A distillery tour of Ireland – exploring the world of Irish whiskey

There was a time in my life when whisky was just whisky. Actually, as the hibernophile that I am, I used to spell it whiskey, with an e. Even scotch or bourbon, it was all whiskey to me. In fact, I didn’t even know the difference between a scotch and a bourbon. Then I met my boyfriend and he happened to be a whisky person. A big whisky person (and notice the lack of the extra –e- I loved to use). One who will describe his favourite kind of whisky without even saying the word whisky (“Peated single malt”. Okaaaay.).

It becomes pretty clear that some whisky education would have come my way during our relationship. We both love a good drink, so over the years I have been able to taste a few whiskys that he has either bought or received as a present. Plus, every time we travel we spend a good half hour in airport duty free shops watching all the whiskys on display. This is usually where I get most of my education – albeit only in theory.

This year marks our fifth anniversary, so we decided to celebrate abroad. A lucky combination of factors, including cheap plane tickets to Dublin with Norwegian, brought me to plan a week-long road trip around Ireland. The first thing I did when defining our itinerary was to identify where the distilleries are located all over the island. Once I pinpointed the most famous ones (those that I actually knew, and that offer guided tours), I planned the rest of the trip around these stops. Here are our experiences exploring the world of Irish whiskey distilleries.

The Old Bushmills Distillery

We started off at the Old Bushmills Distillery, located in Bushmills, Northern Ireland. The Old Bushmills Distillery, founded in 1608, prides itself being the oldest working distillery in Ireland. This was my first time visiting a distillery, so on our first stop we decided to do a proper tour of the premises. Here I learned all the theory behind the Irish whiskey making process. Guided tours are offered daily, but cannot be booked online. I was afraid that coming in the afternoon we would find all the tours for the day sold out, but it was not the case. Tours departed every 10 minutes and we were able to join one that started a minute after we bought our tickets. Visiting on a Tuesday in late September probably also helped.

A distillery tour of Ireland. Bushmills.

A distillery tour of Ireland. Bushmills.
This old pot still is on display at the bar.

Due to the alcohol content of the air in the distillery, I was not allowed to take any photos inside. The tour was really informative, I started off my Irish whiskey education with some basic knowledge of the production. We learned about all the stages from grains to end product, and were even able to see the bottling take place (doesn’t happen every day). At the end of the tour we went into the bar where we received two complimentary samples. One was the same for all, and we could choose the other. My boyfriend and I chose two different types, so we could sample a total of three (Original, 10 year single malt and 12 year single malt).

A distillery tour of Ireland. Bushmills. A distillery tour of Ireland. Bushmills.
Jameson Experience in Midleton, Cork

After exploring some natural wonders of the west coast of Ireland, we made our way all the way south, to the Jameson distillery in Midleton. The famous Jameson is originally a Dublin whiskey. Today, it is produced in Midleton, County Cork. Following a crisis of the whiskey production in the 1970s, many whiskey producers moved to the Old Midleton Distillery and continued production there. Nowadays production happens at the new Midleton distillery, while the old distillery houses the Jameson Experience visitor centre. The original Jameson Distillery Bow St. in Dublin is no longer a working distillery, but is a visitor centre. There one can take tours and tastings, but we decided to visit the Midleton location, instead.

A distillery tour of Ireland. Jameson. A distillery tour of Ireland. Jameson.

In Midleton we booked a Premium Whiskey Tasting, which is not a tour but a tasting class. Here we had the chance to sample 4 different types of whiskey that are currently produced in Midleton. We had the Jameson Black Barrel, the Powers John’s Lane Release, the Redbreast 12 year old and the Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy. The focus of the tasting session was all on flavouring the different whiskeys and comparing them. The key is to take proper time to enjoy the taste and personality of each whiskey. If at the sampling in Bushmills I was a novice, here I gained more knowledge and experience. At the end of this visit I had sampled 7 different types of Irish whiskey, including the most expensive one I have ever had. And our distillery tour of Ireland was not over yet.

A distillery tour of Ireland. Jameson.

A distillery tour of Ireland. Jameson.
That table, that table!

Tullamore D.E.W. Visitor Centre

Our last stop in our distillery tour was the Old Tullamore Distillery in Tullamore. Tullamore Dew was the first whiskey I had bought for myself. At the very start of our relationship I had gone on a trip to Berlin and on my way back I called my boyfriend from the airport. I wanted to buy a whisky and I needed advice from an expert. He suggested I’d buy a Tullamore Dew, so I did. Smoother, not peated (and Irish!) – that was definitely the right whiskey for me. In Tullamore we chose to participate in the Whiskey Wise Masterclass, a combination of tour and tasting class. The tasting included samples of 6 house whiskeys.

