There is a plethora of things for which Ireland is well-known, and surely one of those is whiskey production. Want to know the distilleries to visit and actually taste some uisce beatha? Have a look at this list of the best whiskey distilleries in Ireland.
The exceptional figure of George Bernard Shaw defined it as “liquid sunshine”. And in fairness, I couldn’t agree more with him. Whiskey, Irish whiskey especially, holds the record for being the most appreciated liquor not only on the Emerald Isle, for obviously biased reasons, but also around the world. Putting aside the argument about the origins of this magical beverage between Scottish and Irish people, there’s no doubt about the fact that if you happen to be in the country, as a visitor or an errant resident, you can’t miss visiting some of the best whiskey distilleries in Ireland.
During its heyday in the 19th century, Irish whiskey accounted for around 60% of total global consumption. The majority was made in Dublin, where the world’s biggest distilleries were located. However, a great number of exquisite distilleries can be found scattered all over this magical country. So, whether you are a whiskey enthusiast or just a bit curious about the drink, do not miss this list of the best Irish whiskey distilleries. Let’s raise a glass to the island’s distilleries!
Let’s start our whiskey trail by stopping at the most popular Irish distillery. Jameson’s in the heart of Dublin will definitely make your Irish experience even more realistic. The whiskey might not be the most sophisticated on our list in terms of flavour, but the walking tour through the building and all the stories related to this amazing beverage will delight you. The distillery in the core of Dublin’s vibrant neighbourhood of Smithfield offers a taste of this exceptionally smooth whiskey and a good look at how it all comes together in the triple distillation process. Don’t miss out on the chance to brew your own whiskey! It’s an unprecedented worthwhile experience you cannot really avoid if you’re in Dublin. Not to mention how close you might get to this city in understanding its traditions and historical background.
Keeping our route in Dublin here’s the new kid in town. The Roe&Co Distillery was founded by George Roe, the man who helped bring about the golden age of Irish whiskey in the 19th century. The original distillery was shut down in 1926 and reopened in memory of George Roe. The new distillery on Thomas Street in Dublin extended over 17 acres and it’s one of Ireland’s largest exporter of whiskey. All that remains from the previous site is the distillery windmill tower and a pear tree that flowers to this day inside the main building. The whiskey’s creamy aroma at first sniff mixes perfectly with the warm hint of spiced pears and vanilla flavours.
The guided tour includes a tour of Working Distillery, Whiskey Tasting and Cocktail & Flavour Experience for €19. Pick your day here.
In the Liberties district, this distillery has operated since 1780, being the oldest plant to distil whiskey ever in Dublin. Their legacy is totally worth a visit, covering more than 125 years of whiskey production. Their craft finds a wide range of different type of brews, varying from the classic and pretty well-known, like ‘Small Batch’ or ‘Single Malt, which are full-flavoured and intense to some newer blends such as the ‘Telling Renaissance Series’, branding the new era of Telling whiskeys. With a diversified selection of fermentation techniques mastered over time, the tour they offer will make you experience their struggles throughout time and the reward of being such a well-known and appreciated brand, like Telling. The guided tour is available every day during the week from 10 am to 5.30 pm. Ticket prices are from €15. Have a look at their website for further clarifications.
Travelling north out of Dublin, the Boyne Valley is extending widely. A region where historic battlefields dot the landscape and mix their heritage with a hint of mysticism stemming from Pagan and Celtic cultures that still permeate the landscape and its people. It’s in this appealing scenario that the Slane Distillery is framed. The historical landmark is available to be visited along with the Slane Castle, which has become an integral part of the heritage of this distillery. Try their smooth with notes of oak and spice whiskey, each sip represents a journey through the wild countryside and the chance to uncover the subtle layers of the whiskey’s complex character.
There are different tickets available, some including tours of the Castle, and explain not only about the distillery process but also the research of the ingredients and flavours.
Let’s move towards the county of Westmeath, in Kilbeggan. It’s a place full of stories worth telling, and people worthy of telling them, framed into time and linked to the radiant production of whiskey at the Kilbeggan Distillery. A great chance to visit not only a less touristy region but also to better understand first-hand how the town and distillery have evolved since 1757. And it’s exactly thanks to the motivation and the feeling of belonging of the locals that this distillery managed to be reopened in 2007 after its closure in 1957. You can definitely say that it is people’s distillery! It deserves to be visited and its whiskey tasted for all its best features and flavours.
Tours are available here.
Tullamore, among other famous brands of whiskey, is one of the most popular in Ireland and is well recognised all over the world. Set in the heart of Ireland, the Old Bonded Warehouse sits on the banks of Tullamore’s Grand Canal. Since 1829, they’ve sent their whiskey out to the world. Nowadays the tour combines storytelling about Daniel E. Williams’ journey from stable boy to distillery manager, as well as information about whiskey-making and a tutored tasting. You just can’t get enough? Try their masterclasses. They are designed to allow you to try rare whiskeys, their Ultimate Distillery Experience includes the opportunity to blend your own bottle and take it home. Check the tours here.
