The Phoenix Brewery was one of seven along James's Street, on what became Dublin's industrial outskirts as the new Georgian city broke beyond its medieval boundaries. It was first established in 1778 and grew to prominence under the ownership of Daniel O'Connell Jr., with O'Connell's Dublin Ale even warranting a mention in Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Phoenix's growth paralleled that of Guinness's across the street, and by the end of the century, when Guinness's was poised to become the largest brewery in the world, Phoenix was Ireland's second. Like its larger neighbour, Phoenix sprawled as it grew and when Alfred Barnard visited around 1890 it had just acquired the adjoining Manders Brewery site, thereby tripling its size. Barnard describes1 a sequence of rooms with vast fermentation and maturation tanks, as well as an extensive basement complex holding upwards of 3,000 barrels of stout and porter, ready for market. Its position on the north side of James's Street gave the advantage of easy access to the Liffey quays, and consequently to Dublin port, Great Britain and the Empire.
|The Phoenix Vat House, from Barnard's Noted Breweries|
So I'm guessing that it was here that the latest Smithwick's seasonal was produced. Fair play to the team writing the label copy for Long Summer: they're doing their job properly. "Brewed with noble hops" it says on the neck: that immediately tells me something about what to expect. The added notes on the back, concerning "caramel, green tea and tropical fruits" introduce a slightly confusing element, but plenty of intrigue too.
I was surprised to find on pouring that this refreshing hot-weather beer is actually quite dark: a similar burnished copper tone to regular Smithwick's. The aroma too is the same sort of stewed tea with a faint metallic tang, though maybe there is an extra trace of mango in the background as well. Though all of 4.5% ABV, it's every bit as watery as Smithwick's, though that at least makes it easy drinking, which I guess is the point. There's just enough sparkle to keep it lively without making it difficult. I don't get the green bit, but there is a tannic tea aspect to the taste. However, anyone expecting a rush of hops, noble or otherwise, will be disappointed. Other than the aforementioned aroma there's almost no hop flavour at all.
I guess it succeeds as being a thirst-quenching lawnmower beer, but then you could say the same about regular Smithwick's: a sniff of a mango is insufficient reason to trade up.
I wonder what the late Mr Brenan would have made of it. Is plain-but-accessible Long Summer the kind of beer that would secure the future of his troubled brewery? Perhaps. It's sad that no trace of the Phoenix, Manders or Anchor breweries remain for the visitor today. Phoenix's front office at 89 James's Street still stands, though like many of the surrounding buildings it looks rather neglected. A bronze plaque with a line from Ulysses hangs on the building next door where more of the brewery's offices were, but even it only mentions Guinness's across the way. Someone behind the walls knows the story, though. At the rear of the Diageo complex, just next to their new brewhouse, a sign over the gateway greets visitors:
1. Barnard, The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland (1889-1891), Vol. 3, pp.78-80
2. Coyne, Ireland: Industrial and Agricultural (1902), pp.473-474
3. The Irish Times, 27 June 1899, p.3
4. The Irish Times, 1 January 1902, p.3
5. The Irish Times, 2 January 1905, p.10
6. Weekly Irish Times, 17 June 1905, p.13
7. Added following the realisation that I'd be really cross if I read the above and there weren't any