Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Toby Irish Ale - Who's up for some man-sized zest...?


The summer of 1966 saw the emergence of a new Irish beer into an increasingly tight marketplace. Toby Irish Ale appears to have been the brainchild of the Charrington Kinahan group who controlled the Charrington United Breweries' interests in Northern Ireland that included Ulster Breweries, Lyle & Kinahan and Old Bushmills. From May to August of that year this advertisement appeared in a couple of papers down south when the launched their new ale on the Irish market, albeit it seems in to just a few selected areas.

At this time we already had quite a selection of Irish - and English - brewed ales available to Ireland's beer drinkers including the appearance of Celebration that March, brewed by Beamish & Crawford in Cork but from the same umbrella company, Charrington United, plus towards the end of 1966 Smithwick's relaunched (or at least readvertised) their No. 1 Ale* into the category with the demise of their Time rebrand so it was a brave move by Charrington, if ill-fated it would appear. There was also Phoenix, Macardles, Bass, Double Diamond, Watneys Red Barrel (Brewed in Ireland at Lady's Well - Murphys - Brewery in Cork from that year.), Whitbread ... the list could go on so in the end it looks like it just became too crowded and something had to give, and Toby was probably the first to go...

Charrington Toby was a familiar name to English drinkers, as was the toby jug silhouette on the label, but seems to have been a strange choice for the Irish market even if it was a reformulation/new beer, as Toby - both the name and the actual jugs - would have appeared quintessentially English to the Irish public. After this entity disappeared the group launched a Toby Brown but that seems to have been exclusively up north as was Toby Ale on draught.. (Another interesting note is that in 1966 Beamish Stout was being brewed in the Ulster Brewery, aka Mountain Brewery, although this appears to have been a short lived arrangement.)

The byline in the advertisement is quite exceptional!

'Found at last! an ale with a distinctively Irish taste ... brewed in Ireland specially for Irish drinkers ... with all the full-bodied flavour and man-sized zest of a truly great ale. For years our brewers have sought this elusive flavour, and at last they've succeeded: tests show that Irish drinkers resoundingly prefer Toby over any other leading ale. See if you agree - try Toby today, and enjoy the true taste in Irish Ale'
There are many things we could accuse them of but it appears modesty isn't one of them...

Liam

*Smithwicks No. 1 was a pale ale by the way, the soon to be launched Smithwick's Draught - or Smithwick's D in bottle form - appears to have been the first iteration of their present red ale.

(With thanks to the British Newspaper Archive)

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

A Brief (and Incomplete) History of Irish Glassware Verification Marks...

Glassware collecting is not for those who want to appear sound of mind...

At this point I've lost count of the number of people who shoot me sideways glances, elbow the person beside them and take a side step on hearing me mutter, "Oh, a rolled foot, that makes it pre 1740s..." or discussing pontil marks, knops and crizzling with myself. I'm often heard whispering about random dates in a creepy voice as I squint at a glass tankard or tulip glass, murmuring things like "Well-well a 1967, that's very interesting..." or "Huh, I would have thought they'd have stopped production by '71", this is normally accompanied by a smug grin of self-satisfaction that I've found something new and of interest ... to me.

But every now and again someone plucks up the courage to engage, driven perhaps by a fair degree of pity or concern, and asks me how I can be so sure about a date on the particular piece I'm looking at, at which point I just point to the verification mark and show them the date....

"Interesting," they say, "so, what's the other number about then?"

"Ah, well that's more complicated..."

-o-

So, verification marks - the marks on glassware that show they have been verified to be a particular volume of liquid by a government body -  existed before Irish independence but that's a topic for another time, although I'll drag it into this post briefly later. I'm not sure exactly when our own post independence verification marks came in to use in this country and although I would like to think that it wasn't long after the establishment of the Free State in 1922, the earliest marked glasses I currently possess date from 1939 and 1942 (The earliest example of a mark I've seen elsewhere is from 1925) and are interesting in that the still carry the SE mark for Saorstát Éireann - meaning Irish Free State - which ended in 1937 when we became just Ireland - or Éire in Irish - by name.

The general format on all of the marks I have found so far show the last two digits of year of verification (so presumably not necessarily the exact date of manufacture of the glass) on the bottom of the mark and a number on top that in theory relates to the area or district where the inspector was based. From what I've read the SE marks seems to have continued until 1958 when the quasi-yin and yang symbol that we are more familiar with on older glassware came into use. This seemingly was briefly changed into a circle with a wavy line at some point (2005/2006? 2002? [Edit: I need to dig deeper into this style, here's an example via a reply to this post on Twitter. It appears to have been in use at the same time as the 2004 version shown below...]) on some glassware I've seen, which in turn was used until the newer CE standard I mention below began.


