The old Smithwicks brewery is on the site of a Franciscan abbey, where monks had brewed ale since the 14th century, and ruins of the original abbey still remain on its grounds. The old brewery has since been renovated and now hosts “The Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny” visitor attraction and centre.At the time of its closure, it was Ireland’s oldest operating brewery.
John Smithwick was an orphan who had settled in Kilkenny. Shortly after his arrival, Smithwick went into the brewing business with Richard Cole on a piece of land that Cole had leased from the Duke of Ormond in 1705. Five years later, John Smithwick became the owner of the land. The brewery stayed small, servicing a loyal local following while John Smithwick diversified.
Following John Smithwick’s death, the brewery temporarily fell out of family hands. John Smithwick’s great grandson, Edmond bought the brewery land back freehold and worked to reshape its future. Edmond concentrated on discovering new markets and successfully building export trade. Drinkers in England, Scotland and Wales developed a taste for Smithwick’s brews and output increased fivefold.
As a result of substantial contributions made to St Mary’s Cathedral, Edmond became great friends with Irish liberal Daniel O’Connell, who later became godfather to one of his sons. Edmond Smithwick became well known and respected by the people of Kilkenny who elected him town mayor four times.
In 1800, export sales began to fall and the brewing industry encountered difficulty. To combat this, the Smithwick family increased production in their maltings, began selling mineral water and delivered butter with the ale from the back of their drays.By 1900, output was at an all-time low and the then owner James Smithwick was advised by auditors to shut the doors of the brewery. Instead, James reduced the range of beers they produced and set out to find new markets. He secured military contracts and soon after saw output increase again. James’ son, Walter, took control in 1930 and steered the brewery to success through the hardships of both World War II and increasingly challenging weather conditions.By January 1950, Smithwick’s was exporting ale to Boston.Smithwick’s was purchased from Walter Smithwick in 1965 by Guinness and is now, along with Guinness, part of Diageo. Together, Guinness & Co. and Smithwick’s developed and launched Smithwick’s Draught Ale in 1966. By 1979, half a million barrels were sold each year.In 1980, Smithwick’s began exporting to France. In 1993, Smithwick’s Draught became Canada’s leading imported ale.By 2010, Smithwick’s continued to be brewed in Dundalk and Kilkenny with tankers sent to Dublin to be kegged for the on trade market. Cans and bottles were packaged by IBC in Belfast.Production in the Kilkenny brewery finished on 31 December 2013 and Smithwicks brands are now produced in the Diageo St.James’ Gate brewery in Dublin.The original Kilkenny site was sold to Kilkenny County Council, with a small portion of the site dedicated to the opening of a visitor’s centre, the “Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny“.