Kilkenny…for all it’s Wort!

Ah come on now John. You have been blogging for three years now so how can you have a typo in the Post Title?

It’s not a typo. My brother Emmet had organised my Stag in Kilkenny and it was here that I found out what ‘wort’ really is. Thanks Emmet 🙂

1232 AD : St Francis Abbey Church, Kilkenny, Ireland

Father Tobias had only been part of the order for a few months but he had quickly learned to dread bringing news to the Abbot. Especially dire news.

As he reached the threshold of his master’s chambers he stopped himself mid-knock and with a heavy sigh steeled himself for the coming encounter.


“You may enter”. Came the commanding voice from behind the portal. As clear as a summer’s sky but as sharp as a sword’s keen edge.

Entering the chamber, the head of the Order, Brother Xavier stood with his back to the door, his right hand clutching the salt and pepper beard that grew from his chin in deep contemplation.

“Forgive me Father, but grave news from the Infirmary. It appears Brother Sebastian has succumbed to the impurities in the water and has passed away” And with those words the die was cast.

“Brother Sebastian was a devout member of this order. His calmness and reasoning will be sorely missed”

“Yes…father, I…” It was only then that Brother Tobias noticed that they were not alone. Behind him, almost hidden in an alcove was another member of their order, a rakish specimen called Brother Molitor.

Noticing the discovery of another in their presence, the abbot turned and walking over to a side table proffered a pair of chalices.

“Brother Sebastian will hopefully be the last to suffer at the hands of our poor water supply”

“How? I do not understand Father?” a bewildered Xavier asked as he was handed one of the chalices.

“Do not doubt as Thomas did Brother. Drink deep of this cup and all will be revealed. Brother Molitor here has found a solution to our problem. A most agreeable one wouldn’t you agree?”

As Brother Xavier drank the contents of the cup his mind was swirling. That sweet taste he had in his mouth was like nectar. The fabled Ambrosia of the gods. As he drained the last drop his eyes darted between his superior and his peer.

“What you have been drinking is a new invention. Our fellow faithful in the kitchens have found a way to turn this foul water that runs next to the Abbey into something most wondrous.” Turning to Brother Molitor  and gesturing to the empty chalice he posed a question of import.. “What did you call this again?”

Smiling from ear to ear, the Brother replied “Ale. And there is more where that came from”


So there you have it. Brewing began in Kilkenny out of the need of necessity. The survival of the monks was at stake and therefore invention was at the forefront of their minds back in the 13th Century. What they might never have known is the longevity of their endeavors, or that the germination of this seed would blossom into  the flower of their life’s work. Most people are familiar with Guinness but it is merely the younger sibling to the Kilkenny Red Style Ale – Smithwick’s.

As with every story it is not always the originator of the idea who reaps the most benefits. Nor is human progress (of any kind) the final frontier of one single person or group of people.

In 1540 Henry VIII came with fire and sword and closed down all of the monastic orders in a bare-naked land grab. This included the Franciscan Order based in Kilkenny and the brewery was shut down. True they had fits and starts afterwards as the children of Henry VIII jostled for position and the Catholic and Protestant religions waxed and waned with each development – but the fire in the heart of the operation was extinguished forever.

It was in 1710 that a new story began – on the site of the old. John Smithwick, an orphan of the Irish Rebellion, had settled in Kilkenny and was looking for a new venture. With a business partner in tow – Richard Cole, he leased a plot of land from the Duke of Ormond and began a small brewing service.  With 5 years Richard Cole was out and the Smithwick’s name became intertwined with ale forever more.


2016 – Smithwicks Brewing Experience Kilkenny, Ireland

“In your cups is some Wort which is the liquid that is extracted from the mashing process. It contains the sugars that be next be fermented by the yeast and that will produce our alcohol.”

This was not to be ambrosia or the nectar of the gods. A few months later and I can still taste the wort! We had been treated to a great tour of the Smithwick’s Brewery with demonstrations of how the hops and the barley are converted to the the various Ales we get today. Part of the tour was interactive with a series of moving painting frames, similar to what you see in Harry Potter, to tell parts of the story of Smithwicks, the man, the family and then ale itself.

The best part of the tour was the pint at the end…



There is an abundance of history here and many more tales to tell. The best way of discovering this is to go to Kilkenny and take the tour itself. It’s worth it for the Free Pint at the end 🙂

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