So the dates are alway very clear providing the mark itself is clearly etched, which it often isn't in examples from the sixties and seventies, and especially not on dimpled tankards. The example above is one of the clearer ones and was probably sand blasted. The one below appears to be machine (laser?) etched.


An interesting point is that although it appears all pint glasses needed to be verified, only half pints glasses used to sell beer sold from a larger source like a cask or keg needed to be verified as far as I can tell. Those used for bottle pub sales did not need verification, as the bottles they beer was served in would already have been verified to be a particular volume. This is why it's very hard to date many half pint glasses without assessing the age of the logo or consulting advertisement from a certain period.

-o-

Finding out the area of the country in which the glass was verified seems to be much more difficult although that number is of course much less interesting and less important than the date but for those of us with a need to see the complete picture it is a missing piece of the puzzle, and needs to be solved ... and unfortunately I've had only limited success in solving it.

My first contact in cracking the code was with NSAI (National Standards Authority of Ireland) who after a little prompting came back with a document confirming roughly what I knew already and the record they sent me applied only to bottles as far as I could figure out. Subsequent enquiries as to what/who/where the verification marks applied to by tweets and emails appear to have fell on deaf ears - or perhaps they wisely muted me - so I ended up at a dead end there.

References online seems to be quite scarce - hence my wanting to do this post of course - so when I came across 'Marks and Marking of Weights and Measures of the British Isles [Hmmm...]' by Carl Ricketts it was somewhat helpful on filling in more information although it does seem to cause more confusion in one way. It deals mostly with pre independence verification but it does have some paragraphs on post 1922 verification. Ricketts managed to get some information in 1994 from the then National Office of Weights and Measures (which became the above mentioned NSAI) and he states that the older pre Free State numbering system for areas and districts was continued with some modification after 1922 "as inspection districts were altered or merged together." So, according to Ricketts it seems that a format from 1879 was also carried through into the recent past, where Uniform Verification Numbers based on policing divisions within counties, which had numbers based on a prefix and suffix, combined to create a unique code that covered up to ten districts within a county...

Confused? Welcome to my world...

(And this has nothing to do with Carl Ricketts' description it's more to do with the complexities of the system and my understanding of it.)

There is a chart in the book which shows the numbers used in 1879, 1922 and 1995, although this doesn't seem to help with certain verification numbers on certain glasses. For example the 181 at the top of this post corresponds to nothing on the chart unless this means its an 8 (Dublin) with lines either side or 18 plus a 1 for a district of Cork; 45 could be Longford but could also be a district in Dublin; 71  doesn't appear on the chart at all so perhaps it too means a Dublin district - which used 4 to 11 - with a district suffix. I have Guinness tankards marked as 73 that make perfect sense for Waterford but I also have similar-ish Time tankards that are marked 72 for Tyrone pre 1925, which wasn't used afterwards according to the chart. I could go on, but I won't.

I really need to get more clarification from someone within the NSAI, or find more documentation, as I feel it's much simpler than it appears.

-o-


The new CE mark guidelines were published in 2004 and applied from 2006 when we changed to the European standard M mark where the number after the M is the year of manufacture and the four digits after correspond to the notified body number. It also shows the manufacturer and volume, and increments of volume if required. Ireland's number is 0709 while other countries appear to have numerous ones, see here for a list. (There was a transition period of ten years from that 2006 date which might explain the use of the wavy line mark I mentioned above.)

So next time you find an old glass in the back of the press (or cupboard for my non-Irish readers) please feel free to bore your family with its vague history.

And feel free to blame me too...

(I was going to hold off on this article until I found out more but instead I've decided to put up what I know so far, with a promise to edit it at a later date when I peel away a few more layers of confusion...)

Liam

(There is a copy of Carl Rickett's book available as a PDF online from what appears to be a reputable source but as I'm unsure of copyright issues I'll leave it up to your search engine to find it...)

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Beamish & Crawford's Celebration Ale - The Original Rebel Beer from the Rebel County

Following on from my last post about Tower Stout it seems appropriate to continue with another lost Beamish & Crawford beer, this time an ale launched to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Touted as a 'strong ale'1, Celebration arrived smack bang into the hard fought beer drinking world at a time of severe upheaval in the Irish ale scene, and into that short period in the 1960s and early 1970s when their sales were in the ascendancy.

