I've written more then once about Guinness' landmark 250 year birthday celebrations but what many people don't realise is that Guinness isn't Ireland's oldest pint, and St. James's Gate isn't Ireland's oldest brewery! 2010 marks the 300 year birthday for the Smithwick's St. Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny. To celebrate the colossal milestone, the brewery has thrown open it's doors and is inviting the public to tour the brewery.
The latest addition to the rich cultural offering of Kilkenny, allows members of the public to experience a fully guided tour of the famous site, walking in and around the buildings and areas of the Brewhouse where Smithwick’s is actually brewed. The tour also takes in the stunning medieval St. Francis Abbey which sits on the site of the brewery and dates back to the 13th century.
Ian Hamilton, Operations Manager at St Francis Abbey Brewery commented: “For many years, visitors to Kilkenny and locals alike have wanted to take a tour of Ireland’s oldest brewery. In celebration of our 300 year anniversary this year, we are delighted to be able to open our doors to the public, and give them a rare glimpse behind the historic walls of St. Francis Abbey Brewery”.
Last week I was lucky enough to be invited down to Kilkenny to experience the tour myself and see exactly what it's all about. The first stop on the Smithwick's tour was The Cellar Bar where we met our lovely tour guide, Suzanne.
From The Cellar Bar, Suzanne brought us out into the original brewery courtyard and gave us a run through of the history behind the Smithwick's family's long brewing heritage and the various ups and downs that the brewery experienced in 300 years. From here we were shown out and around the main building to St. Francis Abbey. The abbey itself is a beautiful building, though obviously in ruins, that really gives a sense of history and contrast to the modern building around it.
The next stop was the Tasting Room, where Smithwick’s official tasters check and ensure the quality of every brew. Here there's a short video explaining the brewing process. After the Tasting Room it was on to the brewery floor to see the fermentation and maturation processes in action before finally finishing up the tour up with a tutored tasting session back in The Cellar Bar with a complimentary pint of Smithwick's.
For our particular tasting session we were lucky enough to have Ian Hamilton and Billy Power, Global Quality and Program Director, on hand to help us out. Basically we had the two single most qualified people possible to bring us through the subtlety and complexity that sits before you in a pint of Smithwick's. To say I felt lucky is a complete understatement. Ian and Billy were full of craic and happy to answer any and all questions that our group had, from what Smithwick's target customer is to what to look for in taste, aroma and appearance in a pint (see here!).
Beyond the tour itself, the brewery also now offers visitors the chance to experience the story of the evolution of the St Francis Abbey Brewery. From the founding of the Abbey in the 13th century to the present, the story is brought to life through visuals, artefacts, pictures and audio in the new exhibition space. The exhibit covers the generations of the Smithwick’s family involved in the Brewery, the ingredients & brewing processes, the prestigious brewing awards won since 1892, and the advertising and packaging of Smithwick’s.
In short, there is a whole lot to see and experience and every bit of it is well worth it. Smithwick's have developed a really great attraction here and something that I would highly recommend to every visitor, not just to Kilkenny but to Ireland.
The Smithwick's brewery tour takes approximately 1.5 hours, is fully guided and includes a complimentary drink in the Cellar Bar. Tours run from Tuesday to Saturday inclusive at 12:30, 13:00, 15:00 and 15:30 daily. The tour is closed on Sunday and Monday. Admission is €10 and all visitors must be over 18.
Booking Office: Call +353 (0)56 779 64 98.
E Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Advance booking recommended.
St. Francis Abbey Brewery is a production facility. Therefore, we regret that we cannot cater for wheelchair users or persons with impaired mobility due to the structure and layout of our 300 year old site.
For your safety, please wear appropriate footwear (i.e. no high heels or open toe shoes).
Full details can be found at www.Smithwicks.ie