Ireland: Whiskey on tour

Irish whiskey: why is it spelt with an ‘e’? Is it because most of our whiskey is triple distilled? Or maybe it’s because Irish whiskey is quite simply, extra special.

Barrels at Old Bushmills Distillery
Barrels at Old Bushmills Distillery

Everyone knows that Ireland makes some of the best whiskey in the world. Whether it’s blended, single malt or single pot still, it is always smooth on the palate.

To really appreciate whiskey, there are few better ways than doing so at the source. All of Ireland’s whiskey distilleries come with their own unique history and tradition. This is where you can uncover the fascinating stories behind this ancient craft, and discover how each distillery use their ingredients to create that distinctive taste, texture, colour and smell.

Of course, if you’re going to tour Ireland’s whiskey distilleries, it’s best to start at the beginning: Old Bushmills in County Antrim, the oldest whiskey distillery on the island of Ireland.

Bushmills Distillery: 5 fast facts

1. County Antrim was granted a license in 1608 by James I, but the people of Antrim were covertly distilling and drinking it as early as 1276.

2. In 1890 the S.S. Bushmills steamship made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to deliver Bushmills whiskey to America.

3. It is one of the few distilleries in the world to distill, blend, and bottle the whiskey under the same roof.

4. In World War II it halted production and became home to the allied soldiers, who set up camp there.

5. The distillery uses water from nearby Saint Columb’s Rill. The river is said to be blessed by St Columcille, which made the water sweeter and smoother. The proof? It’s in the tasting.

Of course, Old Bushmills is only the beginning of the Irish whiskey journey. From the oldest to the newest whiskies, Ireland’s distilleries are brimming with tales of the past.

Want to travel a whiskey trail or visit more distilleries?

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The Ireland Whiskey Trail

A must for anyone with an interest in Irish whiskey, every distillery and pub in this free touring guide has been personally researched and selected by Ireland’s best-known independent whiskey expert, Heidi Donelon. You can download the free map or the app in English, French and German.

A taster of the Whiskey Trail…

Jameson Experience Midleton, County Cork

The original distillery, now the Jameson Experience Midleton, dates back to the 1820s and the beautifully restored machinery will take you through a step-by-step breakdown of the ancient production process. It’s also home to the largest pot still in the world, capable of holding a whopping 141,000 liters (31,000 gallons).  Jameson is now produced in the new Midleton Distillery next door (not open for tours), one of the largest, and most modern, distilleries in the world.

Kilbeggan Distillery Experience, Kilbeggan, County Westmeath

This small pot still distillery has a license dating back to 1757, a copy of which is now proudly on display. It ceased distilling in 1957 but fired up new stills again in 2007. Once you step inside you will see that the distillery has kept its ancient traditions: the creaking timber water wheel and giant steam engine are blasts from our 19th century past, and the distillation methods are handed down from generation to generation.

Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre, County Offaly

The Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre is housed in an 1897 Bonded Warehouse from the original distillery in Tullamore. The man behind Tullamore Dew was Daniel E. Williams, who, along with his family, created the first blended whiskey in Ireland. The Visitor Centre offers two types of tours, the Original, and the Special Reserve – an advanced tour for connoisseurs.

We’ve only touched the tip of the whiskey barrel here. If you’re thirsty for more, check out some of Ireland’s other iconic distilleries, such as the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin (closed for refurbishment until March 2017). And while on tour, don't forget to check out some of Ireland's best, and most unusual, Whiskey Pubs.

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