Image Source - Author's own collection

On the 4th of April 1966 the Monday edition of The Irish Press carried a short column sandwiched between escalating problems in Vietnam and an obituary for the car designer Battista Farina stating that a new ale called simply 'Celebration' would be for sale on draught from that date in fifty Dublin pubs. The official launch had been the previous month in Cork city and county2 after it had been blind tested for several months, so presumably it was decided that a new ale was firstly needed, or needed by Beamish & Crawford anyway, and it must have been relatively well received by Cork's finest ale drinkers.

Image Source - Unknown Paper September 3rd 1966 

By July of 1966 it had received 'outstanding popularity in Waterford and throughout Ireland' and it was available in half-pint bottles, pint bottles as well as on draught, and it claimed that it was 'the only ale sold here [in Ireland] in pint bottles'.(There's a picture of the stubby pint bottles here.) I wonder was this the start of the South-East's love affair with the large bottle of ale?

By December of 1966 it was mooted that Celebration would be launched in the UK - somewhat ironically given what it was launched to celebrate - in some of Charringtons United Breweries 6,205 tied houses in which Beamish & Crawford's owners Canadian Breweries had a 10% stake. At this time it already had 15% of the ale market in Ireland and the company were also making inroads into the lager sector with Carling Black Label.3

Although imported before then, towards the end of 1968 Bass began to be brewed in Beamish & Crawford and this was followed by Worthington's in late 1969, adding to a severely crowded draught ale marketplace of Smithwicks, Watneys Red Barrel, Phoenix, Macardles, Double Diamond and a number of smaller ale brands. Bass sales soon outstripped Celebration and in April 1970 its above mentioned Dublin taps were withdrawn along with those in northern half of the country, the half pint bottles were dropped and it seems to have quietly ceased to exist entirely in 19712 as the company put its faith in Bass for the battle of the ale market share.

As to its taste, appearance and alcohol content I can only guess at two, but it was certainly a pale ale like Phoenix more so than a darker one like most of its other rivals. In 1966 it won a gold medal in Brussels but this doesn't tell us much, and two of the beermats in my possession use words such as 'Big Beer', 'Full Bodied' and 'Powerful' which perhaps hint at its taste and marketing strategy - more telling perhaps as to its strength might be this quote from a Cork forum:
"It was by far the strongest drink to hit the bars at that time.I still hear stories from ould fellas chatting about the state and condition that fellas would get in,from drinking 'a few pints'"
Make of that what you like...


Image Source - Author's own collection

My collection of Celebration breweriana is quite scarce but I do possess a nice set of beer mats and a pint bottle label, sadly I don't have one of the nice Waterford glasses that you can see in the advertisement above and on one of these beer mats - yet...

Image Source - Author's own collection
Liam

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

References:

1 Munster Express - 8th July 1966



2 Beamish & Crawford: The History of and Irish Brewery, Donal Ó Drisceoil & Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil (2015) 

3 The Cork Examiner - 15th December 1966

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Tower Stout - Beamish's Rebrand

As I'll be heading down south in a couple of weeks I thought I might wander the same direction with my cataloguing of Ireland's lost beer brands...

Image Source - Author's own collection
As we have seen from some of my previous posts the brewing trade in the 1960s was extremely volatile with lots of new beers entering in to the pub scene and many changes of branding from the existing Irish breweries. It would be foolish to think that the Cork brewers were unaffected by the unrest, especially as they were contibituing to much of it themselves, and indeed Beamish and Crawford decided to rebrand their famous black beer (or a version of it) as Tower Stout - named after the iconic tower on the older beer labels and logo.


Image Source - Cork Examiner September 17 1968

Launched on draught and bottle as Tower Export Strength Stout in January 1968  by Sean Lemass in his role as chairman of United Breweries of Ireland1, who was in danger of being called a serial beer launcher as he had previously launched Idea lager for Smithwicks. This was Beamish & Crawford - or Eddie Taylor's Canadian Breweries via UBI strictly speaking - going head-to-head with Guinness and an advertisement2 from the time clearly say so...
"We said to our brewers: Brew the most perfect pint that has ever been tasted in Ireland. Spare no expense."
It goes on:
"Three centuries of tradition and £1,000,000 went into the making of it. (When you're competing with a giant, you can't afford to pinch the pennies). They have come up with a stout the equal of which has not been seen in Ireland. A richer, rounder flavour, brewed to export strength, and extra creamy head - and it cost sno more than an ordinary pint. We modestly believe that Tower is an incomparable stout."
We can assume from the description it was a nitro stout like Guinness but as to what 'export strength' meant in alcohol content I have no idea, but I'm guessing not too strong, so perhaps around the 5%?

