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The 7 best historic Irish whiskey distillery tours in Ireland

Casks at the Boann DistilleryCasks at the Boann Distillery — Photo courtesy of Boann Distillery

In Gaelic, whiskey is called “Uisce Beatha.” If you sound it out (good luck!), the first part explains why it was eventually referred to as “whiskey” in English. The actual translation means “water of life,” which isn’t all that surprising given the number of distilleries dotted around Ireland (some sources say there are around 40, others nearly 70).

Believed to have been brought to Ireland by Christian monks somewhere between the 8th and 11th centuries, a number of these whiskey distilleries are found in Ireland’s Ancient East. This region is comprised of Ireland’s midlands and south and east coasts and is known for its rolling green hills, castle ruins, and many myths.

Today, there are a number of thriving distilleries in this region that are keeping up the country’s whiskey traditions. Many offer tours where visitors can go behind the scenes to see what really happens in a working distillery, as well as learn about their history, process, and products. And sample it, of course. Here are seven distilleries worth a trip to Ireland.

Jameson’s Experience at Midleton Distilleries, County Cork

The Jameson Midleton DistilleryThe Jameson Midleton Distillery — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea

While there’s a distillery tour and whiskey tasting at the Jameson Distillery in Dublin (established 1780), whiskey actually hasn’t been made there since 1970. That magic happens in the town of Midleton in County Cork, near Ireland’s southern shores. It’s here that Jameson’s seven brands of whiskey are distilled, in a mix of old and new structures spread across 15 acres. The oldest buildings at Jameson Midleton once served as a woolen mill and military barracks and are home to one of the oldest pot stills in the world. Also on site is the Jameson micro-distillery where training and education take place, as well as experimentation with different recipes, barrels, and distillation techniques. It’s also where small-batch whiskeys, such as Method and Madness, are produced.

Ballykeefe Distillery, County Kilkenny

One of the rooms at Ballykeefe DistilleryOne of the rooms at Ballykeefe Distillery — Photo courtesy of Ballykeefe Distillery

Close to the city of Kilkenny, the medieval capital of Ireland, Ballykeefe is a small, family-owned distillery that produces not only Irish whiskeys but also vodka, gin, and poitin (also known as Irish moonshine). Their tours (by appointment) walk guests through the entire operation, from the mill house to the brewhouse. They also share steps they’ve taken to minimize the environmental impact of their business and their commitment to carbon neutrality. As with most tours, this one concludes with a tasting in the visitor center, which once served as horse stables.

Dodonus at Highbank Orchards, County Kilkenny

The bar at Highbank OrchardsThe bar at Highbank Orchards — Photo courtesy of Ruth Calder-Potts

For a unique twist, head to Highbank Orchards, where all kinds of spirits are being produced using their organically grown, non-GMO apples. In 2014, Highbank Orchards opened a small distillery — supposedly the smallest in Ireland — called Dodonus where various apple-based spirits are produced. These include apple gin, apple liquor brandy, and apple vodka. Teetotalers can sample cider, juice, or their organic, award-winning apple syrup.

Slane Distillery, County Meath

Outside of the Slane Castle & DistilleryOutside of the Slane Castle & Distillery — Photo courtesy of Failte Ireland

There aren’t many distilleries located directly on castle grounds, but Slane Distillery can make that claim as it’s located within the stable block of Slane Castle. North of Dublin and only a few miles from where the infamous Battle of the Boyne unfolded, visitors can tour this working distillery and learn not only about its history and distilling process but also about current sustainability efforts. These include collecting and treating rainwater (on this very wet island!) for use in the distillation process.

Teeling Distillery, Dublin

A sample of the goods at Teeling DistilleryA sample of the goods at Teeling Distillery — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea

Believe it or not, this is the only remaining working distillery within the city of Dublin — once the home of all things whiskey. The Teeling name has a long history in the world of whiskey and that interesting story (which dates back to 1782) is explained in detail on their tours. Tours wrap with a drink at a bar on the upper level, which is also accessible to visitors who prefer less talking and more toasting. (No tour is required to belly up to the bar.)

Tullamore Distillery, County Offaly

Tullamore Distillery's visitor entranceTullamore Distillery’s visitor entrance — Photo courtesy of Failte Ireland

Nearly midway between Dublin and Galway in County Offaly, Tullamore Distillery opened in 2014; though, the brand itself dates back nearly 200 years. The distillery spreads across 58 acres, and tours start at the visitor center with a welcome Irish coffee. Later, during the Tullamore Distillery Tour, participants can sample this second-largest whiskey brand (after Jameson) straight from the cask and even have the option to craft their own whiskey blend.

Boann Distillery, County Meath

Casks at the Boann DistilleryCasks at the Boann Distillery — Photo courtesy of Boann Distillery

Just a short drive from the Hill of Tara and Newgrange (the latter being Ireland’s oldest astronomically aligned structure, which is believed to be older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids!), Boann Distillery takes its inspiration from the Boyne Valley and the nearby River Boyne. Water is drawn from the valley and barley is sourced from native farmers before being transformed into whiskey. Tours start at the visitor center, and visitors can order their favorite tipple at the on-site Boyne Brewhouse craft brewery and taproom.

There are plenty of other distilleries around Ireland’s Ancient East and across the entire island. Read more about these and other things to do in Ireland at discoverireland.ie.

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