Move over Scotch, Irish whiskey is re-emerging from the doldrums as one of the fastest growing spirits in the world. While the 20th century heralded the end of whiskey’s golden age, a modern audience is now enjoying the bespoke flavours offered by boutique brands. New distilleries are welcoming guests while older makers are upping their game with improved facilities.

Whiskey with an 'e' is making a comeback thanks to some great bars and distilleries © a_namenko / Getty Images
Whiskey with an 'e' is making a comeback thanks to some great bars and distilleries © a_namenko / Getty Images

In Dublin, the Old Jameson Distillery has reopened its doors after an expensive makeover, while Diageo is brewing up a new visitor experience in its old Guinness power plant. Even boxing legend Conor McGregor is muscling in on the action with the anticipated launch of his own brand (trademark issues permitting), appropriately labelled ‘Notorious’.

Budding aficionados can sample the smooth spirit named whiskey (or uisce beatha – the water of life) by monks in the early Middle Ages by visiting these 11 unmissable Irish distilleries and bars.

Enjoy a tour of Teelings, Dublin's first new distillery in over a century © Vic O'Sullivan / Lonely Planet
Enjoy a tour of Teelings, Dublin's first new distillery in over a century © Vic O'Sullivan / Lonely Planet

Teelings Distillery, Newmarket, Merchants Quay, Dublin

Teeling’s, Dublin’s first new distillery in over 125 years, snuggles into a market square a stone’s throw from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Only opened in 2015, their whiskey has yet to mature (it takes a minimum of 3 years and a day to distil Irish whiskey – a day more than its Scottish rival – so will be ready by the end of 2018) but you can still enjoy a tour and a tasting of other Teeling's products on a visit.

While you’re there

Indulge your ‘water of life’ wonder at the Whiskey Museum on Grafton Street.

Jameson Distillery, Bow Street, Smithsfield, Dublin

Spend 40 minutes catching up on 238 years of whiskey history at the Jameson Distillery’s plush new visitor experience on Bow Street, near Dublin’s city centre. The whiskey ambassadors of this landmark distillery share first-hand experiences of the peaks and troughs of the industry while talking numbers, growth and anecdotes. Afterwards, head to JJ’s Place on the mezzanine floor for a complimentary drink

While you’re there

Walk 10 minutes to The Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub, where many historical figures warmed a bar stool while nursing a whiskey.

Come to Slane for the castle and maybe a concert, stay for the whiskey © Vic O'Sullivan
Come to Slane for the castle and maybe a concert, stay for the whiskey © Vic O'Sullivan / Lonely Planet

Slane Distillery, County Meath

It’s Slane on the rocks at the legendary castle’s stables-cum-bar-conversion. Unsurprisingly given the estate’s fondness for big-name, outdoor concerts, the whiskey tour is mulled in rock anecdotes from the Rolling Stones to U2, and Kings of Leon lyrics decorate the clubby interior. The tour guide gets everyone into the spirit of things with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the distilling process, from malt sourcing to the flavours from their triple cask whiskey.

While you’re there

Don’t miss Newgrange, a 5000-year-old passage tomb.

The Connacht Whiskey Company, Ballina, County Mayo

Located in a modern building near the banks of the River Moy, the Connacht Distillery is a clean line operation. While the Connacht Whiskey brand is still at fermenting stage, the tour is the real deal. Poitín, a spirit that was traditionally stilled in a small pot (hence the name) and illegal even 20 years ago, is available, along with the distillery’s Straw Boys branded gin.

While you’re there

Charming Killala offers the chance to catch up on some Irish history by delving into its role in the 1798 rebellion.

A good still, like this one at Kilbeggan, is key to a top quality whiskey © Vic O'Sullivan
A good still, like this one at Kilbeggan, is key to a top quality whiskey © Vic O'Sullivan / Lonely Planet

Kilbeggan (Locke’s) Distillery, Kilbeggan, County Westmeath

Kilbeggan Distillery has had a chequered past ever since its groaning water wheel first battled the force of the river Brosna 260 years ago. Shady deals and the execution of the founder’s son for his membership of the United Irishmen back in 1798 are just samples of its illustrious story. These days a ripe biscuit aroma seeps across the open courtyard and through the narrow time-jaded timber nooks, affirming that this is a fully operating distillery. Unlike the shiny brazen stills found elsewhere, Kilbeggan’s giant copper stills are weather-aged with a bright green veneer. Another Cooley-associated company, it produces a malt blend for various brands.