At the International Brewing, Bottling & Allied Trades Exhibition held in London in April 1968 Tower received a gold medal, which their marketing team capitalised on in the advertisements around this time. In September of the same year it was the stout of choice at the Cork Harbour Oyster Festival where along with 6,000 oysters they hoped to sell 3,500 glasses of Tower stout.3 


So all was looking rosy for the brand it seems ... or was it?




Image Source - Cork Examiner January 26 1968

According to Beamish & Crawford: The History of and Irish Brewery by Donal Ó Drisceoil & Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil all was not as well as it seemed to be from looking at newspapers of the day, which is hardly a surprise...

It wasn't received well in the UK and their were complaints here of inconsistency and of its 'laxative effects'4 - which I presume couldn't be blamed on the oysters...

Most importantly it failed to make any impact on Guinness's sales, in fact it appears to have had the opposite effect driving more stout drinkers towards that consistent and known brand.

Tower limped along, unloved and unwanted until it was replaced by Beamish Cream Stout in end of 19714, and so disappeared another Irish beer brand....

Image Source - Author's own collection
Glasses, labels and other breweriana seems scarce but I do possess a beer mat from this time, perhaps I'll find something else if I get a chance to go rummaging down in Cork?

Watch this space...


Liam

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post. Please be aware that my own photos are watermarked.)




References:

Cork Examiner - January 19th 1968

2 Cork Examiner - January 26th 1968


3 Cork Examiner - September 17th 1968


4 Beamish & Crawford: The History of and Irish Brewery, Donal Ó Drisceoil & Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil (2015) 

Note: The above mentioned Beamish & Crawford: The History of and Irish Brewery, Donal Ó Drisceoil & Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil is a book that should be on the shelf of anyone interested in Irish beer history and is still available online and in bookshops.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

When Smithwicks Made a Lager - A Good Idea?

 Image Source - Evening Herald August 1963


To most people, the Smithwicks name is as far away from modern lager as you can get, as - like it or not - that name evokes the myth of the time-honoured tradition of a legendary Irish Red Ale brewed in some artisan way on a back street in Kilkenny since the early 18th century. Although much of their touted history should be taken with a rather large pinch of salt, what we do know is that back in the sixties Smithwicks launched and put its name to a slick looking lager call Idea, a stablemate to their Time ale range.

Idea lager was unveiled to 550 guests in January 1963 in Lawlor's Hotel in Naas at a launch that was attended by the then Taoiseach Sean Lemass. At this time Smithwicks were allegedly in the process of constructing a lager brewery on their existing site in Kilkenny, so it was brewed in the Guinness-owned Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk following research into continental styles and visits to European breweries. (Seemingly, a provision of the sale of Great Northern by Smithwicks to Guinness in 1960 was that Smithwicks could use a section of the brewery whenever it wanted...)1

It was hoped at the launch that it would be available to the public from April 1963 and the intention was that production would move to Kilkenny early the following year when the lager brewery there was finished, but by June 1964 when Guinness took controlling interest in Smithwicks they were still brewing it in Dundalk. In 1965 Guinness completed its take over and Smithwicks had abandoned their Idea lager brand by this point2, leaving Guinness to push its own Harp lager which was also brewed at Great Northern.

And, so ended Idea lager's short lived appearance in the Irish brewing landscape.

(I'm unsure if it was ever brewed in Kilkenny - probably not I'd guess - as information is quite scarce...)

 Image Source - Evening Herald August 1963

As to its taste we can only guess but the above advert gives us a bit of the story of who it was marketed to:
'Active men with subtle tastes, bright young men who set the trends, men who know what they like and insist on it.'
Indeed...

Notwithstanding its male-centric marketing angle I think it was certainly ahead of its time, even the logo was ultra modern and wouldn't have been out of place in the eighties or even much later. If it had been launched a decade or two later and given different circumstances it could still be a brand we are aware of now, not one that has been consigned to guest appearances on online breweriana auction sites and charity shop shelves.



Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

I possess a few of the above glasses none of which bear date/volume verification stamps, which I believe is because they were never used as a measure, as the already measured bottle was just poured into them. (This is why most glasses of this type/size don't have a stamp in my opinion.) It's an elegant glass style that I think may have come out of the same Waterford Domestic glassware stable as the Time glasses from my last article.


Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

Beermats appear to be scarce and the only one in my collection is this - again 'on brand' but with a sporty influence.

Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

I have two bottle labels, one saying 'lager' and the other 'lager beer' in a different font, both are classy with gold-ish backgrounds which tie in with the glassware. I'm not sure if both were used or whether the second was just a prototype design - or perhaps it was for the export market.

That's all I have on this 'lost' Smithwicks' brand for now but I will update this post if and when I come across more information. No doubt more will surface at some point...

Liam

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post. Please be aware that my own photos are watermarked.)



References:

The Irish Press/Cork Examiner - January 11th 1963

2 Beamish & Crawford: The History of and Irish Brewery, Donal Ó Drisceoil & Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil (2015) - page 329

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

It's Smithwicks TIME! A short history of a forgotten Irish beer brand...

 Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

Smithwicks have never been very good at promoting their not-so-recent history, or at least not if it varies from the fake-lore and new-stalgia that's created by their marketing department goblins, as they weave their wicked magic over the actual history of the brewery to create some quasi-real world where their red ale is the same as one that was produced a 300 hundred odd years ago in a (possibly mythical) brewery from that age. I've written before of my doubts regarding their self-promoted history and how even that has changed over the years, it's as if they feel uncomfortable about anything that deviates from that arrow-straight history that springs from 1710 to the present, so I feel duty bound to write about a period not terribly long ago when yet another Smithwicks marketing department decided that the company needed a rebrand for the swinging sixties - and so was born their Time brand.

-o-

 Image Source - Waterford News & Star March 1960 via local library

In March of 1960 - which appears to be the launch month - the following piece appeared in a write-up in the Kilkenny People about Smithwicks 250th anniversary. (The same article appeared in the Waterford News & Star, so unless both papers were owned by the same parent company I surmise that this was a press release direct from the Smithwicks marketing department.)

NEW PRODUCTS
Not strictly "new" products, but old favourites in modern dress. Up to now, Smithwick's ales were sold under a variety of labels and names These were: Smithwicks No. 1 Ale; Smithwicks Export Ale; Smithwicks SS Ale; Smithwicks Barley Wine. To celebrate their 250th anniversary, Smithwick’s decided to modernise the whole series of their brands. One decision was to use one name to describe the various brands. The name chose is: "TIME" From now on, all you have to do is ask for “Time" or variations on the name. For the moment. only two of the most popular products will be released this new guise: "Time" Ale — formerly Smithwick’s Ale; "Extra Time" Ale—formerly Smithwicks SS Ale.
Besides their new names, "Time" and "Extra Time" ales have new labels, completely modern in style, bright and attractive, and immediately distinguishable — you'll have no trouble in identifying your favourite from now on.
The name "Time" was chosen because it was in keeping with the celebration of Smithwicks 250th anniversary; also because it is a good name, easy to remember and say. Next time you drink a bottle of ale you'll be able to say – “I'm having a wonderful TIME”!
  Source - Kilkenny People March 1960 via local library

So, it would seem from this that this was pretty much a complete rebrand with No. 1 becoming 'Time Ale' and the SS (I've no idea what this stood for ... Special Stock was suggested by Edd Mather. ) becoming 'Extra Time'. The barley wine was to follow later, just branded as 'Time Barley Wine' or 'Barley Beer'. This wavering between the words ale or beer can be seen on the below labels, although I can't be sure they were all used in actual production. Time 'beer' sounds more modern so perhaps this was used in certain export or domestic regions, it was certainly used on beer mats (see below) at some point.


 Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

The same article also mentions this:
Smithwicks are actively pursuing increased sales abroad. The new “Time” theme will be of great assistance to them in foreign markets and greatly expanded sales are anticipated.
And more:
And Smithwicks brewery is eagerly engaged in gaining an increasing share of [the] expanding world market at home and abroad. The policy of Smithwicks is to sell beer, sell Irish beer, and sell Ireland, wherever the markets are. Under an able and farseeing board and management, Smithwicks brewery, Ireland’s oldest, looks like being one of the brightest stars on the future markets of the world. TIME will tell!
So it was perhaps with an eye to foreign markets, as well a modernisation, that the rebrand took place, added to by the fear of mispronunciation of the name 'Smithwicks' by foreign tongues, something that was to be addressed later on in the companies timeline with the launch of the 'Kilkenny' brand. They certainly had ambition but as we will see, perhaps the board weren't quite farseeing enough...


