In God's distilling country

In God's distilling country

Iorwerth Griffiths explores the Ireland Whiskey Trail

Travel | 26 Feb 2010 | Issue 86 | By Iorweth Griffiths

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There has never been a better time to visit Ireland as a whiskey tourist, Irish whiskey continues its strong growth and is winning new devotees at every turn. But the main boost to whiskey tourism in Ireland is the newly established Ireland Whiskey Trail.

The Ireland Whiskey Trail is a website packed full of information for the whiskey tourist and will also satisfy the anorak with its wealth of information. The Trail is the brainchild of Irish Whiskey Ambassador Heidi Donelon who previously worked for Irish Distillers but has for a number of years now been self-employed running Irish whiskey tastings.

Extant whisk(e)y trails in Scotland and Kentucky naturally provided a large part of the inspiration but also Heidi’s meetings with whiskey enthusiasts, tour groups and general tourists over the years. Another source of inspiration was Alfred Barnard’s Irish leg of his book Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom.

However, one thing soon became clear. Unlike the Scotland and Kentucky – and indeed Ireland in Barnard’s day – there simply is not enough whiskey distilleries or museums in Ireland to make a trail on their own. This meant rather that simply copying the Scottish and Kentucky trails would not work.

Therefore, to give the Trail added value and to link up the somewhat dispersed whiskey sites, Heidi hit upon the idea of adding pubs, bars and shops that either had great Irish whiskey collections or were connected to closed distilleries that featured in Barnard’s tome. Also included are hotels and golf resorts featuring great whiskey selections.

Getting this project off the ground took a lot of work but Heidi’s vision was enthusiastically and financially backed by the industry’s key players – Irish Distillers, Cooley Distillery and C&C Group, owners of the Tullamore Dew brand.

The result is a superb website with fantastic photos and information which would inspire anyone to take the Ireland Whiskey Trail and explore.

So, after downloading the Ireland Whiskey Trail map, it’s time to hit the road!

Let’s start as Barnard did, in Dublin. The main attraction for the whiskey lover is, of course, The Old Jameson Distillery. Although distilling ceased in the 1970s when Irish Distillers transferred their operations to Midleton in County Cork, part of the old site was retained and offers the whiskey tourist an insight into Irish whiskey.

As well as the tour there is JJs Bar and the Jameson Reserve Bar together with the Third Still restaurant which is popular with local office workers as well as tourists. For the connoisseur tutored tastings can be arranged.

Dublin is of course home to a great pub scene and gems such as the Temple Bar and Palace Bar are included on the Trail as is the Jasmine Bar at Brooks Hotel. Golfers are also catered for around Dublin by resorts with excellent whiskey selections.

Before leaving Dublin and heading west, be sure to call at the Celtic Whiskey Shop. It has a superb range of Irish whiskey including many exclusive single casks and collectables.

One attraction of note north of Dublin and worth a detour is the Cooley Distillery close to the border with Northern Ireland. This is home of Connemara and Tyrconnell single malts and a number of other fine Irish whiskeys. It is possible to tour this distillery but, as it is a fully working plant, the tour is only possible on Saturdays and must be pre-arranged for large groups.

Heading south west from Dublin the first stop will be Monasterevan. This small town boasted Cassidy’s Distillery in Barnard’s day and, although closed since the 1920s, the remains dominate the main street. Carmody’s Pub has Cassidy’s Corner which has a host of memorabilia from the old distillery. Where better to try the ever increasing range of Irish whiskeys on offer. Also in the town is Mooney’s. Although it does not have much in the way of a range of whiskeys it does have a bit of history on display – possibly the last bottle of Cassidy’s whiskey in existence.

Into the Midlands proper and we hit Tullamore. Tullamore Dew is a famous name in Irish whiskey but is no longer made in the town. However, in one of the company’s old bonded warehouses on the banks of the Grand Canal sits the Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre. Here visitors can learn about the history of the distillery and the town before sampling the Dew itself in the Old Bond Store Bar. The bar on site has the entire range of Tullamore Dew whiskeys as does the popular Brewery Tap pub in the town.

Up the road in the village of Kilbeggan is one of Irish whiskey’s gems. The Old Kilbeggan Distillery closed in the 1950s but the buildings were rescued by the local people and came into the ownership of the Cooley Distillery. Since 2007 the Distillery is silent no more. Two pot stills are now in place and distilling so that visitors not only get to tour a fantastic example of a small country distillery with much of its original features and equipment intact but also see distilling taking place. They may also get a chance to taste some of the new make!

Out west and close to the tourist hotspots the Trail reveals a number of great Irish whiskey pubs to keep a thirsty traveller happy.

But it is to Cork that the whiskey tourist will gravitate.

Cork city is home to a couple of great whiskey bars but to the east in the small town of Midleton is Irish Distillers’ plant, one of the most sophisticated distilleries in the world. This is the home to the great names of Irish whiskey –Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Redbreast. Although it is not possible to tour the new plant itself, the old distillery, renamed the Jameson Experience, is open for tours.

The sense of history is palpable during the guided tour which includes the largest pot still in the world capable of holding 141,000 litres! The tour ends with the obligatory tasting and also on site is the Malt House restaurant.

Also in Midleton is Canty’s Pub which is stocked with a lot of Midleton memorabilia.

There are a number of great whiskey pubs in County Cork but the Old Still Bar in Bandon deserves special mention. It is housed in what was Allman’s Distillery – the old offices in fact. Although there is no great whiskey selection on offer, they do have some memorabilia including what is probably one of the few remaining bottles of Allman’s whiskey. Also, many distillery buildings survive here for the dedicated whiskey historian.

Although that ends the journey, scattered around Ireland are other great whiskey pubs which await discovery via the Ireland Whiskey Trail.

The website also offers a wealth of history on the old distilleries, brands, cocktails and Irish Coffee.

Unfortunately the Trail does not cross the border into Northern Ireland. This is due to Diageo, owners of Bushmills, withdrawing their support for the project late in the day.

The Ireland Whiskey Trail is an ongoing one-woman project to which Heidi hopes to add more pubs in the future. She is also working with the venues to increase the knowledge of staff about Irish whiskey.

So if you are in Ireland to see the sights and drink the whiskey, let the Ireland Whiskey Trail be your guide.
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