They opened a second brewery in New Ross sometime before 1835. As a consequence of this they closed the Waterford plant in 1870.
Sometime in the 1950s they were taken over by Guinness in their relentless conquest of all of the small breweries left in the country. So it was Guinness under the name of Cherry’s that acquired the Davis Strongman brewery back in Waterford during 1955. As a result the New Ross brewery closed shortly afterwards. Cherry’s were noted for their Phoenix ales and Guinness promoted these in the area. Some of the production of Smithwick’s Ale was transferred to Waterford at a later date. I think that happened when the Smithwick’s Kilkenny plant started producing Kilkenny Ale, a lot of which went for export.
Brewing on the 1905 plant finished in 2003 when the last Smithwick’s was made with its production moving back to Kilkenny. I’d guess that it was then that the last of the Phoenix ales were brewed.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the end as €40 million was spent to establish a brewery in front of the old to make the concentrated non-alcoholic hopped wort (essence) that is sent to foreign breweries to brew Foreign Extra Stout. Please see one end of the 2003 brewery with the 1905 brewery behind in the photo above left.
Sadly, it was not to last and the very modern brewery closed in 2013. Yet the equipment has found a new use as it is now the home of the Waterford Distillery. The brewery was bought by Mark Reynier who successfully rescued and revived the Bruichladdich Distillery in Scotland.
Most of the plumbing could be adapted for its new purpose. Two pot stills were acquired from Scotland and the first whiskies should arrive soon.
There are several new distilleries recently established in Ireland, such as Teeling and Dingle. Please see photo of 2003 brewery (now distillery) with its new signs, left.
Now I would like to move inland to Kilkenny, home of another of the recently closed Guinness-owned breweries and this was Smithwick’s.
The brewery was founded on the site of St Francis Abbey. This had closed, of course, after the Reformation. Prior to that however, it was noted for the quality of the beer brewed by the fathers. John Smithwick established his brewery on a part of the site in 1710 and almost certainly brewed with the same well water as the monks before him. Initially the brewery served only the local populace but business steadily improved over the years to the turn of the century.
Then, from 1800 onwards the brewery went into a slow decline culminating in the great famine of 1847 when naturally there was little demand for ale. There was a revival in the second half of the 19th century when they sent beer to mainland UK.
However it was not to last and the brewery suffered another decline and by 1900 it was recommended for closure as production had dropped to 10,000 barrels per annum, but the Smithwick family persisted. They took over rival company of Sullivan and upgraded their plant with some new equipment along with some second-hand from closed breweries in England. A municipal water distribution system was introduced to Kilkenny and Smithwick’s used this in preference to the wells.
Recovery was made throughout the first half of the 20th Century and the range of beers produced was reduced twice and eventually there were just two. It would be nice to know what these were, information will be gratefully received. By 1949 annual production had gone up to 50+ thousand barrels.
Ireland is often thought of as being a complete preserve of Guinness Extra Stout yet even up to the early sixties there were a great deal of lighter ales produced.
In the period following the Second World War there were a number of competitors such as Bass Pale Ale, Macardle’s, Phoenix, Perry’s and others from smaller breweries. Relentlessly they were swallowed up by Guinness, with the exception of Bass.
Smithwick’s were doing well and were one of the, if not the, top-selling ale at the end of the 1950s. The company was strong and they had re-activated the maltings of Sullivan’s. One of the best customers for the malt was Guinness who eventually took a non-controlling interest in the company during 1964. With a boardroom change in 1965 this became a controlling interest.
In 1966 Smithwick’s Draught Ale (3.8%), a keg product, was introduced and production in that first year was 11,500 barrels. Thirteen years later it was 500,000+ barrels.
This was probably due to the demise of nearly every other ale brand in the country. Other factors include pubs being able to have it delivered alongside Guinness Stout. The explosion of “Irish” pubs all over the globe is yet another reason. Export versions are known to have been much stronger, up to 5.5% abv.
The brewery was modernised between 1982 and 1991 with a newly-built Brew House (see photo left). It was now also brewing Kilkenny Ale. I am told that the recipe for this is virtually the same as Smithwick’s Ale. The major difference is that its kegs and cans have mixed gas (typically 30% Carbon Dioxide and 70% Nitrogen, or possibly a 20% / 80% split). This gives it a much smoother taste. The major destination for this beer on draught is the many “Irish” pubs and bars throughout the world, where it replaced Smithwick’s as this was difficult for many to pronounce.
During the 1990s up to the brewery’s closure, some Smithwick’s was brewed at the Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk. Budweiser (the US version) was also brewed in Kilkenny under license and there may well be other beers to add to that. In 2011 Smithwick’s Pale Ale was created at the brewery. This was a Golden Ale of 4.5% made using the standard yeast and American Amarillo hops.
The brewery closed on 31st December 2013 and production was moved to the other breweries in the Diageo / Guinness empire.
