When you visit Ireland and rightly wish to see the spectacular beauty of say The Cliffs of Moher or The Giants Causeway and maybe take a spin on the Ring of Kerry, don’t forget that other piece of Irish heritage, history and culture, Whiskey! Yes, all that is in a beautiful glass of Irish Whiskey.
To truly become a whiskey lover, you simply should not be afraid to ask questions or certainly not be intimidated by seasoned whiskey drinkers. I enjoy my Irish Whiskey but do remember I have been told you should not add Ice/Water/Soda/Anything to your glass, which is rubbish! So first you must ignore the folks who approach whiskey with that pretentious, know-it-all attitude. As a Whiskey Tour Guide for Carroll’s Irish Tours I have encountered many “Connoisseurs” who probably shouldn’t be drinking whiskey at all, whiskey is not Brandy. True whiskey lovers just want to learn more, talk more, and share their knowledge with others. As Ireland and Dublin is the home of great stories it is also one of the homes of great Whiskey, it seems the two go hand in hand. So, it is in this spirit (excuse the pun!), we’ll help you learn and understand a little about Irish/Dublin whiskeys and the great influence it has had on Ireland’s capitol City, Dublin.
First Whiskey, so let’s be very clear it is a spirit that follows a basic process:
Generally, whiskey is made by
- Crushing grains (barley, corn, rye, wheat) to create the grist
- Adding water to the grist to create the mash
- Boiling this mixture and then allowing it to cool
- Adding yeast, which carries out fermentation by eating the sugars to create alcohol
- Draining the resulting liquid, which is now beer, and then distilling using a still
- Aging the resulting liquor in various types of wooden barrels
That is the basics, but a lot of different variations apply to producing the multitude of Whiskey/Whisky’s on the market today. It is worth noting it was the Arab World that created Distillation and as to the “Whiskey/Whisky” argument do bear in mind Scotland and Ireland spoke the same language. Whiskey/Whisky comes from Uisge beatha or usquebaugh which is Gaelic for “water of life”. Some terminology causes confusion, Single Malt and Single Grain means made in a Single Distillery, Blended whiskey is a mixture of single malt whiskeys from either the same or different distilleries. The main differences between Irish and Scotch Whiskies are taste, Scotch tends to use malted barley, Irish is unmalted with a hint of vanilla and also the distillation process, Scotch is mostly distilled once/twice Irish is distilled twice/three times. Scotch has a heavier fuller flavour, Irish a smoother one.
Now back to Dublin, Whiskey was probably first distilled in the 12th Century, Monks brought the distillation process for perfumes from the Crusades in the Middle east to Ireland in the 10/11thth century, so the process was adapted to Beer. Early Whiskey would not have been aged but would have had aromatic herbs such as mint, thyme or anise and it would have been a lot clearer.
The oldest known written record of whiskey comes from Ireland in 1405 AD in the Annals of Clonmacnoise. It was written that the head of a clan died after “taking a surfeit of aqua vitae” at Christmas. Its first known mention in Scotland dates from 1494. By 1556 whiskey was free flowing in Ireland, an Act passed by the English Parliament declared whiskey to be “a drink nothing profitable to be drunken daily and used now universally through the realm of Ireland”.
But brutal war raged in Ireland throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, religious pogroms, famine, terrible conflict, so people would be forgiven for taking solace in a bottle of Whiskey. But with the conditions in Ireland being so bad its development was really stunted until the 18th Century, when an explosion of distilleries occurred throughout Ireland but especially in Dublin.
In 1779, there was 1,228 registered distilleries in Ireland, by 1790, this number had fallen to 246, and by 1821, there were just 32 licensed distilleries in operation. The pinnacle of Irish Whiskey output was before the WWI, it really was massive Worldwide industry. A combination of WW1, War in Ireland, Prohibition laws in US and the great depression destroyed the Irish Whiskey. It was so bad that by the 1970’s the remaining 4 distilleries in Ireland amalgamated and formed Irish Distillers.
The Best Whiskey Experiences in Dublin (in no order)
1.) Jameson Bow Street Distillery Experience, a must see for most visitors and locals alike, Jameson Whiskey is Ireland’s leading Whiskey Brand especially in the US and is a key player in given Irish whiskey a “Face”. The Tour is well worth the money as is the tasting and heritage aspects of the Experience. While Jameson no longer makes whiskey in Dublin. Jameson has a massive distillery in Midleton in Cork where all its remarkable variety of brands are made. Jameson is the proud leader brand of Irish Whiskey and rightly so, its whiskey has always been of the very highest standard. The Jameson Distillery Experience is a brilliant showcase for the brand and by extension Irish Whiskey like there whiskey, the experience is well worth the money.
