A slice of heaven

A slice of heaven

Ireland doesn't have a lot of distilleries but what it has are all worth a visit. Iorwerth Griffiths reports

Travel | 30 Aug 2006 | Issue 58 | By Iorweth Griffiths

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From the sunny south coast of Cork to the rugged cliffs of north Antrim, the search for Irish whiskey will take the visitor the length of the island.You can fly in from most countries to Dublin Airport. Cork, Belfast International and Belfast City Airports also serve many British and European destinations. Ferries are also a good way to travel especially if coming from Scotland.When the inimitable Alfred Barnard came to Ireland in the latter half of the 19th century he started his visit in Dublin, then home to six working distilleries. Sadly, today it has none but there’s plenty to keep the whiskey traveller occupied. Accommodation in a city the size of Dublin is plentiful and there are an abundance of things to see and do.Dublin is home to The Old Jameson Distillery. This is a compact, busy, bustling visitors’ centre occupying part of the old distillery site. Tours last around 45 minutes and visitors are taken through several rooms each recreating a stage in the production of Irish whiskey with models of distillery apparatus. The tour culminates in the Jameson Bar with a tasting of Jameson offered straight or, in line with its new brand image, mixed with ginger ale, coke or cranberry juice. Four lucky volunteers also get a chance to taste the three main Irish Distillers brands and compare them to Scotch and bourbon.There’s plenty to do before or after a tour as also on site is the Coopers Rest Bar serving Irish whiskey, cocktails and Irish Coffees, and the Still Room Restaurant which offers a selection of modern and traditional meals and a gift shop.Nearby is the Old Distillery Chimney, its top encased in glass offering a marvellous 360º panoramic across Dublin. The Chimney is owned by the Park Inn Hotel which offers tours on the hour.On Kildare Street in the heart of Georgian Dublin lies Mitchell’s Wine Merchants, home of the famous Green Spot. Green Spot is a pure pot still whiskey and a piece of history.Nearby on Dawson Street is the Celtic Whiskey Shop – the place to buy Irish whiskey. The shop has a comprehensive collection for sale, including exclusive single cask offerings and has many rare whiskeys for collectors.Ally and his knowledgeable staff are always happy to help and will have a few whiskeys available for tasting.The whiskeys to drink when in Dublin should include not only the classic Green Spot but also the great Dublin names, Jameson and Powers. Jameson is available worldwide so being in Ireland is a chance to try the other family members such as Crested Ten, the delicious 12 year old or the intense 18 year old.Powers is a great whiskey with a large quantity of pot still and can also be found as a 12 year old.The 1780 Bar is part of the Old Jameson Distillery and is a good place to sample Irish Distillers products. Close by is Ryans of Parkgate Street, a beautiful Victorian bar with a good range of Irish, Scotch and bourbon.With knowledgeable staff and whiskey tasting trays, it’s a wonderful spot for a drop… or two.Downtown Dublin offers a number of options. The Jasmine Bar in Brooks Hotel on Drury Street – a recent inductee into the Great Whisky Bars of the World – has a large range of Irish and Scotch featuring some rare and limited bottlings. The Temple Bar, one of the busiest bars in Dublin, has a collection of around 200 whiskeys, Ireland’s largest. Also worth visiting are the VAT Bar on Anglesey Street and the Bull and Castle on Lord Edward Street.Further afield is the Lobby Bar of the Four Seasons Hotel. This plush bar features Irish whiskey as its signature and has a range of very rare Irish whiskeys to sample.After the delights of Dublin you can head south to visit the Old Midleton Distillery situated in the town of the same name about 15 miles east of Cork.You can choose to base yourself in Cork and even stay in the same hotel as Barnard. The Imperial Hotel is one of the oldest in Cork, located in the heart of the city and is a blend of tradition and luxury. Or you could choose one of the newest hotels in Cork, the luxurious Clarion, overlooking the river Lee. Midleton itself also has some accommodation to offer, the helpful people at East Cork Tourism should be able to point you in the right direction.The Old Midleton Distillery is a wonderfully atmospheric place boasting two bars, a gift shop and a restaurant serving wonderful home made food. The very popular tour takes around 50 minutes and goes through the historic old distillery from building to building following the production process and culminating with a tasting of Jameson. Again, lucky volunteers get the chance to compare Irish Distillers whiskeys against Scotch and bourbon.Between Cork and Midleton is the Sheraton Fota Island’s stylish Amber Lounge where an impressive range of whisky is being established. In Cork itself the Hayfield Manor’s Perrott Bar has a good range of Irish whiskey and offers tastings.Alongside Jameson, Tullamore Dew is another of the growth brands of Irish whiskey.A heritage centre located in an old bonded warehouse on the banks of the Grand Canal in Tullamore offers an insight into the distillery and town. The whiskey is now produced by Irish Distillers at Midleton while the remains of the old distillery are fast disappearing to make way for new development in this vibrant town.You can choose to wander around the exhibitions in the Heritage Centre by yourself or join one of two guided tours lasting around 30 minutes