Whiskey in Ireland has experienced quite a renaissance in recent years with the opening of several new distilleries across the country. Many visitors, however, want to visit the oldest whiskey distilleries in Ireland first.
This post and page contain affiliate links and I may earn compensation when you click on the links at no additional cost to you.
Below you'll find information on four original ones on the island of Ireland definitely worth a visit.
But, that’s not to say that the newer up-and-coming distilleries aren’t worth a look either.
Many are experimenting with a variety of new flavors, adding to the already high quality of whiskey making in Ireland today.
According to the Irish Whiskey Association, there are 23 distilleries in operation in various parts of the country.
- Book the best tours and guides on Tripadvisor, Viator or GetYourGuide
- Get reliable travel insurance with Travel Insurance Master
- Get the best flight tickets with Aviasales
- Rent a comfortable car via Discovercars
- Find the best accommodation on booking.com or BandBIreland
Global sales of Irish whiskey surpassed 10.5 million cases in 2018, the first time that has happened since before Prohibition in the 1920s.
Failte Ireland says visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries in 2018 reached approximately 923,000.
That number is expected to grow to 1.7 million by 2025.
Initiatives like Taste the Island, a celebration of Ireland's food and drink that was launched in 2019, highlight the extensive range of food and drink experiences for tourists throughout the island.
Long gone is the idea that all you’ll get in Ireland is comfort food.
The country’s growing emphasis on sustainable agriculture has helped create an abundance of fresh food, and the growing number of whiskey distilleries opening across the country also points to the focus on high-quality spirits.
The Story of Irish Whiskey
Most historians credit Ireland’s monks for establishing whiskey-making in Ireland.
The flavors that you may be familiar with today are not anything like the monks’ original version.
That was believed to have been flavored with herbs such as mint, thyme, or anise, a recipe that has been somewhat duplicated by makers of Irish Mist, the popular liqueur.
Details of early whiskey production are sketchy as much of it was illegal. However, there is a mention of it in the Annals of Clonmacnoise, an early 17th-century book translated into the English language that recounts events in Ireland from pre-history to the year 1408.
By the 16th century, whiskey consumption was widespread throughout Ireland.
The first known whiskey license was granted to Sir Thomas Phillips, a landowner in Bushmills, Co. Antrim in 1608, but the Old Bushmills Distillery itself was not registered to trade until 1784.
That makes it the second-oldest whiskey distillery on the island of Ireland after the Kilbeggan Distillery in Co. Westmeath.
The effects of the Irish War of Independence and prohibition in the U.S. greatly impacted the Irish whiskey industry, cutting off access to its most important markets, the U.S. and the U.K.
Whiskey production went into decline during most of the 20th century, with only a few distillers doing business at the time.
Today, the whiskey distillery industry has rebounded, becoming a popular tourist attraction for many visitors to Ireland.
The Irish Whiskey Museum in Dublin is well worth a visit if you want to learn more about whiskey making in Ireland
Here’s some more information on four of the oldest distilleries on the island of Ireland.
ANTRIM: The Bushmills Distillery
The Bushmills Distillery in Co. Antrim is one of Northern Ireland’s primary tourist attractions and also one of the oldest whiskey distilleries in Ireland.
During the early years of production, the business faltered. In 1885, a fire destroyed the building, but it was quickly rebuilt. Even though Prohibition dealt a severe blow to the Bushmills Distillery, it managed to survive.
The ownership of Bushmills has changed over the years. In 2005, the company was bought by Diageo for £300 million.
On the distillery’s 40-minute tour, you’ll learn about the ingredients and the process by which Bushmills whiskey is made.
Bushmills Distillery is known for perfecting the art of triple distillation in copper stills and aging it in oak casks.
The tour also includes a complimentary glass of Bushmills whiskey. The company produces three different brands. They include the original, the Black Bush, and the Red Bush.
Explore them all in this promotional video series.
Tours for adults cost £9, £8 for seniors 60+ and students with an ID aged 18 and above, and £5 for children aged 8-17. A family ticket costs £25, which covers two adults and up to three children ages 8-17.
DUBLIN: Jameson Distillery Bow Street
In 1975, production was moved to its base in Midleton, Cork.
The company was established in 1780 by John Jameson, originally a lawyer from Scotland.
By the turn of the 19th century, the Jameson Distillery had become the second-largest producer of whiskey in Ireland and one of the largest in the world.
You can follow in the footsteps of the founder on a 40-minute guided tour led by a Jameson Ambassador.