In 1964 Guinness announced that they had acquired 99% of the ordinary shares in Smithwicks brewery1. At that time both Guinness and Smithwicks stated that there was no intention of closing down the Kilkenny brewery or cutting down on production. On the contrary they were confident that they expected the brewery and the city to benefit, which it did for a period until they stopped brewing there in 2013. Also at this time - in 1964 - it is stated that they were brewing Time ale, Smithwicks ale and Time barley wine1. I wonder was there a kick back from punters that called for a reinstatement of the Smithwicks brand in the intervening period? Perhaps it never went away, or maybe it was always available locally. It's possible it was relaunched in 1964 for the first Kilkenny Beer Festival, but personally I suspect it never really disappeared completely during this rebrand...


-o-

So what did these Time ales look and taste like? Well we can glean a little from a Christmas advertisement from this period. Time Ale was 'full of golden goodness', which if it was a rebrand of  the old No. 1 then that ale certainly wasn't red! Extra Time was 'so smooth, so mellow' and Time Barley Wine was 'rich, ruby and heartwarming'

 Image Source - The Irish Press via local library


Also worth noting here, is that according to a newspaper article2 from 1985 for the brewery’s 275th anniversary, it seems that by 1965 public tastes had changed towards an ale that was darker and sweeter and that’s when Smithwicks draught keg beer was developed by Guinness to meet this demand. This was possibly driven by Watney’s Red Barrel (first imported and then Cork-brewed) and other similar ales. (If nothing else this blows a huge hole in the marketing of when the current iteration of Smithwicks red ale was first brewed, although it can still possible claim the crown of Ireland's oldest - MacArdles aficionados might disagree but that's research for another day. It also asks the question again as to whether Smithwicks 'normal' ale up to this point was actually a pale ale like Time or not. Certainly one of their main productions in 1866 was 'Pale or India Ale' according to George Measom, but there was also an enigmatic Kilkenny ale. Perhaps this is also a discussion for another post...)

(No mention is made in the 1985 article of the company's flirtation with the Time brand so it appears that by the eighties Smithwicks had sadly taken the history of that particular beer-related Kilkenny cat and put it into a brick-laden bag before throwing it over their back wall into the river Nore.)


-o-

I'm not sure exactly when the brand was wound up but it seems to have disappeared in very late 1965 or 1966, but thanks to the interest of breweriana collectors and glass hoarders I have got my hands on labels, glasses and beer mats, which show how much commitment Smithwicks put behind the brand. The beermats are particularly interesting as each one has a Percy French song along with a cartoon illustration and seem to have appeared in two iterations, one batch at least printed in Germany and both saying beer not ale. It's interesting that given the modern feel of some of the other marketing that these are patently traditional Irish tone including the images - unfortunately I don't know the artist, which is annoying as there is something vaguely familiar about the images. The last set features football, bowling, golf and hurling and are also printed in Germany, they certainly have a more modern feel - all are very well designed and produced.


 Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission


 Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission


 Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission

-o-
So how was Time served? Well apart from the bottles shown by the labels above and pictured in the adverts, I came across a photo of this cute little dummy barrel sitting on the bar in O'Toole's pub, Chamber Street, Dublin in 1964 for Time Draught, I suspect the logo may have been gold and white out of a red background but that's just guesswork based on the labels.



What's also interesting is that this may have been a direct dig at Watney's Red Barrel, which also had a similar - if less traditional looking - barrel shaped beer font and had been in Ireland since the previous year.
-o-
Below is a selection of Time branded glassware from the period, the tankard is verification stamped for 1965, right at the end of the brands life. I believe all are from the enigmatic 'Waterford Domestic', which I assume was a volume production wing of Waterford Glass.



Image Source - Author's own collection, do not reuse without permission


The tall jug is an anomaly as the only other place I've seen something similar is in a Guinness advert from 1965. The logo and wording below it that says 'Time for a Chaser' are washer-worn - or possibly scratched off - on the two in my possession but still legible in the right light.

Image Source - Guinness via Brian Sibley's The Book of Guinness Advertising

(There's also a nice advert showing these Time glasses in an advert from 1964 on the excellent Brand New Retro website.)

-o-
Regardless of what you think of Smithwicks, Diageo, or their marketing department the fact is that this is a part of our country's brewing history and deserves to be recorded and what little that I know of the story needed to be told, and if no one else will do it then I'll do my best to collect, record and regurgitate it. Some of the above is guesswork and conjecture as you can see, so if anyone has any additions or corrections please feel free to contact me and I'll add it to this article.

Liam

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post. Please be aware that my own photos are watermarked.)



