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Irish Whiskey Distilleries – A Snapshot of Ireland’s Distilleries, Where History Meets Innovation In Every Drop by Derek King

Take a trip to some of the best Irish Whiskey Distilleries across the country

It is absolutely undeniable that Irish Distilling is on the crest of its mightiest wave thus far!

Ireland’s whiskey industry has experienced a robust revival, boasting over 40 operational Irish whiskey distilleries and more in various stages of planning or construction. The numbers are absolutely astonishing right now. Close to 100 million litres of whiskey per year are being distilled, almost 3.5 million casks are maturing across the island of Ireland and there were about 680k people visiting Irish distilleries in 2022! 

The resurgence of Irish whiskey has seen a spike in distillery openings over the past decade, showcasing a diversity of styles, from established giants to craft operations. This growth not only reflects the rekindled global appreciation for Irish whiskey but also signifies a thriving landscape ripe with innovation, heritage, and quality craftsmanship across the island. 

It’s a pretty difficult picture to imagine now but to venture back only a mere ten years we had an extremely small pool of Irish whiskey to choose from and even less distilleries to visit. By the time you wake up tomorrow we could well have another opening – it’s happening fast! Many of the Irish distillery offerings are now focused on whiskey tourism and the so-called hobby holidayer: travelling to Ireland to sample the Uisce Beatha and see these repurposed buildings and brand new state of the art visitor attractions, or as we call them, brand homes. I always find myself really impressed with how these brands showcase their craft, people and innovation by presenting these Irish whiskey distilleries as world class tourist attractions.

Teeling revived the art of Distilling in Dublin, opening in 2015. It was the first new working distillery in Dublin’s so-called ‘Golden Triangle’ in over 125 Years. The great Powers dynasty came to an end with its distillery closing their doors in 1975/76 (now Powers is distilled in Midleton by Irish Distillers.) This marked the death of distilling in Dublin’s Liberties.  A very rich heritage of both brewing and distilling existed in the Liberties prior to this but the closure of the Johns Lane distillery marked the end of whiskey making in the area, the brewing culture kept alive and well by the Guinness machine! Powers have recently refurbished their old pot stills – these copper giants are housed in the NCAD building, the old Powers home on Thomas Street.

Thankfully Dublin distilling is alive and well again! The absolutely beautiful Pearse Lyons Distillery on James Street, Roe and Co which is housed in the old Guinness power station, Teeling located in Newmarket are blazing trails, and their neighbours, Dublin Liberties Distillery, are delving into Dublin’s dark whiskey history all within a stone’s throw of each other. But more importantly, they are all working distilleries, each with state of the art tours and visitor offerings. 

Although many visitors to the capital will typically have done the research (or a quick Google scan) and end up amongst the masses in the very impressive Jameson Bow Street distillery (and Guinness storehouse), it can be worth venturing off the beaten path to get behind the scenes of the above attractions mentioned. If feeling the sensory overload of being in a production facility is your thing, you NEED to be in a Stillhouse! The heat, the smells and the action!

Personally I have a soft spot for the more the rural distilleries dotted around the country. I never thought I would see the day that a brand new world class facility in the form of Ahascragh Distillery would exist a mere 20 minute drive from where I grew up in East Galway. Founded by Gareth and Michelle Mc Allister, their doors are now open for visitors. Maybe it’s simply the “culchie” in me that prefers a spin across the country after finding a designated driver to visit the great distilleries in the throws of the Irish countryside.

Slane Distillery

The history or previous occupiers of the vacant premises that distilleries are moving into are sometimes the beginning of the fascination for me. Old bakeries, jam factories, car garages and saw mills, to mention a few. Slane Distillery is a great example of how life has been breathed into a 250 stable block on the grounds of Slane Castle.

Slane, it’s fair to say is not famous for whiskey YET but more for the bands that have rocked the natural amphitheatre of the castle gardens for over 35 years. Music is in the DNA here… possibly one of the most recognisable bottles on the back bar and a signature serve across certain markets the SLANE ROCKS! The aesthetics of the distillery are absolutely amazing from start to finish and it’s easy to see that the deep pockets of Brown-Forman left no stone unturned and no penny unspent in the refurb of these buildings.

The distillery is set across two large cobbled courtyards with the visitor experience taking up most of the right wing of the facility and the distilling taking place under the watchful eye of Dr. Gearoid Cahill and team to the left. The distillery boasts two large tasting rooms, a VIP whiskey lounge, Stalls café bar as well as a mini cooperage and maturation warehouse along the tour trail. Ask nicely to see the TACK ROOM on your visit – a more perfect spot for a dram doesn’t exist. Landscaped gardens and the equine theme are the finishing touches to what is a magnificent way to spend a whiskey day at Slane.

Kilbeggan Distillery

Kilbeggan Distillery is a true example of a distillery that sadly died but thankfully has come back to life in the most perfect example of stepping back in time and imagining what distilling days were like through the golden ages. The “old road” from the West of Ireland was always so well landmarked by the red brick chimney stack of the Locke distillery towering above the town of Kilbeggan.

The distillery is well dressed with awards and is regularly nominated for visitor attraction accolades – this tells the story of the experience to be had. Like many of the Irish whiskey distilleries of old, Kilbeggan was dealt some bad hands through the ages and closed its doors in 1957. However, with the license being maintained the dream started to become reality in 1982 when the Kilbeggan preservation and Development Associtation was formed by the townspeople who used locally raised funds to take the old distillery to a museum status.