The “Bow St. Experience Tour” includes an explanation of the whiskey-making process, focusing on the ingredients that the distillery company uses, as well as the primary innovations that have made Jameson the number one whiskey in Ireland.
There is also a whiskey tasting included and a complimentary drink at JJ’s Bar, all for €17 (for adults). Children under 18 are €11 and seniors (65 and over), as well as students with an ID, are €18.
For €25 each, you can add a secret whiskey tour to your experience, which means you can taste four premium blends in the secrecy of owner John Jameson’s office.
The distillery's visitor center offers additional experiences, including the 60-minute whiskey cocktail-making masterclass for €50 and the whiskey blending class for €60.
CORK: Jameson Midleton Cork Experience
For the full Jameson whiskey experience, you need to visit the Jameson Midleton Distillery in Co. Cork. The Cork facility actually produces much of the Irish whiskey sold in Ireland under the Jameson, Midleton, Powers, Redbreast, Spot, and Paddy labels.
The Powers brand was the first bottled whiskey in Ireland. While no Powers distillery exists today, the brand has a history that dates back to 1791 when James Power established a small distillery at his public house in Dublin.
There are a number of tours available at the Cork distillery. They include the following:
- “Behind the Scenes” – a two-hour guided whiskey distillery tour that includes a short film and a walk around the grounds and key distillery buildings, as well as a premium whiskey-taking experience.
- Jameson Experience Tour & Premium Whiskey Tasting – a 60-minute guided tour that also includes a short film and a walk around the grounds and key distillery buildings, as well as a complimentary glass of Jameson and a 20-minute tasting experience with a whiskey expert, where you’ll get the chance to taste and compare four of Midleton’s premium whiskeys.
- Jameson Distillery Experience Tour – a 75-minute guided tour that includes all of the above and more.
Read more: 36 Hours in Cork City
OFFALY: Tullamore Dew
The story of Tullamore Dew whiskey is a true rags-to-riches tale. Established in 1829, the brand owes its name to Daniel E. Williams, who worked his way up from the position of a stable boy to eventually managing and owning the company.
The name comes from his initials, DEW.
In 1954, John Powers & Son bought the business and took the production of Tullamore Dew to Midleton in Co. Cork.
In 2010, the brand was purchased by William Grant & Sons, who built a new whiskey distillery outside Tullamore.
It was officially opened in 2014 and marked the resumption of whiskey-making in the town after an absence of 60 years.
You can take guided tours at the visitor center, known as the Old Bonded Warehouse, located on the banks of the Grand Canal.
Distillery tours of Tullamore Dew, one of the oldest whiskey distilleries in Ireland, will take you on Williams’ journey, and you’ll also learn about the distillery’s state-of-the-art process, as well as the secret that gives Tullamore Dew its unique complex taste.
You can take a guided tour at the visitor center, known as the Old Bonded Warehouse, located on the banks of the Grand Canal.
The Distillery Experience tour will take you behind the scenes of the facility, from distillation to maturation while also meeting the people who work on the site each day.
Enjoy a welcome Irish coffee and spend time in Ireland’s only custom-built warehouse snug discovering the art of whiskey blending before tasting three of Tullamore D.E.W.’s award-winning whiskeys.
It was founded in 1757 by Matthew MacManus.
Having been run by several owners for close to 100 years, the whiskey distillery was purchased by John Locke in 1843, who subsequently turned it into a very successful venture that greatly benefited the town of Kilbeggan.
Locke was known as a fair employer who treated his employees well, so much so that when the distillery’s boiler broke in 1866 and Locke was unable to purchase a new one on his own, the people of Kilbeggan banded together and bought it for him.
A plaque commemorating the day when Locke was presented with the new boiler can be seen in the distillery restaurant.
The story of Kilbeggan Distillery does not end there. After Locke’s death, it went through difficult times, eventually going into receivership in 1958.
It was not until 1982 that the people of Kilbeggan helped revive the whiskey distillery's brand by turning the building into a museum.
With the help of the nearby Cooley Distillery, Kilbeggan was finally able to re-open its doors in 2007 as a working whiskey distillery once again.
On a guided tour, you’ll learn the storied history of the Kilbeggan Distillery and so much more. You’ll also see how it has managed to combine the whiskey-making traditions of days gone by with today’s innovative techniques.
The “Distillery Experience” includes a visit to the old warehouses and a meet and greet with the company’s onsite distillers.
The 1 ½-hour tour finishes with a masterclass that includes a tasting of four unique Kilbeggan whiskeys. The cost is €30 per person.
