Ireland has a lot to offer the whiskey enthusiast: triple and double distilled malts, peated malts, blends, single grain and, the jewel in the crown, Irish Pot Still whiskey. This style of whisky is native to Ireland and is made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley and is a treat not to be missed. Try Redbreast for the pure version but it is also present in significant quantity in blends such as Powers or the Jameson Reserve Collection. Also on the must-do list should be an Irish Coffee and, especially in winter, a hot whiskey. A warming mix of Irish whiskey, hot water and lemon studded with cloves.
Starting in the south, about 15 miles east of Cork City is the town of Midleton. Here Irish Distillers make their fine range of whiskey: Jameson, Paddy, Powers, Midleton Very Rare and Redbreast.
The modern distillery is not open to the public, however visitors are catered for at the popular Jameson Experience in the Old Midleton Distillery.
The Old Midleton Distillery was decommissioned in the 1970s and replaced by the modern plant which was created to make all of Irish Distillers’ whiskeys following the closure of the old distilleries in Dublin as well as Midleton. It is a wonderfully atmospheric place and boasts two bars, a gift shop selling the exclusive 12 Years Old Distillery Reserve and a restaurant serving wonderful home made food, often tinged with whiskey flavours.
The tour takes around 50minutes and goes through the historic old distillery from building to building following the production process. Highlights include the huge waterwheel and the largest pot still in the world. The tour culminates with a tasting of Jameson against other whiskey styles to show the brand’s point of difference. This can be upgraded to a premium tasting that includes some whiskeys from the Jameson Reserve Collection.
Groups can also enjoy a ‘shindig’, which is a tour and tasting culminating in traditional Irish music and dance.
Heading roughly north from Cork, the next stop is Tullamore.
Alongside Jameson, Tullamore Dew is another of the big names in Irish whiskey. The whiskey is no longer made in this busy midlands town but a Heritage Centre caters for visitors. The centre is located in an old bonded warehouse on the banks of the Grand Canal in the town and offers an insight into the distillery and town.
You can choose to wander around the exhibitions in the Heritage Centre by yourself or join one of two guided tours lasting around 30 minutes and ending with a tasting of Tullamore Dew or Irish Mist, a whisky liqueur that was until recently produced in the town. The second floor houses exhibitions about the whiskey while the first floor covers the town. This fairly intimate place also contains a gift shop, cafe and the local tourist office.
A few remains of the original distillery can be found in the town centre but are fast disappearing to make way for new development in this vibrant town.
A few miles north of Tullamore is Kilbeggan, home to the Kilbeggan Distillery Experience.
The distillery had ceased production in the 1950s but now it is distilling again and visitors can not only get a fascinating glimpse into the operation of a small country distillery but also see production taking place at the new distillery.
The distillery was saved by local people in the 1980s and later joined by the Cooley Distillery which makes and matures some of its fine whiskey there.
You can choose to tour on your own or join a guided tour. Most of the old equipment has been preserved and you will see the three old pot stills exposed to the elements and the water wheel powering the machinery.
The full production process now takes place at the new boutique distillery on site and there is the chance to see the oldest working pot still in the world in operation and another highlight is watching a cooper at work repairing casks in readiness to store Cooley whiskey.
The tour ends with a taste of Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey.
There is a gift shop and a whiskey bar; where better to try some of the other Cooley brands such as Connemara or Tyrconnel single malts or the single grain Greenore. Before you go make sure you visit Locke’s Pantry Restaurant for some home-made fayre.
Heading east the visitor reaches the capital, Dublin.
The Old Jameson Distillery is the key visitor attraction. This is a compact, busy, bustling visitors’ centre occupying part of the old distillery site. It is open all year round with regular guided tours that last around 45 minutes. Visitors are taken through several rooms each recreating a stage in the production of Irish whiskey with models of distillery apparatus. The tour culminates in the Jameson Bar with a tasting of Jameson offered straight or, in line with its new brand image, mixed with ginger ale, coke or cranberry juice. Group bookings are welcomed and upgrades to a Premium tasting are possible.
There’s plenty to do before or after a tour as also on site is JJs Bar serving Irish whiskey, cocktails and Irish Coffees, the 3rd Still Restaurant offering a selection of modern and traditional meals and a gift shop.
Though not part of the Old Jameson Distillery Visitors’ Centre, nearby is the Old Distillery Chimney with its top encased in glass it offers a marvellous 360º panoramic across Dublin and it certainly worth a visit.
There are a number of great bars in Dublin and also a specialist whiskey shop. On Dawson Street the Celtic Whiskey Shop is the place to buy Irish whiskey. The shop has a comprehensive collection for sale, including exclusive single cask offerings and has many rare whiskeys for collectors. Ally and his knowledgeable staff are always happy to help and will have a few whiskeys available for tasting.
In terms of bars there is Ryans of Parkgate Street, a beautiful Victorian bar with a good range of Irish, Scotch and Bourbon and close to The Old Jameson Distillery. Also close by and worth checking out is is Mulligans, Stoneybatter. Downtown Dublin offers a number of options. The Jasmine Bar in Brooks Hotel on Drury Street has a large range of Irish and Scotch featuring some rare and limited bottlings. The Temple Bar, one of the busiest bars in Dublin, has a collection of around 200 whiskeys, Ireland’s largest. Also worth visiting are the VAT Bar on Anglesey Street, the Bull and Castle on Lord Edward Street and Bowe’s of Fleet Street.
Heading north again the Cooley peninsula is reached just before the Northern Ireland border. Here is Cooley Distillery’s main plant. It is possible to tour but bookings must be made in advance via their website. Here is an opportunity to tour a fully working distillery and its warehouses finishing with a taste of the award winning Cooley Collection of whiskeys. Cooley is also famous for supplying quality whiskey for many private labels. One of these is Michael Collins single malt and blend which is imported into the US by Sidney Frank in highly distinctive bottles.
Your final destination is Bushmills in Northern Ireland. Before travelling on to Bushmills it is worth stopping in Belfast if only to visit the Duke of York pub. The Duke of York is tucked down a small alleyway and contains a fantastic collection of Irish whiskey including some very rare bottles. Half museum, half pub, the walls are covered in old whiskey mirrors and glass cabinets containing memorabilia from Belfast’s distilling history.
Bushmills Distillery lies about an hour north of Belfast in the village of the same name. Here the tour lasts around 50 minutes and takes in all the key parts of the process including the impressive still house and bottling hall with all the aromas and noise of production. It ends with a tasting in the 1608 Bar and volunteers get a chance to compare Bushmills whiskeys against a Scotch and Bourbon to gain their certificate. The Distillery Kitchen serves great food and the Gift Shop provides an opportunity to purchase the exclusive 12 Years Old single malt Distillery Reserve. You can even have someone’s name printed on the bottle for that special gift.
A few miles is the Giant’s Causeway, a world heritage site, where better to end the trip.