Updated September 2021: 2019 was a record year for Irish whiskey distilleries as approximately 1 million people visited their visitor centers scattered across various parts of Ireland.
Despite the recent Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland, whiskey distilleries continue to be popular tourist attractions with both local and international visitors.
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There are about 32 Irish whiskey distilleries on the island of Ireland, with 17 of them having visitor centers.
The History of Irish Whiskey
While the Scottish say they invented whiskey, the Irish say that monks were the first ones to introduce whiskey distilling to Ireland between the 8th and 11th centuries.
It wasn’t until 1608 when the first whiskey license was granted to Sir Thomas Phillips, a landowner in Bushmills, Co. Antrim.
The popular Old Bushmills Distillery did not open, however, until 1784.
The Kilbeggan Distillery in Co. Westmeath is actually the oldest Irish whiskey distillery, having been established by Matthew MacManus in 1757.
Whiskey consumption flourished during the 19th century in Ireland.
However, the industry floundered for much of the 20th century due to the effects of the Irish War of Independence and prohibition in the U.S.
Dublin’s Long History Of Whiskey Production
At one time, there were 35 whiskey distilleries in Ireland’s capital, many of them based in the Liberties, one of Dublin’s oldest neighborhoods.
Known as the “Golden Triangle,” it was where the biggest and most popular Irish whiskey distillery brands were established, including Roe, Jameson, and Powers.
The industry’s gradual decline left only Jameson and Powers in business and when they merged and Jameson’s official production moved to Cork, there was no distillery left in Dublin.
That is, until new brands started to crop in the last 15 years or so.
Now, Dublin is home to the Jameson Distillery Bow Street (mainly a visitor center), the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, the Pearse Lyons Distillery, the Roe & Co. Distillery, and The Dublin Liberties Distillery.
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These companies' whiskey tours are not just about the process of making whiskey, though.
Their knowledgeable tour guides also tell the real story and folklore behind the distilleries.
The Dublin Liberties Distillery
This distillery is housed in was what was first a mill and later a tannery.
Three copper pot stills are named after some of Dublin's most colorful characters.
They include Lucy Finch, who once owned the building 300 years ago; Darkey Kelly, a notorious brothel owner in the neighborhood who was burned at the stake in 1761; and Molly Malone, the fictional Dubliner who is enshrined in Dublin culture.
What to Taste: Dublin Liberties Oak Devil Whiskey
Roe & Co. Distillery
This distillery is housed in an old Guinness brewery building in the Liberties.
The original distillery, known as George Roe & Co. was established in 1757 but closed in 1923.
A wooden “sensory box” located in Room 106 of the distillery contains items that represent the flavors of the Roe & Co. Irish whiskey distillery.
They include malted barley, fruity candy, caramels, and cloves.
What to Taste: Roe & Company Blended Irish Whiskey
The Pearse Lyons Distillery
This distillery is based in the deconsecrated St. James’ Church, also in the Liberties.
It was established in 1944 by Dr. Pearse Lyons, who also founded the Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company in Kentucky.
Two copper pot stills named Mighty Molly and Little Lizzie are located where the altar once was.
They memorialize Lyons’s great aunts, Margaret Dunne, Ireland’s first female cooper, and her sister Elizabeth.
When the church was being restored, many graves were found, as well as a 17th-century Spanish coin.
What to Taste: Marriage of Malt, a Distillery Exclusive from 2019, a combination of three malt whiskeys aged between 6 and 15 years.
The Teeling Whiskey Distillery
This distillery is the brainchild of Jack and Stephen Teeling, who founded the company in 2015.
This Irish whiskey distillery is close to where Jack and Stephen's ancestor, Walter Teeling, established the Cooley Distillery in 1782.
Three copper pot stills named after Jack's daughters Alison, Natalie and Rebecca emphasize why Irish whiskey is triple distilled instead of twice, as is the case in Scotch whiskey production.
What to Taste: The Vintage Reserve Collection, 24-year-old single malt.
Jameson Distillery Bow Street
This distillery was founded by John Jameson in 1780.
You can enjoy a comparative whiskey tasting as well as a complimentary Jameson on a tour of the distillery.
The Whiskey Shaker’s Class is a popular option, taught by a bartender. Learn how to mix three Jameson cocktails, a Whiskey Sour, an Old Fashioned, and a Whiskey Punch.
What to Taste: Jameson Black Barrel, with intensified aromas of butterscotch, fudge, and creamy toffee (yum!).