It’s an intoxicating time for Irish whiskey, with several new distilleries recently opened in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, and others on the way.
It’s also a confusing time for the visitor, but then, Ireland wouldn’t be Ireland without a little craziness. While some distilleries no longer distill, they do have terrific visitor centers; some that continue to distill are not open for public tours. There are two Jameson distilleries but they don’t make Jameson at either of them; Jameson is distilled at the Midleton Distillery, as is Tullamore. But Midleton isn’t open to the public. If you want to sample Tullamore Dew, you naturally have to go to the Tullamore Visitor Centre, where they no longer make it. Got that?
So now, hopefully you aren’t fully confused, but regardless, here is where you should go if you want to get your whiskey on.
On the beautiful Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, Old Bushmills provides one of the best distillery visits. It has the distinction of being the oldest licensed distillery in the world, its license being granted in 1608 by King James I of England. There’s a real sense of history here, and the distillery shop is the only place where you can buy Bushmills Malt Distillery Reserve 12-Year-Old, which is matured mainly in old Spanish Oloroso sherry casks.
This is the most visited distillery in Ireland, helped by the fact that it’s in the center of Dublin. Technically it isn’t a distillery as there’s been no distilling here since 1971, but that doesn’t stop over 300,000 people a year from taking a tour and enjoying a tipple. And a very good visit it is, to see a small-scale reproduction of the distillery that was established here in 1780 and learn all about whiskey-making in Ireland. Jameson is now distilled at…
The New Midleton Distillery
This new distillery opened in Midleton in County Cork 1975 and is the biggest distillery in Ireland. Here they produce Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Midleton Very Rare, Tullamore Dew and several other Irish brands. There are no tours. Instead, go next door to…
Parts of this distillery date back to 1795, although in those days it was a mill before being converted into a distillery. It closed in 1975 when production moved to the modern new distillery next door. The old distillery was then converted into a Visitor Centre, which is also known as the Jameson Experience and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cork. It’s about 30 minutes east of the city of Cork, with a connecting bus service. There are regular tours and for an extra fee you can add on a tutored Irish whiskey tasting session.
Tullamore near Kilbeggan is in the very center of Ireland, and it’s where Tullamore was first distilled in 1829. The ‘Dew’ was only added in 1873 when Daniel E. Williams became General Manager of the distillery and decided to add his initials to the name. To recognize his role in the history of the company, the new Visitor Centre reverted to the name of Tullamore D.E.W. The center is based in an 1897 Bonded Warehouse and offers a choice of either a regular tour or a more expensive one which includes a tutored tasting.
Seven miles from Tullamore is the Kilbeggan Distillery Experience, another slice of whiskey history. The distillery was founded in 1757 and whiskey was made here until 1954. It then fell into disrepair but in the 1970s the people of Kilbeggan decided to do something about it. They restored it and it is now a whiskey museum. It claims to be the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland, which is essentially accurate since Bushmills is in Northern Ireland, not Ireland. There are tours and tastings, although Kilbeggan Whiskey is now made at…
The Cooley Distillery is owned by Kilbeggan but is not open to the public. It’s in County Louth about 60 miles north of Dublin. Here they make Kilbeggan, of course, and also Greenore, Connemara and The Tyrconnell. Whiskey distilling only began here in 1989, and before that it was a plant for producing potato alcohol. If you want to sample Kilbeggan you’ll have to do what the whiskey does and make your way back to the Kilbeggan Distillery, 85 miles away.
In addition to the distilleries listed here, several new ones have opened or are about to be opened, with some of them currently having spirits maturing in casks until the moment it can be called whiskey. Newer distilleries to watch out for include:
In 2012 this craft distillery in Newtownards became the first distillery in Northern Ireland to be given a license in over 125 years. The first whiskies will be available in August 2016.
Based in the lovely town of Skibereen in a part of Ireland renowned for its food and drink, this 2003 distillery was established by three friends and now makes a range of whiskies and other spirits. No public tours, though.
Alltech Craft Distillery
The American company Alltech established this distillery in Carlow in 2012, with the first whiskies distilled in Kentucky stills and matured in Kentucky barrels expected later in 2015.
Established in 2012 in a former sawmill, this craft distillery plans to have its first whiskies ready for sale by 2018. There are no public tours but a Visitor Centre is planned.
The building of this distillery began in 2014, and when it opens it will be the first new distillery in Dublin in 125 years.
This distillery in the former Crumlin Road Goal in Belfast is scheduled to open in early 2016.
The whiskey distilling scene in Ireland is clearly in a healthy and optimistic state, and this doesn’t include exciting new distillers producing other spirits, like Shortcross Gin. Sláinte!