Distilleries all over the world are reaping the benefits of a renewed fascination with classic spirits and their lore, and among the most popular and fastest growing is Irish whiskey. Over the course of this year, the buzz has gotten louder as two of the country’s major distilleries — Jameson and Kilbeggan — have undergone major changes, and a handful of craft distilleries have taken root. Just as wineries welcome visitors to swirl and sip, Ireland’s wonderfully historic whiskey distilleries are getting hip to tourism, offering tours and drams. There’s even an Ireland Whiskey Trail to help navigate your course.
The Kilbeggan Distillery Experience
This picturesque landmark is the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland, having survived since its establishment in 1757, and thus is home to the oldest-working whiskey pot in the world. Its preservation is owed to the surrounding community that came to its rescue in the 1970s, protecting the mothballed buildings from the country’s economic hardships. Kilbeggan reopened in 2007 on its 250th anniversary and was purchased in early 2012 by Beam Inc. (as in Jim Beam), which has since restored even more of the original distillery’s charming inner workings. Onsite, you’ll find the lovely Pantry Restaurant and plenty of low doorways and stone walls nodding to the distillery’s vast history.
The Dingle Distillery
It wasn’t long ago that Ireland’s total number of distilleries could be counted on one hand, and just in the past year a few new ones have sprouted, including Dingle. This artisan distillery operates on a micro scale — a world away from Jameson’s massive production capacity — which is an entirely new concept for Irish distilleries. Considering it was born in November 2012, the first drops of whiskey won’t be ready until 2018. But that shouldn’t stop you from visiting this County Kerry spot. You can simply walk into the distillery, but we suggest calling ahead to arrange a tour. A visitor’s center and outdoor seating area are in the future, though for now it’s just a rustic experience. If you’re looking for a liquid investment, purchase one of Dingle’s first 500 casks, which will be limited-edition single malts.
The Jameson Experience, Midleton
While there’s a lot of foot traffic at Dublin’s touristy Old Jameson Distillery, the legitimate operational distillery in County Cork (located in south-central Ireland, about 2.5 hours southwest of Dublin) makes a lovely day trip or overnight destination. Dozens and dozens of warehouses surround a central gathering place with buildings that give a peek into traditional production — a stark contrast from the stunningly modern new stillhouse that was just completed in September. To celebrate its 190th anniversary and the new stillhouse’s housewarming, Jameson is offering a trio of specials through the end of the year, including its Smooth Sunday Sessions, an easy Sunday afternoon of live music and lunch in The Malt House Restaurant (where you can dine on Distillery Irish stew and Ballycotton seafood chowder) with complimentary whiskey, of course.
Photos Courtesy of Jameson and Kilbeggan