While you’re there

Ireland’s oldest pub, Sean’s Bar in Athlone, is well worth the short detour.

Dingle Distillery, County Kerry

The blue corrugated exterior of Dingle Distillery, Europe’s most westerly, stands firm in its windswept beautiful location. While it’s new to the spirit world, the owners are anything but rookies in the drinks industry, having pioneered Irish craft beer at the porterhouse in Dublin. With two casks produced daily, the accent is on quality not quantity, so instead of a dram expect Dingle Gin and Vodka at the tasting.

While you’re there

Unesco World Heritage Site and Star Wars backdrop Skellig Michael is, weather permitting, a quick drive and boat trip away.

An old warehouse has become home to the Tullamore whiskey tour © Vic O'Sullivan
An old warehouse has become home to the Tullamore whiskey tour © Vic O'Sullivan / Lonely Planet

Tullamore Dew, County Offaly

Though the production of Tullamore Dew is in a high-security new plant outside Tullamore, their visitor centre is in the heart of the town in an old whiskey warehouse, and brim full of interesting facts and gadgetry. The part tongue-in-cheek, wholly fascinating tour comes with a lot of effort made to recreate a real distillery feel, from red lighting beneath the ‘malting room’ to simulate coal burning, to the chat over casks at the tasting session.

While you’re there

Admire the giant telescope (once the largest in the world) at Birr Demesne.

Walsh Distillery, County Carlow

With a 650,000 annual bottle capacity, spanking new Walsh Distillery means business. The tour guide encourages visitors to sniff and feel their way through the three steps in the distilling process. The contemporary design of the facility reflects the fact that it’s the first one to be developed in County Carlow in over 200 years, but despite all this sleekness the process is manually controlled. ‘The Irishman Founders Reserve’ rounds off the rolling farmland estate’s distillery tour.

While you’re there

Atmospheric Carlow County Museum gives some great insights into local history.

Unchanged decor and a warm welcome at one of Ireland's best whiskey bar, O'Loclainn's © Vic O'Sullivan
Unchanged decor and a warm welcome at one of Ireland's best whiskey bars, O'Loclainn's © Vic O'Sullivan / Lonely Planet

O'Loclainn's Irish Whiskey Bar, Ballyvaughan, County Clare

A bastion of whiskey for over 80 years, no tour would be complete without dropping by O’Loclainn’s Bar, midway along the Wild Atlantic Way. This third generation family bar kept the spirit alive when the industry was in decline, and today has one of the finest collections in Ireland with over 300 bottles. Green Spot Single Pot Still is the bar’s signature whiskey, but also nestled into the cramped timber shelf space are rare blends, many out of production.

While you’re there

Check out the romantic ruins of Corcomroe Abbey and then tuck into some chocolate at Hazel Mountain.

The Dylan Whisky Bar, Kilkenny City

Victorian-style Dylan Whisky Bar on the Marble City’s spruced up John Street is just eight years old, but what it lacks in age it makes up for with a vast collection of whiskey brands. For €20 you get to sample a single malt, their brand of the month and a third whiskey from a range of around 200 – the well trained bar staff can help you decide and are a mine of information. While the reason for the pub’s rock ‘n’ roll name is clear thanks to the Bob Dylan paraphernalia on the walls, less obvious is why it chooses to use the Scottish spelling of ‘whisky’.

While you’re there

Kilkenny is well worth exploring and its new Medieval Mile Museum is a great addition to the city’s sights.

Bushmill's whiskey might be old, but Dunluce Castle has an even longer past © Rainbow79 / Getty Images / iStockphoto
Bushmill's whiskey might be old, but nearby Dunluce Castle has an even longer past © Rainbow79 / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Bushmills, Antrim

King James I granted the Old Bushmill’s Distillery its licence back in 1608, which makes it the oldest on the planet. Along with a long history comes a great value-for-money tour (just £8), walking you through the whiskey-making process from sourcing to bottling. Keep the camera in the pocket as it’s a no-photo zone. The 12-year single malt is the highlight of the tasting and only available on site.

While you’re there

Coastal perched Dunluce Castle, the ruined castle of your imagination, is a very short drive from the distillery.

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