We mentioned earlier the historical fight over the origins of whiskey if it is Scottish or Irish. Well, the Ballykeefe Distillery might have an answer for that. This site is well-known in the Irish whiskey scenario for sticking with its traditions. Thanks to Ging family, it was the first distillery in Ireland to revive the old tradition of growing and distilling barley at the same location, holding the primacy of the oldest distillery in Ireland. To put it in other words: this is where the whiskey spree started. The tour is a journey through every part of Ballykeefe operation, which has revived the lost traditions of a family farm distillery, with a unique commitment to environmental protection, carbon neutrality and sustainability. Go green, go on the Ballykeefe tour! Make sure to book your tour first, though!
On the Atlantic Coast, in County Cork, lies this landmark, located in one of the most breath-taking and superlative locations in Ireland: Galley Head Lighthouse. Clonakilty Distillery founders, the Scully family, have farmed by this coastal land for eight successive generations. Centuries of sea mist, soft rain and ocean spray provide a complexity to the soil that permeates right through to each individual grain. On the distillery tour, you can immerse yourself in the smells, sounds and tastes of a real working distillery.
Keeping our trail on the Wild Atlantic Way, the Dingle distillery stands out. Eclectic, quaint and really rather beautiful, the surrounding areas around Dingle Distillery are a good enough reason to pop until that part of Ireland. It’s there that they use three distinctive, hand-crafted copper pot stills to create what the owners call ‘the ultimate Irish whiskey. Dingle Whiskey is a product of its environment. From the localised well water to the manual mashing, alongside the wooden fermentation vessels that feed into the three bespoke copper pot stills, the production screams Dingle from any perspective!
Tours usually last about 60 minutes and they provide you with an interesting introduction to and useful facts about the distillery itself in order to present the process of distillation to you.
The untamed winds of the west will bring you to the milestone among the distilleries. Connacht Distillery is one of the few sites created by an inspirational mix of two cultures: American and Irish. The family who owns it, the Stapletons, returned to Ireland to reconnect with their own heritage and family passion. They ended up establishing one of the most shipped whiskey brands in Europe and America. Dividing their hearts between their past and their present, they perfectly blend the finest Irish grains which combined with water sourced from the nearby County Mayo lakes of Lough Conn and Lough Cullin. All and more available on their guided tours.
Where: Belleek, Ballina, Co. Mayo
Donegal is pretty well-known as an amazing county, with abundant natural heritage and surreal landscapes. In the wilderness of this county, over the Atlantic coast, there is a family-owned craft distillery which was the first to open in Donegal, 175 years ago. The main aim of this small distillery is to recreate the rich, smoky Irish whiskies from before the industrial revolution and harness the knowledge and legends of the Sliabh Liag peninsula. In fact, the Legendary Silkie is the first step in this formidable mission. They managed to have sourced a combination of malt and grain whiskeys that when blended together deliver a soft mouthfeel mark and a silken, easy character, creating an unexpected flavour. The distillery is not very big, they usually organise guided tours of 12 people at the time. It’s quite enjoyable and is a top-notch experience in order to better understand this county and this island.
Travelling to the very northern part of this surprising country, you’ll find the oldest licensed distillery in the world. Along the north coast of Ireland, where arctic storms shake the notched hills and where the crisp springs of the River Bush cut through volcanic rock, generations have passed down an ancient distilling tradition. Their purest single malt whiskey with a lighter grain combined together is the starting recipe for the success of this smooth warming blend. The selection of flavoured blends they offer is quite large and all bottled up in the very same place where the distillation process occurs. Individual and group tours can be organised on a first come first serve basis. Tour places are limited and subject to availability on the day. So mind checking their website for further info.
Our tour finishes up in Northern Ireland, where the two borders meet. Distilleries in County Down had the great luck of exploiting the natural sources of the ground to create great and particular flavoured blends. It isn’t a huge distillery but warrants its place on this list by being equipped with the most authentic methods while supporting the local activities and crafts. The areas semi-maritime land have long produced the highest quality grain crops that, when put together with the masterminds of the distillers, transformed these elements into liquid gold.
However, if you are not a huge fan of whiskey this small and traditional distillery also produces great blends and exquisite spirits like gin and the typical Irish poìtin. During the organised tours, it will be therefore possible to understand the distillation process along with the fermentation secrets for all the spirits.
Even though it’s not exactly a distillery guided tour, Powers Quarter needs to be visited. The distillery per se existed back in the 18th century when Thomas Street was pretty well-known as the most fruitful district in Dublin, for breweries and distilleries. With the time passing and the city changing, today it is still possible to try one of the best most appreciated Irish whiskeys in terms of flavours and taste in Dublin. Their tours are usually based around some of the best bars and pubs that have been selling and this whiskey since the beginning of times. They last a maximum of 3 hours, but it depends on the ticket and tour you decide to embark on. There you will be provided with the finest selection of whiskeys for tasting, with Powers’ blend being quite singular in taste: much more earthy and spicy with fewer orchard fruity flavours.
And here you have it: your personal selection of Irish whiskey distilleries scattered around the Emerald Isle. If you know some more or want to have more info, leave a comment in the section below or write to us on Facebook. To put it in the words of the iconic Irish writer, James Joyce: “the light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude”. So, pour yourself some whiskey and… Sláinte!