I love whiskey, I love that whiskey is its own special occasion and I especially love the backdrops we find ourselves with a glass in hand.
That said I always struggle to nail down the exact criteria around what makes a “good” whiskey bar and whether or not it’s even important to fit the description. The beautiful ‘Victorian-era’ pubs of Dublin always seem like the right setting, but a handful amongst them tick all the boxes for me to enjoy a pint and a chaser of great Irish whiskey.
So what does good look like? Is it the amount of these beautiful bottles on the shelves, is it quality over quantity, is it the expert knowledge of the bartender pouring your dram or is it them knowing the right amount of peace and quiet to give you to sip? Perhaps it’s the inviting nature of the setting, the style of glass, the ambience, or a little drop of all of the above?
Let’s call a spade a spade – all bars sell whiskey, but when you combine a little of everything touched on above, it becomes obvious why tourists and locals alike flock to some counters for a drop of Irish whiskey more so than others. The back bars now are a place of great shape, variance and colour, so it certainly demands a little more thought. Another aspect I enjoy about the whiskey shelves becoming a little more crowded is the emphasis on bottle and label design. A couple of brands I have noticed pushing the boundaries with recent releases are Redbreast with the beautiful 27 Year Old, as well as the Dunvilles Bottlings – works of art!
I don’t believe there is such a thing as the BEST whiskey bar, more that there’s a handful of bars that do whiskey well! In some cases, very well! We are lucky as whiskey fans to be experiencing this current renaissance and this is without doubt helping bars pay more attention to what’s available to the whiskey drinker and how it’s displayed. This too goes hand in hand with the interest of bartenders in whiskey (and world spirits alike) starting to really increase. All of this leads to a great whiskey experience in the bars I am about to tell you about.
I am lucky to be in such bars on a daily basis and more often than not, I find myself eavesdropping on conversations between bar staff and potential whiskey clients about to drop money on a dram or two hanging on every word they hear – “ABV, matured in Sherry or Wine Casks, cask strength, non chill filtered etc, etc.”
This is very admirable and huge credit goes to the brand representatives travelling the country educating bar teams on their various expressions of whiskey. This for me is the cherry on top in the bars and pubs that are whiskey-focused. I understand what it takes to preach a brand message and love the presence the Irish brand ambassadors have in Ireland at the moment. It’s due to their hard work and sheer commitment to their brands that the whiskey rabbit hole can be frequented in our pubs today.
So here is my shortlist of where to enjoy a whiskey in Dublin, and why I enjoy them so much.. A hard list to narrow down so I have included some honourable mentions at the bottom.
The Palace Bar
The celebrations around the 200 Year anniversary have well and truly kicked off. There has been a live radio broadcast from inside the Palace Bar, a limited edition porter released reviving a 200 year old recipe from Guinness as well as very special whiskey releases. (I’m told there is one more very special release this year just in time for Christmas).
Willie and team put a very close emphasis on Irish whiskey in the Palace and these guys stack high single casks and independent bottlings bearing the Palace name – trailblazing the art of independent bottling. The bar team have forgotten more about whiskey than most people know so you are in very good hands. The first floor bar is dedicated to whiskey (you can grab a pint as well of course) and THE WHISKEY PALACE as its known provides a lovely heir of calm to enjoy your selected dram and soak it all in.
The room was once once the living quarters for the Aherne family. As far as the traditional pub goes it does not get more iconic than this. From the initial feeling walking off Fleet Street to taking a seat at the bar, it oozes authenticity and you feel you are now somewhere special. The whiskey menu here resembles a phone book so here are my picks… Try a Palace Bar 16 Year Powers or Fercullen 20 Year Old Single Cask.
The Swan, Aungier Street
The most striking façade on Aungier Street and a licensed premises since 1661, The Swan is a gem in pub tradition. For the whiskey lover its very much a case of look, don’t touch.. the entire Midleton Very Rare selection on display. This is the whiskey centrepiece in this Victorian pub. The whiskey collection flanked by the evidence of the rugby connection the Lynch family have to the sport.
Current owner Ronan Lynch regularly tells the story of a time when his Dad, Sean, proudly represented both Ireland and the British Lions (his red cap proudly hangs on the wall). Sean famously continued operating the pub during his time as an Irish international – The first publican to do so. The whiskey selection here is very much quality over quantity displayed on the old barrel heads on the back bar. Everything from the artisan distilleries like Killowen, to a very impressive Redbreast and Spot family collection on offer. Always great advice from the bar team on what drop might suit you.