2.) Teelings Distillery – Opened their doors in 2015 and where the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years. Dublin, which was once home to over 37 distilleries, Dublin (and Teelings) are no strangers to the craft of whiskey making. They come from a very old Dublin Whiskey family revived in the 1980’s and most Dubliners are proud to see Teeling’s with their priceless heritage and tradition of distilling being brought back into the heart of Dublin city centre with the opening of this impressive Distillery in the heart of Dublin.
Experience first-hand the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of a fully operational distillery, followed by one of their whiskey tastings.
3.) Dublin Liberties Distillery – The Dublin Liberties Distillery, 33 Mill St, The Liberties, Dublin. This is set in the heart of the Old Dublin Liberties district, the street names nearby evoke a different era, The Blackpitts and Fumbally Lane iconic historic Dublin street names. It is this heritage that this Distillery draws its inspiration from. The Distillery incorporates local names into their Whiskey brands, like Copper Alley, Keeper’s Coin and Murder Lane all famous or if you know your history infamous places in Dublin. Very good Whiskey, tasting and tours, off the beaten trail but well worth it.
4.) Roe and Co – Owned by Diageo the owners of Guinness it is fitting that Guinness should revive the great Roe and Co Whiskey brand. Originally once the biggest distillery in Ireland and possibly the world sadly Roe and Co closed in 1926. Once in the 19th century they were the jewel in the Irish Whiskey crown. Remarkably the revived Roe and Co are housed in an iconic Guinness Power station right beside the original Thomas Street Distillery. In fact, the original Windmill tower, and a surviving Pear tree! from the old Thomas street Distillery remain. Now Roe and Co are very much part of the great Liberties revival of Irish Whiskey right in the heart of where Irish Whiskies great golden age happened. BTW Roe and Co is a beautiful whiskey it is my favourite chaser alongside the mighty Guinness. Roe offer a great experience befitting their great whiskey heritage.
5.) Pearce Lyons Distillery – The Tea Room at Pearse Lyons Distillery, Whiskey Tasting and exceptional food in a wonderful and unique Distillery. Set in old Church – St James goes all the way back to the 12th Century in Dublin and gives its name to one of Dublin’s most historic streets St James, which houses none other than the mighty Guinness Brand with its famous brewery at St James Gate. St James was usually the starting point of the medieval pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago, also known as “St. James’ Way”. Discover this unique Whiskey and exceptional experience.
6.) Palace Bar – on Fleet Street lies this beautiful old Victorian Dublin Pub. An oasis in the madness and hectic hustle of Temple Bar, this is a place to enjoy your whiskey, hushed conversations, a sort of alcoholic church, it has probably has the same effect on drinkers that say St Peter’s has on true believers. Don’t sing, shout, or chat on your phone, do not disturb is the order of the day, every day and night too! But a fantastic selection of whiskies well worth a visit. The Palace uniquely boasts that they have their very own ‘Palace bar whiskey’, so why not?
7.) The Headline Bar – The Headline not only has a big extensive selection of whiskey they also have a huge selection of Irish craft beer on tap. The Headline has put a huge amount of thought into their selection of Whiskey and it shows. They feature heavily local Distillery Teeling’s who have a distillery and visitor centre just around the corner. So, enjoy a drink or two in this iconic Liberties Bar.
8.) The Norseman – The Norseman has many locals and visitors from all over the world, it is an extremely popular pub. Their tasting tray always changes weekly, and it is the very best value around. This bar is very lively, but it is an experience. Because if you happen to be also looking for entertainment and food to accompany your whiskey well you have come to the right place. It’s food specials include mussels, steak, wings, seafood platters, and much more.
9.) Searsons – incredible selection of Whiskey, very knowledgeable bar staff and a very impressive bar as well. Lively, entertaining, and great to try the whiskey tasting with a small group of friends really worth the experience.
10.) Dublin Whiskey Walking Tour – operated by Dublin Liberty Tours – a Dublin Whiskey and Medieval heritage trail. A unique guided walk exploring Dublin’s newest vibrant whiskey makers, at the same time discover and uncover the stories and magic of Dublin’s Medieval past. Contact: https://www.reconnectirishroots.com/tour-guide-service
11.) The Dingle Whiskey bar, this is a new addition to Dublin city and is a part of the Dingle distillery, makers of fine whiskey, gin, and vodka in Kerry in the south of Ireland. The bar is purpose built for tasting sessions and it has a unique refined whiskey experience. The furniture and decor of the wooden fixtures are made from old whiskey barrels and gives the place a Vineyard Tasting feel. With around 150 whiskeys on offer and tasting classes on offer too, The Dingle Whiskey Bar is well worth checking out.
Written by Austin Rock, a Carroll’s Irish Tours tour guide and whiskey lover!