A distillery tour of Ireland. Tullamore Dew.

A distillery tour of Ireland. Tullamore Dew.
At the visitor centre one gets to touch and smell the grains.

Just like Jameson, also Tullamore Dew had moved its production to Midleton in the 1970s. In 2014 Tullamore Dew officially made its comeback to Tullamore. Production is now at the new Tullamore distillery, while the old one is a museum and visitor centre. Tullamore Dew specialises in the production of triple blends, meaning a blend of malted and unmalted barley, plus a grain whiskey made with maize. At the end of the tour we took our seats for the tasting class. Here we got 6 whiskeys to sample – all different types of Tullamore Dew: Original, Cider Cask, Old Bonded Warehouse Release, Phoenix, 12 year old and 14 year old single malt. As my palate and nose developed after every sample over the past days, in Tullamore I was already confidently comparing and tasting the difference a few droplets of water in the whiskey can make. That’s a long way from that first bottle I had picked up at Berlin airport five years ago.

A distillery tour of Ireland. Tullamore Dew.A distillery tour of Ireland. Tullamore Dew.

The world of Irish whiskey

Irish whiskey differs from Scotch in the fact that malted barley is not dried over burning peat. This is what gives Scotch this smokey quality. The other great difference is in the triple distillation. Scotch generally undergoes double distillation, whereas Irish whiskey is always distilled three times. This is true for distilleries all over Ireland – all the Irish whiskey brands I explored during my tour. Even Bushmills, that is located in Northern Ireland, follows these rules and is therefore a producer of Irish whiskey.

After visiting three of the most renowned Irish whiskey distilleries, I can say I have become if not an expert, at least an aficionado. My appreciation of the golden distillate was very very limited, but after this experience I feel much more knowledgeable. I would even say now I enjoy whiskey more and I know a bit better how to properly drink it. As the novice that I was when we landed in Dublin, I feel definitely more whiskey savvy now. During my time in Ireland I got to sample a grand total of 13 different types of whiskeys. I am proud to say I know what I like now, and I even got myself a good answer, just like my boyfriend, when asked how I like my whisky:

“Triple distilled.”

 

Visiting Irish whiskey distilleries around Ireland.

 

36 thoughts on “A distillery tour of Ireland – exploring the world of Irish whiskey

    1. Thank you! It was my second time in Ireland but I seriously can’t wait to go back. Luckily I brought back some good whiskey that can help me travel back vicariously 😀

  1. I must confess I’m not a huge whisky, or whiskey, fan. But my dad was, so we used to have amazing tastings together. Interesting to taste the different flavours that exist in whisky, but for a full drink it’s wine or gin for me.

    1. I normally am not either, and will definitely enjoy a good glass of wine more. But the tasting was a really intersting experience and it was amazing to taste all the different flavours that each whiskey had. I left Ireland definitely more accustomed to whiskey, and I really appreciate it more now!

  2. Distillery hopping, now that’s the life!! I remember I did a tour at the Irish Whiskey Museum in Dublin and it was SO MUCH FUN! I actually learned tons haha and I think by the end of it, I was slowly becoming a whiskey person. It’s definitely one of those acquired tastes though. Would love to visit a few of these the next time I’m in Ireland!

    1. Well after this you would definitely leave calling yourself a whiskey person! I still need to learn to appreciate Scotch, but distillery hopping in Scotland is on my list 😀

  3. What an awesome tour you’ve done. I am a so-so alcohol drinker but I’ve been doing all. Lot more distillery tours and really enjoy seeing the process. I love Ireland, and I’ll have to go back to enjoy some of these now. I love free taste tests and learning when I visit places 😊

    1. It was a really great experience while in Ireland. I look forward to doing the same in Scotland, it’s great to learn about some very local things right where they are produced. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. That looks like such a fun tour. I am not a very big alcohol drinker because I am such a light weight. Trust me, I’ve tried haha! Whiskey or Whisky? I’m glad you enjoyed. I want to go on a wine tour now.

    1. Well, whiskey if you go with the Irish spelling, as I explained 😉
      Careful on wine tours if you can’t have too much to drink, though! Wine can be dangerous, some are so easy to drink you barely feel the alcohol. With distillates that is not a problem 😀

  5. As a teetotaller, I can not really appreciate the alcohols, but it seems you had great fun at the distillery. I had a glimpse of it when I visited Edinburg and everyone wanted me to check out the famous Scottish Whiskey.