The “Bottle Your Own Experience” does not include a guided tour but you do get the chance to fill your own 70 cl bottle of whiskey from the cask and complete your own special label by hand.
There are many more recently established whiskey distilleries all across Ireland. Here is a list of those in operation and about to launch:
- Ballykeefe Distillery, Kilkenny; Distillery tours are given twice a day from March through October. Book a tour here.
- Boann Distillery, Drogheda, Co. Louth; This is the only combined distillery/brewery experience in Ireland with a taproom serving 20 beers. Guided tours are available. There is also a restaurant and shop on site.
- Cape Clear Distillery, Co. Cork. Opening soon.
- Connacht Whiskey Distillery, Ballina, Co. Mayo; Guided tours are available Wednesday through Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Book online here. Prices range from €12.50 to €25.
- Clonakilty Distillery, Clonakilty, Co. Cork; Book tours here. A classic tour is €15 for an adult. Also includes a café and restaurant. On sale in the U.S. and Germany.
- Dingle Distillery, Dingle, Co. Kerry; Tours are available year-round at various times. Click here
for times and to book. The tickets are €15.
- Dublin Liberties Distillery, Dublin; Three brands have been launched at this new distillery. They include The Dubliner, The Dublin Liberties, and the Dead Rabbit (in London, New York, and Belfast). Storytelling is the focus here. Regular tour prices are €16 per adult. Book online here.
- Great Northern Distillery, Dundalk, Co. Louth; No tours available yet.
- Echlinville Distillery, Co. Down; The distillery’s “Tour & Tipple” welcomes visitors. The distillery is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Price per adult is £18. Book a tour here.
- Glendalough Distillery, Co. Wicklow; The “Meet the Makers” tour is available from the Brewery Hops guide company. See more information here.
- Lough Gill Distillery, Co. Sligo; Tours are not yet available as this is a brand-new distillery.
- Lough Mask Distillery, Co. Mayo; One-hour tours are available of the distillery. Book a tour here.
- Lough Ree Distillery, Co. Longford; A visitor experience will be available later this fall.
- Nephin Irish Whiskey, Lahardaun, Co. Mayo; Visitor tours are not yet available.
- Pearse Lyons Distillery, Dublin: Considered Dublin’s only boutique distillery, you can sign up for its Legacy Tour & Tasting Experience for €30. Click here for more information.
- Rademon Estate Distillery, Co. Down; Two of the most popular tours are priced at £22.50 for £37.50. Click here to book.
- Roe & Co., Dublin; Visitors can take a guided tour of the working distillery, a whiskey tasting, a cocktail and flavor experience, as well as a Roe & Co. cocktail at the bar. Tickets are between €19 and €25. Take a look at a video describing the Roe & Co. brand.
- Royal Oak Distillery, Carlow; Open 7 days a week throughout the year. There are three tours available. Prices start at €15. Book tickets here.
Slane Distillery, Co. Meath; Tours are available at €18 per adult. Book the tour here.
Sliabh Liag Distillery, Donegal; Tours are available through Saturday. Tickets are €10 per adult.
- Teeling Distillery, Dublin; The first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years. Distillery tours, including tastings, are available from €15 per person. The distillery also offers Single Malt Experiences from €50 each. Purchase tickets here. See their promotional video below.
- The Powerscourt Distillery, Powerscourt Estate, Co. Wicklow; Two tours are available. They include the 50-minute Distillery Tour for between €10 and €20 and the 75-minute Distillery and Warehouse Tour for €35. Book a tour here.
- The Shed Distillery, Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim; The maker of “Winter Solstice,” the first whiskey to be distilled in Connaught for over 100 years. Book a tour here.
- Tipperary Distillery; Established in 2016, this distillery has produced three brands so far. They include The Rising, Watershed, and Knockmealdowns.
- Walsh Whiskey Distillery, Carlow; Producers of 12 Irish whiskeys under the Writers’ Tears and The Irishman brands. No tours are available at this time.
- Waterford Distillery; No tours available yet.
- West Cork Distillers, Cork; Makers of the West Cork Irish Whiskey as well as Garnish Island Gin and Two Trees Vodka. No tours are available yet.
Have you taken a whiskey distillery tour in Ireland? If so, let me know how that was in the comments. And if there’s one particular tour that you really like above all others, I’d love to hear your opinion.
As always, please feel free to sign up for my regular e-newsletter below where I provide additional tips and strategies for getting to Ireland on a budget.