Cooley Distillery owner John Teeling was responsible for lighting the fire under the project and bringing life to the site again. In 2010 the required apparatus was taken into Kilbeggan to get the site back on the road to producing whiskey once more. The first release to be entirely produced and matured was their small batch rye… a beautiful drop! 

Always the warmest of welcomes by Denise and team at Kilbeggan with a fantastic museum tour steeped in the heritage. It is a fantastic opportunity to get up close and personal with the preserved machinery used in the past. The old mill stones, steam engines and pot stills are all part of the rich history here. Take part in their Irish coffee class, a great way to top off your day at Kilbeggan.

Shed Distillery

The Shed Distillery in Co. Leitrim is most certainly better known for producing Drumshanbo Irish Gin, arguably one of the most recognisable bottles out there! More recently whiskey has become the focus in their HQ where three pot stills and two column stills are the work horses behind the whiskey program.

Established in 2014 by PJ Rigney, this distillery stands out for its innovative approach to distillation and commitment to artisanal craftsmanship. This rings true from the minute you clap eyes on ‘The Shed’ (The nickname given to the distillery due to its previous life as a dilapidated building), the façade is absolutely stunning. Very unique, well manicured with glass upon glass welcoming guests through its doors.

The Shed Distillery’s whiskey is the first to come out of Connacht in over 105 years. These guys focus on quality, utilising local ingredients, and embracing innovative techniques to create spirits that stand out in the market. Just look at their bottles – STUNNING!

 The distillery’s dedication to craftsmanship and their unique offerings have contributed to their growing reputation with the Irish Whiskey community. 

The Shed is worth the pilgrimage, a beautiful site with loads on offer and the friendly staff help navigate your visit. A 1 and a half hour tour gets you into the mix in the distillery weaving your way through the beautiful Stillhouse and finishing with a guided tasting of a line-up from their portfolio. The tasting happens in the Honey Badger Bar in the Botanical Glasshouse – a top notch place to chill and enjoy a dram or two before lunch in the on-site café, Jackalope. An amazing day trip made special by The Shed distillery.

Powerscourt Distillery

Recently I took a visit to Powerscourt Estate to see the big guy in the red suit with my 8 month old. It was the first time I was in that neck of the woods without a distillery trip – Time was against me! Santa waits for no man! The experience of the garden walk and a stroll around the estate really only compliments the beauty of The Powerscourt Distillery.

Located only 30 minutes from Dublin, this is a must visit if whiskey is on your itinerary at some point during a stay or to pass a Saturday or Sunday in the surrounds of Estate. The distillery is now operating in the estate’s old mill house which dates back to the 1730s and evidence of its past are visible in the foundations beneath your feet as you walk through the doors. From getting to know some of the core people working in the distillery it’s very obvious that a local message resides in the DNA – water from Powerscourt waterfall and barley from the neighbouring fields, unbelievable! A classic 3 pot still distillery in its design allows the team to distil both malt and pot-still whiskey incorporating both triple and double distillation. The highlight of a visit here is the access to their maturation warehouse – very cool! Try the food pairing tour option with Santina – it’s a very special experience! 

Pearse Lyons Distillery

If there’s a prize going for the most unique distillery trip of all we make our way back to Dublin to The Pearse Lyons Distillery. Dr Pearse Lyons and his wife Deirdre saw that the disused St James Church was up for sale and was acquired by the couple with the intention of converting the building into a distillery. The site being protected handed the Lyons family its fair share of ups and downs – delays resulting from required careful archaeological excavations on the site being the main contributor to time lost.

Finally in July 2017 the distillery and visitor centre were opened. The beautiful church interior were restored and some very interesting shop fronts and features added to the building. New stained glass windows are very striking but the most identifiable landmarks on James Street now was the glass spire towering from the church roof.

Always meticulously clean, the distillery front is always so welcoming. It’s very difficult to not gravitate towards the church on arrival. The Pearse Lyons Distillery offers an immersive visitor experience where guests can explore the distillation process up close and personal! 

The tour typically includes insights into their whiskey-making as well as the rich history of the St. James Church and site. Prior to commencing the guided walk through the nearby graveyard, guests will view a brief video introducing the late Pearse Lyons (Dr Lyons sadly passed away in 2018, a short year after opening his distillery.)

You get an opportunity to delve into distillation firsthand as you meet the distillers and dive into the process – from grain to glass – at the altar! Surely this is a first in whiskey anywhere in the world! 

The tour culminates in a tasting experience, offering the opportunity to select and sample from a range of three to five of the Pearse Whiskeys. A guided tasting by one of the most experienced distillery teams is the very best way to finish the visit. There is also an afternoon tea offering celebrating the Irish coffee or the opportunity to blend your own whiskey.

There’s so many more great whiskey experiences to mention but these are a small handful of my favourites. A common misconception around the Irish whiskey distilleries is ‘seen one, seen em all!’ I can assure you it is not the case. They are all VERY unique, from the landscape they’re on, the people that guide, the whiskey you taste and the bolt-on experiences you can enjoy – always a great day out to be had!

For information about all of the Irish whiskey distilleries including tour times, locations and prices visit irishwhiskey360.com – a very comprehensive site that has all the need-to-knows in one place.

Article by Derek King
The Whiskey Journey

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.

https://www.experienceirishwhiskey.ie/

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