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Selfies on tour at Pearse Lyons Distillery
Selfies on tour at Pearse Lyons Distillery
Image: Pearse Lyons Distillery

Discover these hidden gems on Ireland's whiskey trail - from cocktails to storytelling

Add some of these experiences to your summer checklist.
Jul 23rd 2020, 9:52 AM 12,574 0

IRELAND IS TOP of the dream holiday list for people all over the world. According to Fáilte Ireland, more than 9.6m tourists visited our country in 2018 alone – a staggering number when you consider than our total population is just over half that figure.

But this year, the situation is a little different. With most international travel on hold, us locals will be the ones holidaying in Ireland this year, and experiencing at-home attractions we might otherwise have walked right by.

“If it’s on your doorstep, it’s the last place you visit,” says Tracey Flinter, general manager at Pearse Lyons Whiskey Distillery. The Dublin 8 distillery and visitor centre opened its doors to the public last week after a four-month closure due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“The main push for us now is trying to get visitors through the door. We can only remain open if that happens,” she says. Around 87% of visitors to whiskey distilleries last year were from overseas, so it’s a big leap to close the gap now that those tourists are staying home.

Irish Whiskey Association 2019-7717 Source: IrishWhiskey360°

But the team at Pearse Lyons, and other distilleries around the country, reckon they’re up to the challenge. “We’ve definitely altered our offering by designing smaller, more intimate experiences for our visitors,” says Cathy Sullivan, visitor experience marketing manager at Tullamore D.E.W. in Co Offaly.

We’re building experiences for day trippers and staycationers, and also for groups of friends and couples.

Whiskey and food pairings, collaborations with local restaurants, and small group workshops are just some of the new experiences whiskey distilleries and visitor centres around Ireland have added to their list in recent weeks.

Naturally, safety is high on the agenda. “The health and safety of our teams, visitors and our communities is our top priority,” said a spokesperson for the Jameson Distilleries in Dublin and Midleton. 

Some of the additions are designed with social distancing procedures in mind – like more intimate private tours – while others were created specifically to appeal to an Irish audience who are looking for new and exciting ways to catch up with friends or get to know their country.

“Whiskey experiences were already on the radar of some Irish tourists, but there’s still an undiscovered story. There’s a welcome challenge in attracting people who wouldn’t have typically considered visiting a distillery,” says Sullivan. “I think we’re going to see a new audience coming through the door which I’m really excited about.”

See the experts at work

Whether you’re a whiskey aficionado or a first-timer, there’s something exciting about seeing the skill and knowledge that goes into creating a bottle of the world-famous liquid. That’s a key focus of the tour at Pearse Lyons, for example – but Flinter says it’s something many people don’t realise until they book in.

“Once you go through the first part of the tour, which is outside, you’re brought into distillery which is housed in a restored 18th century church. We wanted guests to be able to interact directly with our distillers, to see their faces and see them at work.”

At Kilbeggan Distillery in Co Westmeath, interested guests can go one better and take on the role of distiller themselves for an afternoon, bottling their own 10-year single malt cask to take home with them.

Shaken and stirred

Original JPG-Tullamore Dew12670 (1) Tasting and testing at Tullamore D.E.W. Source: Tullamore D.E.W.

Of course, it’s not all about the heritage – sometimes visitors just want to switch off and try something different. That’s what Tullamore D.E.W. is aiming for with its new Tully Cocktail Making Class, a two-hour experience where groups of eight can learn the tricks of the trade – and practice their skills with the help of the experts.

“After all that time in lockdown we know people just want to catch up with friends. The class offers something fun and exciting to do within a safe, social environment,” says Sullivan.

They’ll learn how Irish whiskey works wonderfully in many iconic drinks, and they’ll be taught to make three delicious cocktails, one of which they’ll bottle to takeaway and enjoy later.

Roe & Co Distillery in Dublin 8 offers a similarly immersive cocktail making experience for groups of six, while Clonakilty Distillery in Cork has teamed up with a local restaurant to create a full date night experience – guests can purchase an evening tour of the distillery and book in for dinner at the Whale’s Tail next door all in one go.

History on your doorstep

Many of Ireland’s distilleries date back hundreds of years, and some are on sites with incredible historical significance. Pearse Lyons is built on the grounds of the old St James’s Church, and the graveyard still sits on the site – with years of history literally buried there.

“We could talk all day but we have to cram 800 years into a one hour experience,” says Flinter. “There are tradesmen, craftsmen, significant people from Dublin Liberties history and even members of the Powers whiskey family buried here, and guests find out all about that on their tour.”

At Tullamore D.E.W., storytelling is a huge part of each tour, with guides selected specifically for their ability to captivate an audience. “We’ve really tapped into the storytelling skills of our team,” says Sullivan. “Irish whiskey can be an undiscovered tale for some people. Tullamore D.E.W. has been around since 1829 so there is a wealth of stories there, from facts about our founder to the history of the whiskey we produce.”

Back open

Curious? Here are just some of Ireland’s distilleries currently back open, or set to re-open soon:

  • Teeling Whiskey Distillery, Dublin 8
  • Roe & Co Distillery, Dublin 8 
  • Jameson Distillery, Bow Street, Dublin 7
  • Jameson Distillery, Midleton, Co Cork
  • Clonakilty Distillery, Co Cork
  • Powerscourt Distillery, Co Wicklow
  • Kilbeggan Distillery, Co Westmeath 
  • Connacht Distillery, Co Mayo 
  • Blackwater Distillery, Co Waterford 
  • Dingle Distillery, Co Kerry
  • Skellig Six18, Co Kerry

Connacht Whiskey Distilery Casks and stills at Connacht Whiskey Distillery. Source: Connacht Whiskey Distillery.

We may not get the chance to go backpacking or island-hopping this summer, but that doesn’t mean new experiences are closed off to us – and Sullivan hopes many Irish people will get a newfound appreciation for the country so many overseas tourists love.

“I hope people will be tempted to reconnect with Ireland, and that they’ll gain more understanding and maybe even pride.”

Now that the country is opening up again, IrishWhiskey360° is encouraging people all over Ireland to get back in the spirit of discovery. Take a trip to one of the country’s many whiskey distilleries or visitor centres for a get-together with a difference, a date night or a deep dive into Ireland’s culture and history. Click here for the latest updates as more distilleries re-open.

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