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

(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.)


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

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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...


(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.)


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?

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 ( 

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.


 © Independent News and Media PLC

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 Export 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 almost a complete rebrand with Export 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 in October of 1960, 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. There was no mention as to what was to happen their No. 1 ale...

 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...

 © Independent News and Media PLC

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 Smithwicks No. 1 never went away, or maybe it was always available just 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 ... it was certainly being advertised in 1965/66 as an ale with a 'Rich Golden Colour', so definitely not red!

 © Independent News and Media PLC


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 was a rebrand of the Export, 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 if it has been reformulated since 1965 - MacArdles aficionados might disagree but that's research for another day. 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.)

 © Independent News and Media PLC


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.)

All advertisement so marked are © Independent News and Media PLC and I have received permission to reproduce them here. All rights reserved. Sourced via The British Newspaper Archive ( 


1 The Irish Press - June 27th 1964

2 Kilkenny People - September 27th 1985

 © Independent News and Media PLC