References:

1 The Irish Press - June 27th 1964

2 Kilkenny People - September 27th 1985



Monday, 16 September 2019

A Tall Tale of John Wynne's AK Ale



John Wynne’s brewery sat on the edge of town just beside the river, with Hopkin’s mill downstream and the busy warehouses of the Taylor brothers butting up against his own wooden framed building on the town side. The slow-moving river was the lifeblood of the small village, which nestled in a valley not too far from the bigger cities of the south with close access to the canals than were the arteries of England, transporting much needed goods around the growing country. The politicians said that the new railways would soon take over from the canals for transportation, as they would be quicker and more efficient, but John wasn’t so sure. It seemed to him a lot of work to lay all those iron rails and build the stations and warehouses that every town would require. Old Abraham Taylor thought the same, an opinion he often voiced as he called to the brewery waving with his pipe at John and looking for a free sample of porter, giving his two sons next door a break from his cantankerousness, but even Abraham hadn’t seemed so sure of late, perhaps swayed by the talk of the bargemen who came and went from Richard and Daniel’s quayside jetty.

John didn’t have any family, as his parents had died when he was still in his youth, not long after he had started work in a big brewery in the city. After a few years learning his trade he tired of the city and sold his parents’ house, ploughing the money into a then rundown small-town brewery he had come across via an advertisement in one of the city newspapers. Reading and writing were never his strengths, although he knew enough to get by, but he was much better with figures and was a likeable character, so his new brewery was doing quite well, and he was well respected and liked in the town, which pleased him greatly as he still felt more than a little like an outsider. It helped that his XX porter was well brewed and was gaining a reputation in the town, as well as in the numerous villages that dotted the valley.

But lately he saw a change in the drinking habits of those who frequented the local taverns and inns, especially The Green Dragon, which was by far his biggest account. A taste for bitter pale ales had developed in the palates of the drinkers in the town. These ales were being brought in via the canals and the river, with much of it coming through his neighbours the Taylor’s stores, as old Abraham often told him; he said he saw ten barrels stamped PA for pale ale arriving from a brewery in the city just the previous day. This worried John as he only brewed porter and hadn’t tried his hand at ales like these, although he was aware of the process. All was not lost however, as many of the inn's customers found these new ales too heavy and hard to drink, so John had a plan to try his hand at brewing a lighter pale ale; something refreshing, still bitter but easy to drink, and this he would sell alongside his porter.

And so a couple of months later John arrived into The Green Dragon with his XX porter but also with a couple of barrels of his new ale, which he perfected under the curious eye of Abraham who had become his chief taste tester, even if he did have a tendency to fall asleep on the malt sacks in the loft. He had grown quite fond of Abraham over the last few months, and liked having him in the brewery, where he also acted as a form of security, as his gruff nature scared the local kids who had a tendency to sneak into the brewery to nibble on the malt.

William, the owner of The Green Dragon, was an ever-happy character who had a sharp business brain, always looking to make a few extra shillings wherever he could. He was a larger-than-life, rotund individual and he huffed and puffed as he moved his bulk out of the kitchen where he was supervising the roasting of a large pork joint to feed his clientele later that night when the stage coaches arrived from the city for a stopover. He too worried about the effect that the railroads would have on his business but was able to turn a problem into an opportunity better than most, so he knew he’d survive. John unloaded the barrels on which he had hastily scribbled XX for his normal delivery of porter and had simply scrawled the word ‘Ale’ on the barrels of his new brew.

‘What ya got there John?’ William asked, pointing at the new barrels, which were left to one side.

‘Hello William, this is my new ale. I’m hoping you will try it out and see if it will sell alongside the other bitter ale you serve.’

William poked a barrel with the toe of his dirty boot. ‘Huh, I’m not sure, some don’t like that stuff you know? Too heavy they say, they can't drink enough to satify their thirsts, and I already have some barrels in the cellar’

‘This is different, it’s lighter and I think it might suit the local folk more than that stuff from the city.’

William didn’t look convinced, but he liked John and knew he was a good brewer.

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I’ll try it.’

‘Great,’ replied John, ‘You won’t regret it.’

‘I hope not. Give me five barrels of the XX and two barrels of the, eh…’ He looked at the writing on the barrels, ‘Of the AK.’

‘Sorry, of the what?’ John said, looking puzzled.

‘The AK, just leave them there and we’ll get them down to the cellar when the foods done, I’ll settle up next week.’

With that William quickly headed back to the kitchen to check on the pork.