    1. Of course getting to sample adds value to the experience, but even choosing a non-alcoholic drink (it is included in the price ticket) I think it’s still very interesting to get to see the stages of whiskey production.

  6. Your photos are fantastic! I’m not a fan of drinking whisky (or whiskey?) but I love learning about the processes involved in making spirits and liqueurs, and about what makes one particular type so different from another. Sounds like a really interesting trip 🙂

    1. Thank you very much! Well I am a big fan of whiskey now (the Irish one), not a big fan of whisky (the Scotch) yet. I still have to get used to the smokey flavour. Can’t wait to go to Scotland and get some education in that field, and work on my Scotch taste 😀

  7. Love this post! I too have become a whiskey afficianado. I’ve been to Bushmills and Midleton but was unaware that Tullamore Dew went back home. Next visit to Ireland!

    1. Now you definitely have to pay a visit to the new Tullamore Dew visitor centre then! I recommend the masterclass I took, one hour and a half well spent!

  8. I am a huge Jameson fan and would absolutely love to do this! I want to return to Ireland badly and this will definitely be on my list!!! Pinning to save for that time.

    1. I recommend the Jameson Experience in Midleton. We briefly went into the one in Dublin to check out the store and we were happy we visited the other one, Dublin was packed! I’m sure the tour would be equally good, but it always feels more exclusive when you get small groups 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed my post!

  9. This sounds like my partner’s dream trip. Now when he’s wiffling on about malt this and that I can wow him with my new found knowledge!

    1. Lol I’m glad you got your dose of whiskey education vicariously through my post. I’m sorry it did not include any samples though 😀

    1. That is on my list! I really like bourbon, it’s comparatively sweeter, so we would love to do this too! One day for sure! Enjoy!!

  10. What a great way to spend your 5th anniversary. I am in belfast right now too because of cheap airfare. But fun and helpful read!!

    1. Enjoy Belfast! I wish I’d had more time there, but I kept is as a hub when I explored also the surrounding areas. Would love to go back and see more, but I’m happy with the other experiences I had in Northern Ireland. One can always go back to places! Anyway, if you like whiskey, I recommend having a Bushmills while there 🙂

  11. I’m not really a whisky(missing e) person, not even alcohol except white wine that too only restricted till half a glass so this was really informative for me. Before here even I used ‘e’ with whisky and I might not like the drink but such a tour I wouldn’t miss 🙂 Loved reading through here and glad I learnt something new 🙂

    1. Believe me, after one such tour – and especially if you take the tasting samples – you would become a fan. The oldest distillery has been up and running since the 17th century! It’s amazing to learn the process. If you’re worried about the size of the samples, you don’t have to finish it all. Just taste a little of it for the flavour 😉

    1. I did, and I would really recommend this to anyone. Whiskey might not the easiest of drinks, but when you know the background you really get to appreciate it a lot more!

  12. This reminds me so much of my road trip with Mom around the country. Although we didn’t make it a point to visit any Whiskey Distilleries, we did some tastings in local shops and bought some lovely and TOUGH to swallow (for me anyways) Whiskies. Have saved this for a future trip.

  13. That looks like an interesting experience! I’m not that much of a drinker myself, but my husband would love to have a look inside the distilleries and then try some samples 🙂 Your pictures are really nice as well!

  14. Non è che abbiamo lo stesso fidanzato, vero??
    A parte gli scherzi, anche il mio è un “big whisky person”, e pure un “peated single malt” person.
    E conosco esattamente la sensazione al dutyfree, credo che ormai potrei quasi elencare catalogo e prezzi. Non a caso tra un paio di settimane partiamo (di nuovo) per la Scozia, dove ci attendono due distillerie. Ormai sono ufficialmente “contagiata” anch’io!

    1. Ma che figo! E che figo tra l’altro scoprire di avere delle cose in comune 😀 Tu sei una persona da peated? Io a quell’affumicato non sono ancora riuscita ad abituarmi. Non sono mai stata una fumatrice e l’unica cosa in cui apprezzo il sapore affumicato è la carne (o il pesce). Nel whisky devo proprio ancora farci un po’ la mano (o il palato :D).
      Fantastico che andrete a vedere due distillerie in Scozia! Attendo di leggere le tue impressioni allora (se ne scriverai in merito)!

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