The bar is like a museum to the Victorian bar with the majority of the original fittings preserved and fully in use. My advice to people stepping in to the pub is look up or you will surely miss an antique or piece of whiskey memorabilia. A great people-watching spot, it’s very easy get lost over a stout and a chaser or two. My picks here are Killowen Rum and Raisin single malt or a Clonakilty Single Grain.
Bowes, Fleet Street
Slightly tucked away is this hidden gem celebrating all things world whiskey – everything from a Scotch section, dedicated Japanese whiskey shelves but a stunning large row of Irish whiskey bottles crown the back bar. On any visit it’s a real treat to pop into the snug… Take a round-the-world whiskey trip with the help of the beautiful tiled map on the wall.
I love Bowes for the comfort it provides to sip a whiskey and enjoy a chat, the bar staff are always very helpful and knowledgeable with their selection and sure to throw in a laugh or two. The conversationist will be right at home here as the only noise you’re likely to hear is the chatter of locals discussing the days racing, politics or the long term weather forecast! Bowes is almost a very well kept secret for the traditional pub-goers of Dublin, versus the heavily tourist trafficked famous city institutions.
The Irish Whiskey Society was founded in Bowes but has since outgrown the cosy confines of the bar and these guys know a good whiskey watering hole when they see one. A sign over head as you take in the beauty of the 250+ plus bottles perfectly nails down the philosophy of heading to the pub: “Bowes Bar is dedicated to those merry souls who make drinking a pleasure, who reach contentment before capacity, and what so ever they drink, can hold it and remain a gentleman.” Make it a must visit on your next crawl and enjoy Teeling Brabazon 2 or a Jameson Pot Still.
The Bank Bar, College Green
Possibly the most elegant setting in the city to order your whiskey. Opened in May 2003 and located on College Green, the Bank Bar is a stunning building to push the double doors on. The back bar is very easily shopped here with its neat appearance and an amazing Bank Bar Teeling single cask release dotted across the shelves.
As mentioned above, presentation, setting and selection is key to the whiskey experience and these guys have all 3 in abundance. On a recent trip for their famous Sunday roast, it was mind blowing how many people slowed their stride to survey the carefully selected rows of whiskey on display. On a ramble downstairs you will see the vaults and safes, evidence of the bar previously serving as the Belfast Bank. Stained glass ceilings, mosaic tile floors and a beautiful first floor gallery style area make this the perfect location to experiment with some of the local food on offer paired with a dram of the finest. A very talented pianist regularly serenades guests here.. While listening enjoy the Bank Teeling single Cask or a Redbreast 15.
The Whiskey Reserve, Temple Bar
The Whiskey Reserve is Dublin’s newest whiskey offering and quite simply a must visit venue for whiskey anoraks. As far as some of the world class whiskey offerings go I feel that this is right up there with these establishments. A piano, hidden bar, leather furniture and unmatched knowledge from their staff makes this a destination for any lover of the whiskeys of the world. The continuous consistent but yet subliminal whiskey reserve branding decorates the stunning interior so well!
On my first visit here it was difficult to see past the scaffolding and construction workers.. What they have presented here is nothing short of a whiskey temple to worship any expression you can imagine. Staff that are willing to venture into the glass with you really makes it a whiskey experience, where it’s easy sink into its sofas and imagine this was your own whiskey living room. A stunning place that always provides a polished experience! While here try a Dunvilles PX 12 or a Redbreast Temple Bar Single Cask.
Other whiskey bars in Dublin worth checking out for a dram
Derek has worked in the traditional Irish bar scene for many years and holds a huge passion for Irish pub culture. His time has been served as a bartender, bar manager and proprietor of pubs and music venues. He has spent time working in many different countries including Australia and Canada broadening his understanding of how alcohol and bar culture differs from country to country.
Derek has gained broad whiskey knowledge through in-depth whiskey training events, whiskey tastings, masterclasses and multiple Midleton Academies. The majority of this exposure was gained during his role as Global Brand Ambassador for Powers Irish whiskey with Irish Distillers/Pernod Ricard
The love for whiskey and distilling became his career focus when he was part of the start up team at Slane Distillery (owned by Brown Forman/Jack Daniels). Derek was part of the commercial and operational management of the day to day running of the visitor centre, which was located on the grounds of the iconic Slane Castle. POWERS whiskey called next… Derek took the brand by the reigns travelling as their global spokesperson telling the most historic and rich brand histories of all the whiskey stories out there. Now through the establishment of Experience Irish Whiskey, Derek is ready to spread the good word of Irish whiskey with specialised whiskey tasting experiences throughout the four corners of Ireland.