John scratched his head, looked closely at the barrels and then the penny dropped. His hastily scribbled word ‘Ale’ did indeed look like ‘AK’ and he could see how William assumed that if he had XX on one barrel than he would use similar, if strange, lettering system on the other. He shrugged, unloaded the last of the barrels and made his way back to the brewery. AK it was so, perhaps the enigmatic name would help it sell he thought to himself, it certainly wouldn't do it any harm.


John Wynne’s AK was a great success in The Green Dragon and over the coming months it completely replaced the other pale ales there, as it also did in most of the other local inns and taverns. His brewery was flat out now and he would need to consider hiring some permanent staff, he was sitting down for lunch in the brewery contemplating this one day when Abraham, who had already drank too much of his new ale that day, came wobbling in from the riverside entrance, beckoning with his pipe to John to follow him.

‘Ay John lad, you had better come look at this...’

John followed Abraham back out along the quay where a barge was unloading barrels. Casks of ale on which were quite clearly stamped with the letters ‘AK' on their ends.

‘I thought you should know.’ Abraham said, sucking on his pipe and looking at John’s face as it reddened.

‘Oi, who are they for?’ John shouted at the driver who was leaning against the side the cart, into which the barrels were now being loaded.

The driver spat, looked up and squinted towards John.

‘I’m going up to William in The Dragon with them. What's the problem?’

John was furious, he rushed along the quay and up the street to The Green Dragon, bursting through the door out of breath and very angry. A strartled William looked up from where he was cleaning tankards, with a puzzled look on his face.

‘Hello John, is all okay with you?’

‘What’s with those barrels down at the quay? I thought I was supplying you with ale now!’

William looked a little sheepish.

‘Oh, that…’

John waited as William came around from the other side of the counter.

‘The thing is John, a while ago the big brewery sent down a man to see why we weren’t ordering from them anymore, and I told him that it was because of the AK and that my customers loved it. He took a taste of it and then said that they made an AK too, which I did think strange cos he never mentioned it before. Then he asked me how much you were charging, when I told him he said he could match the price and give me a free barrel with every three.’

John was getting increasingly angry as William continued to speak.

‘That’s a great deal John, I couldn’t not take it. Sorry but business is business.’

John was furious with William for accepting the deal and with the other brewery, for stealing his beer and his unique mix-up name.

He stormed back out of The Green Dragon with a string of curses sent in William’s direction. He stood for a while outside the inn, seething and planning his revenge. Eventually he calmed down enough to think straight and began to make his way made his way back down to the quay. He’d get even by legal means with that brewery, let’s see them explain how they came up with the letters AK for the ale, only he knew the real story. They’d regret the theft of his idea, his name and his customers...


John could see the smoke before he got to the start of the quay…

He ran as quickly as he could to the front of the brewery, by now flames were shooting from the loft. Richard and Daniel Taylor were standing outside in an agitated state.

‘We can’t find father!’ Richard, the older of the two brothers exclaimed. ‘We think he might be up in your loft!’

Immediately John knew what had happened, Abraham had sneaked up to the loft after the commotion on the quayside and fallen asleep, with that bloody pipe…

‘Call for the pumps!’ He shouted as he rushed into the burning building and reached the first step of the loft ladder.

And with that the whole floor of the loft collapsed…


It took them half the night to finally get the fire under control, fortunately it didn’t spread to the warehouse or the mill, and many thought it lucky there were only two fatalities.


The following year William in The Green Dragon died, his heart finally getting tired of the work required to keep him upright. His son George continued to stock AK along with the other ales in an expanded range from the brewery in the city. Others started brewing more lightly hopped ales, also calling them AK in copycat fashion, and even adapting the K in other ways the same as an X and other letters were used. John Wynne’s brewery was soon forgotten, ironically replaced by a maltings that supplied the big city breweries that now brewed his beer.

And so, nobody knew how the beer style called AK came to be named, they would never know that it was just down to a simple combination of a misunderstanding, and one brewer’s poor handwriting…


The End

-o-

Note: This is a complete work of fiction, although there was - and there still is - a beer style called AK. An ongoing debate resurfaces every now and again where people argue the meaning of the letters, not the style of beer I hasten to add. The idea for this story came to me from two sources; one is that when you search Google books for ‘AK’ it often confuses the word ‘Ale’ for those letters; the second is my own dreadful handwriting which was used for the image I used in the story. If you want to read more opinions about AK I suggest consulting Ron Pattinson, Martyn Cornell and Gary Gillman, who have all written plenty on its name, style and origins and are infinitely more knowledgeable than me on all things to do with beer history. Boak & Bailey have also commented on the subject, as referenced in some of the aboves' articles.

Liam