After the opening of the No 4 Brew House in Dublin during September 2014 these displaced ales and lagers have been brewed there. The Kilkenny site is now the Smithwick’s Experience.
I find this a strange concept, whereby you walk around a closed brewery to get a brewing “experience”. I wonder if they have artificial brewing smells wafting around to enhance the (un)reality.
However I mustn’t be churlish about this as it has meant that some rather significant buildings have been left in the same condition as when brewing stopped. This includes the magnificent entrance gate (photo above 3rd on the right) and also the offices (right) where you now buy your entrance ticket.
Now we move up the country to Dundalk, the large major city on the East Coast just below where the border is crossed. Remarkably, as late as 2001, Dundalk was the home of two major breweries, both owned by Guinness. I am indebted to the Macardle Moore website which is compiled by former employees, for much of the history of that brewery.
Dundalk was noted for brewing for a very long time. In 1693 there were no less than 32 breweries. I would guess these were all quite small.
Less than a century later (1780) there were just three. This is a reflection on brewing becoming an industry rather than being based in pubs. In the district of Cambricville one of these was founded in 1704 by William Stuart. In 1835 this was the only one trading in Dundalk.
However, two years later a brewery was opened in Dublin Street and a fierce rivalry ensued. In 1859 brothers John and Duffy obtained the Dublin Street premises along with partner Edward H Macardle.
In 1863 Edward had bought out the Duffy brothers and his cousin Andrew T Moore became his new partner, giving rise to the name of the brewery that was continue for over a hundred years.
Even though it was the older brewery, all production was moved to Cambricville. A small branch line from the Great Northern Railway was built enabling raw materials to come in and beer to be sent all over Ireland. Part of it is still with us and sometimes used to stable Irish Railway’s engineering trains.
A new bottling plant was installed in the late 1950s and during the 1960s a deal was made with Ind Coope of Burton-upon-Trent, England to brew and bottle Double Diamond. During the late 1960s the brewery came under the control of Guinness. The bottling plant was modernised several times and in 1990 became the centralised plant for Guinness beers. These were trucked out and bottled at a rate of 1,000 bottles per minute!
In 1993 a £22 (Irish million canning plant opened that handled and canned 1,200 cans per minute. Many different beers were brought into the brewery to be packaged including Guinness’s stouts and also Budweiser, Harp, Carlsberg, Satzenbrau, Sapporo, Smithwick’s and naturally, Macardle’s own ale. Well suited to continue in to the modern age, it was surprisingly closed in April 2001.
Now to look at the other large brewery in Dundalk. This was opened in 1896 as the Great Northern Brewery, presumably as it was opposite the station of the Great Northern Railway. It is literally on the other side of the station approach road!
At its inception it produced Light Ale, Ale and Strong Ale. In 1955 it was acquired by Smithwick’s of Kilkenny. Finally, in 1959 that company was purchased by Guinness. Please see part of the modernised brewery above right.
Up to 1960 it brewed Stout and Ale but from that year a grand plan was hatched and it was converted to brew the new Harp Lager. This proved to be very successful and a huge trade built up. It was also popular in the UK where Guinness (50%) went into partnership with Scottish & Newcastle (25%) and Courage (25%) breweries.
A new brewery was constructed at Alton (Hampshire) on the existing Courage site and another in Manchester for Scottish & Newcastle.
In 1966 the first draught Harp was in the pubs. Over subsequent years there was much investment with a new kegging line. As sales of Harp declined the brewery was involved in the production of other draught beers such as Smithwick’s, Satzenbrau, Carlsberg and Warsteiner. Some of these may have moved from Macardles when it ceased brewing. In 2008 the kegging line was closed, this function now done in Dublin.
The brewery closed altogether in 2014 when the new No 4 Brew House in Dublin came on stream. It was very modern as there had been a lot of investment in it and the slightly good news is that it is become a distillery. The money has come from the same source as the new Teeling Distillery in Dublin. The technologies are broadly similar with a slight difference between a brewing copper and a pot still but it can be adapted to suit. Please see photograph, above left.
Although not within my designed remit for this part of the article, which is about Guinness’s Irish breweries but nevertheless important, is their London brewery. This was designed by Sir Charles Gilbert Scott who was also responsible for the iconic Bankside (now the Tate Modern Gallery) and Battersea Power Stations in London.
Built in a modernist style typical of the times, it was constructed at Park Royal between 1933 and 1936 and produced its first beer in 1937. It is said that its equipment was based on the No 2 Brew House in Dublin, built 50 years earlier! It closed in 2005 with production moving to Dublin.
I visited it once about 40 years ago and although I remember it well, it was so long ago I can no longer find the photos.
Finally, in Part 7 I look at the Storehouse Visitor Centre and the company’s fabulous archives.
Part 6 of 7