Tuesday, 14 January 2020

When Smithwicks Made a Lager - A Good Idea?

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...)

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.'

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...


(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.)


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

Newspaper images © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). 


Diane O'Reilly said...

We found two of the glasses after a clear out. Lovely size and quality. Had not realised they're from the 60s.

Unknown said...

Hi, yes that idea glass was made in Waterford, I have it and a Phoenix one the exact same,the phoenix one still has the Waterford sticker, never knew the time glasses were Waterford as well

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, what might have been.... I never knew that Great Northern was owned by Smithwicks