Whiskey is as much a part of Ireland’s identity as the country’s endless rolling landscape of meadows, quiet villages and untamed coastlines. That’s because the Emerald Isle naturally provides the perfect conditions to cultivate each ingredient needed to create this honey-coloured spirit, especially thanks to its abundance of barley and fresh, clean water. Indeed, Irish whiskey dates all the way back to the 13th century and a handful of distillers still use the same time-honoured traditions that have served the people for generations. Check out our guide to the best distilleries, and discover why whiskey is the true spirit of Ireland.
Kilbeggan Distillery in Westmeath
Located just over an hour from Dublin, the Kilbeggan Distillery is the Republic of Ireland’s oldest licensed distillery, founded in 1757. Here you can see hundreds of years of tradition in action, as pot stills, wooden casks and even a working 19th century waterwheel continue to create sip-for-sip perfect whiskey. You can see the oldest working pot still in the world (dating back to the 1800s), wander through the rows of sherry and bourbon barrels that patiently wait for the brew inside them to mature, and of course sample a drop or two yourself.
Tullamore D.E.W. Distillery in County Offalay
The Old Bonded Warehouse is little more than a 15-minute drive from Kilbeggan, and where Daniel E Williams once made his triple distilled, triple blend Irish whiskey. Although the amber-coloured beverage hasn’t been produced in this canalside building since its 1954 closure, the distillery now functions as a visitor centre where you can step back in time and discover the secrets of blending whiskey from one of Ireland’s best-selling producers. True connoisseurs should make sure to take part in the Ultimate Distillery Experience, where you’ll be tutored on the craft by a master distiller and given the chance to make your own blend of whiskey to take home with you.
Midleton Distillery in County Cork
The Midleton Distillery began in the 1800s and is home to some of the biggest names in the industry. Owned by the Irish Distillers Group, this is the birthplace of Powers, Midleton and – perhaps most importantly – Jameson. The world’s favourite Irish whiskey, Jameson sells over 20 million bottles per year and is one of its country’s biggest exports today. You can explore the visitor centre in the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin – though this is closed until March 2017 for refurbishment – but it’s in Midleton that you’ll see the distillers in action. This is one of the few places in the world where you can see the uniquely Irish way of creating the spirit, with single time-aged pot sills using malted and unmalted barley to create a subtle spiciness and distinct flavour. This modern distillery offers everything from behind-the-scenes tours to premium tasting sessions, and even the chance to fill your own bottle of cask-strength whiskey straight from a bourbon barrel as a souvenir.
Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim
Northern Ireland’s finest and oldest working distillery can be found along the ruggedly beautiful Causeway Coastal Route, one of the finest road journeys on the planet. This historic distillery is the only place in Ireland where visitors can enjoy a dram of triple distilled single malt whiskey. The complex but light spirit has earned it international recognition, so it’s come a long way since being granted a licence to distil in 1608 by King James 1st. With tutored tastings, exclusive merchandise and tours on offer, there are plenty of reasons to visit this small village, situated just 90 minutes from the port of Larne.
If this has inspired you to sample some ‘Water of Life’ for yourself, check out our guide to Ireland.