and ending with a tasting of Tullamore Dew or Irish Mist, a whisky liqueur that was until recently produced in the town.The second floor houses exhibitions about the whiskey while the first floor covers the town.This fairly intimate place also contains a gift shop and the local tourist office.The Bond Store Café Bar in the Heritage Centre is open all day and during the evening and is as good a place as any to sample the full range of Tullamore Dew. The rather light standard blend is supplemented by the fuller flavoured 12 year old and Heritage bottlings, the latter created to celebrate the opening of the heritage centre in 2000.A few miles north of Tullamore is the village of Kilbeggan, home to one of the jewels in the crown of Irish whiskey – John Locke’s Distillery Museum. The distillery ceased production in the 1950s and most of the original equipment is intact giving a fascinating glimpse into the operation of a small country distillery. The distillery was saved by a group of local people in the 1980s and later joined by the Cooley Distillery who now matures its fine whiskey in the old warehouses on site.You can choose to tour on your own or join a guided tour taking around 30 minutes.Among the old equipment you will see the three pot stills currently exposed to the elements but rumours abound that Cooley may fire them up in the future. One of the highlights is watching a real cooper at work repairing casks in readiness to store Cooley whiskey. The tour ends with a taste of Locke’s Irish Whiskey.There is a gift shop and a whiskey bar – where better to try some of the other Cooley brands such as Kilbeggan and the lovely Locke’s 8 year old single malt with just that hint of peat. Before you go make sure you visit Locke’s Pantry Restaurant for some delicious home-made fayre.Your final destination is Bushmills in Northern Ireland. En route north you can visit ancient monastic sights at Mellifont and Monasterboice. You will also cross the River Boyne and can visit the site of the 1690 battle that continues to shape Irish history to this day.Before travelling on to Bushmills it is worth stopping in Belfast. The Duke of York is tucked down a small alleyway and contains a fantastic collection of Irish whiskey including some very rare bottles. Half museum, half pub, the walls are covered in old whiskey mirrors and glass cabinets containing memorabilia from Belfast’s distilling history.Bushmills Distillery lies about an hour north of Belfast in the village of the same name, a few miles from the Giant’s Causeway, a world heritage site.Bushmills stands out as an opportunity to visit a working distillery in Ireland. The tour lasts around 50 minutes and takes in all the key parts of the process with all the aroma and noise of production. It ends with a tasting in the 1608 Bar and volunteers get a chance to compare Bushmills whiskeys against a Scotch and bourbon. The Distillery Kitchen serves great food and there’s also a gift shop. You can even have someone’s name printed on the bottle for that special gift.How better to finish your tour than in the Bushmills Inn, a hotel full of the charm of a 19th century coaching inn. Relax in the gas lit bar, a chance to sample what else but the Bushmills range. And don’t forget to finish off with a glass of Bushmills 25 year old single malt bottled from the hotel’s own cask.Sláinte!PRACTICALITIES
Ireland is well geared up for tourism with very good websites packed with information on what to see and do. The general website for Irish tourism is:
Bed and Breakfasts can be booked online at:
www.familyhomes.ieHistoric Private Houses and luxury accommodation in castles,country houses and so on see:
www.irelands-blue-book.ieSee also the Irish Hotels Federation and farmhouse holidays:
www.irishfarmholidays.comUseful ferry websites
www.swansea-cork.ieTravel within Ireland and Northern Ireland
Car rental:www.carrentalcouncil.ie
Coach Travel:www.buseireann.ie
Railways:www.irishrail.ieNorthern Ireland Railways and Coach travel
www.translink.co.ukDUBLIN Tourist office
Tel: +353 (0) 1605 7700See also www.dublinpass.iewhich provides savings when visiting the various attractions For getting around Dublin see:
www.luas.ieSt Michan’s Church
Tel: +353 (0)1 872 4154
stmichan@iol.ieTours are available all year round Monday-Saturday check for opening hoursOld Jameson Distillery
Tel:+353 (0)1 807 2355
Opens 09:30,last tour17:30. Guided tours every 30minsPark Inn Hotel
Tel:+353 (0)1 817 3800CORK
Cork Kerry Tourism Office
Tel:+353 (0) 4493 48761 or
Tel:+353 (0)21 425 5100 for accommodationOld Midleton Distillery
Tel:+353 (0)21 461 3594
www.jamesonwhiskey.comClarion Hotel
Lapps Quay,Cork
Tel:+353 (0)21 422 4900Imperial Hotel
South Mall,Cork
Tel:+353 (0)21 427 4040MIDLANDS
East Coast and Midlands Tourism Office
eastandmidlandsinfo@failteireland.ieMid Ireland Tourism
Tel:+353 (0) 509 20923Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre
Tel:+353 (0)506 25015
www.tullamore-dew.orgOpening times vary according to season. Guided tours generally twice a day. Check website or contact the Centre for further informationLocke’s Distillery Museum
Tel: +353 (0)506 32134
www.lockesdistillerymuseum.comOpening times vary according to season. Check website or contact the museum for further information. Guided tours run when sufficient numbers gatherNORTHERN IRELAND
Tourist office
Golfers should check out the Golf PassFor Belfast see:
Tel:+44 (0)2890 246 609BUSHMILLS AREA
Causeway Coast and Glens Tourist Office
Tel:+44 (0)28 7032 7720The Old Bushmills Distillery
+44 (0)2820 731521
www.bushmills.comBushmills Inn
Tel:+44 (0)28 2073 3000
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