REVIEW: Smithwick’s Premium Irish Ale

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Smithwick’s & Sons LTD.
Location: Kilkenny, Ireland
Style: Irish Red Ale
ABV: 4.5%
IBU: 20
Appearance: Bright Coppery-Red Hue with Puffy White Foam
Aroma: Mild, Malty Sweetness; Hints of Nut & Roasted Grains
Flavor: Smooth & Malty; Notes of Nuttiness & Toffee
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Corned Beef, Irish Beef Stew, Cabbage, Potatoes

Saint Patrick’s Day is upon us, and with it comes the hunt for some good Irish beer to hoist high in celebration of the old saint and everything Irish. Of course the first beer that comes to most everyone’s mind when talking Irish is Guinness Stout, and with good reason; Guinness is probably the most recognized stout in the world. But, because it is so widely recognized I decided to travel just a bit down the list of imported Irish beers and review something not quite so well known. Cue Smithwick’s, or Smithick’s (the w is actually silent). Now, granted this is a product of Guinness, but it is not a stout, and so may appeal to more palates in search of Irish waters, then its darker brother.

But first, a little history. Saint Patrick’s Day, as it is celebrated today, is really an Irish-American made holiday. Until this change took hold, it was celebrated in Ireland as a Christian feast day, where families would get together and have a good meal. The raucous celebrations we see today are a product of Irish-Americans searching for a way to reconnect to, and celebrate their ties to the old country; including the parades and the color green, which is taken to an extreme in Chicago where a part of the river is dyed green every year.

“Sláinte, My friend. To another day and this bit of Irish at the end.”

Smithwick’s itself has quite the history. To fully grasp it, I would suggest you read more about it on Smithwick’s website (PDF). It’s definitely worth a read. Suffice to say that it is a 304 year long history filled with hard-times, innovations, floods, droughts, and human ingenuity.

Just a couple of interesting things about its history: Nine men in the Smithwick line have owned the brewery, in fact, accept for one brief time, the brewery has always had one of its namesakes attached to it; and the first Smithwick’s exported to America vanished from Boston harbor, stolen, the case never solved. Makes you wonder what all the fuss is doesn’t it?

The Pour and Aroma

Smithwick's Irish Ale

Smithwick’s pour highlights a coppery-red color in the range of light mahogany or rosewood. It is amazingly clear and bright in the glass, allowing for true appreciation of its beautiful color. Close to four fingers of puffy foam stacked up in the top of my glass and closely resembled sea spume; thick, but bubbly and airy at the same time. Quite different from the creamy-rich head Guinness Stout is known for. The head, combined with the color, makes it look a lot like Coca-Cola. The foam took a little time to drop, but did, leaving behind a thin layer of creamier foam that stuck around for the duration.

The aroma is very mild. There’s an overlaying malty sweetness. Some very subtle hints at nut and roasted grains, which are only subtly recognizable after letting the beer warm up, and there is little if any presence of hops.

Mouthfeel and Taste

Smithwick’s is very smooth, but coming from Guinness I wouldn’t expect anything less. Guinness is the king of smooth and creamy. It’s far less thick then the Guinness stout, coming in with a mouthfeel well within the medium range.

As with the aroma there is very little noticeable bitterness, but the taste, though malty is not overpowering, which suggests some bittering hops working hard behind the scenes, and I think I catch a brief sense of this hidden hop story at the far end of the taste. The trip across the palate before swallowing is a mix of nuttiness, slightly burnt or roasted toffee, and hints of mild coffee, all with the background of malt sweetness. It’s a pleasant little trip. Easy to linger over and enjoy. The sweet roastyness loiters in the form of a slightly cloying aftertaste long after any hint of bitterness has dropped away.

Finishing The Impression

Smithwick's

This beer is a good choice for St. Patrick’s Day; it’s got a long Irish history (with many interesting points to talk over with that pint-sharing friend), it’s easy to find in most places, and though it is a big, commercially produced beer it does have enough character to hold its own. And if you want to try something truly special mix a bottle of Smithwick’s with a bottle of Guinness extra stout. They call it a Blacksmith, and since my first one about 5 years ago, it’s has become my St. Patrick’s Day mainstay.

Sláinte and Happy St. Paddies!

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Nick Carr

Nick Carr

Nicoli Carr has been tinkering with homebrewing for over 10 years and is currently enrolled in the American Brewers Guild (CBA). When he’s not studying or working, he is likely out foraging wild brewing options, writing, or hunting stillness in remote places.

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