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.


 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.)

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...


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.)


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

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.
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.)

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.


(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.)


1 The Irish Press - June 27th 1964

2 Kilkenny People - September 27th 1985


Martyn Cornell said...

The whole 1710 thing is utter bollix. Smithwick's brewery started when Edmond Smithwick signed a lease with Michael Brennan and his son Patrick Brennan for the brewhouse, malthouse, etc known as the St Francis Abbey Distillery on April 25 1827 - see Irish Law Times and Solicitors' Journal vol 1, Dublin, Ireland, March 30 1867, p165

Liam said...

Yep Martyn, see my previous post, which I expanded even further upon while writing that one...

theonering said...

I managed to pick up today a perfect 'tail jug' and four glasses for Euro.

Liam said...

Good find, I've found a mint jug since plus another tankard.