Can craft whiskey tourism beat off boozy Irish stereotypes?
Well-told and carefully crafted whiskey stories can dispel boozy Irish stereotypes, writes Pól Ó Conghaile.
Dublin’s whiskey experiences are like its proverbial buses; you wait for ages, and then several come along in a short space of time.
Think of the Irish Whiskey Museum on College Green, Teeling’s Distillery and the proposed Dublin Whiskey Company visitor centre in the Liberties, or the major reboot of the Old Jameson Distillery, set to open next March.
All are catapulting the city back onto the global whiskey tourism map.
For a while, it seemed like craft gin had stolen whiskey’s thunder. No more. When Teeling’s opened on Newmarket Square in 2015, it was Dublin’s first new distillery in 125 years. Taking its tour (teelingdistillery.com; from €14pp) recently, I found a sweetly scripted experience combining social histories, clued-in guides and dinky artefacts with a cannily marketed brand (#teelingdistillery hashtags are stamped onto barrels).
Visitors walk past three beautiful copper stills, get a brief immersion in the fermentation and ageing processes, and finish with a tasting.
The café and gift shops are a cut-above, too.
Whiskey’s new wave is more than a shot in the arm for the Irish drinks industry. In travel terms, experiences like these also offer a more nuanced take on Ireland’s relationship with alcohol. Similar to food tourism, they tie a storied craft to people, heritage and landscape, providing richer and more authentic ways for visitors to engage than the usual, boozy old stereotypes.
Of course, you can have fun knocking back the tasters, too - but anything that takes tourists beyond images of sloshily drunken Dubliners is progress, in my book.
Teeling's Distillery, Dublin
Once upon a time, Ireland had dozens of whiskey distilleries. Today, there are only a handful. Ireland’s Whiskey Trail (irelandwhiskeytrail.ie) hasn’t been updated in some time, but it remains a good place to start your research — ranging as it does from distilleries like those in Bushmills, Kilbeggan and Midleton to pubs with a particular whiskey connection (think of Ó Loclainn’s in Ballyvaughan, or Dick Mack’s in Dingle). Wine country tours are second nature to tourists in other destinations.
What about a revamped whiskey trail for Ireland?
The Irish Whiskey Museum, Dublin
Did you know Brian O’Driscoll is a whiskey investor? The rugby legend is part-owner of Glendalough Irish Whiskey, which produces a 13-year-old singlemalt among other spirits. Or did you know that the new, independently-produced James Joyce Whiskey (jamesjoycewhiskey.ie) pays homage to No. 15 Usher’s Island, the famous ‘House of the Dead’ featured in Joyce’s Dubliners?
Irish Whiskey has been the world’s fastest growing premium spirit in the last 10 years, according to the Irish Whiskey Association. Its renaissance is just beginning.