As I found the open gate, I took a quick peek behind the walls of NCAD. I was told I might find an old copper pot still on the grounds of Dublin’s most influential Art College. Resting out in the open like a modern Art sculpture, I discovered the gleaming artefact, now a silent reminder that one of the greatest Dublin whiskey distilleries had stood here: the Powers distillery.
In the 19th century Irish whiskey dominated the world, renowned for its uncompromised quality and great character. But all came crashing down in the early 20th century. Prohibition in the United States, Irish Independence in 1922, competition from Scotch whisky – coupled with the inability of Irish distillers to adapt – spelled the end of all Dublin distilleries. One by one, they fell silent, the last of them closing in the 1970s.
The Ups And Downs Of Dublin Whiskey Distilleries
Something remarkable has been happening these last few years though. The Liberties, a Dublin neighbourhood that was once the home of great whiskey names like Powers, Jameson and Roe, has reconnected with its past. With a renewed interest in Irish whiskey, distilleries are once again setting their roots in The Liberties and opening their doors to visitors.
The Teeling Distillery – A 200 Year-Old Family Story
Teeling was first on my list of Dublin’s fully-functioning whiskey distilleries. As I approached the newly built distillery in The Liberties, a phoenix spread its wings across the facade like the coat-of-arms of an ancient family of mysterious origins. The mythical bird also found on Teeling whiskey bottles had been chosen to symbolise the Teeling brand.
Initiating the revival of Irish whiskey-making in Dublin, the Teeling Distillery has been the first distillery to be built in the Irish capital in 125 years. More than a birth, it was a come back from oblivion for Teeling, hence the phoenix. Walter Teeling had established his distillery in the Golden Triangle, Dublin’s historic distilling district, in 1782 until it was bought out by William Jameson a century later.
Descendants of Walter Teeling were now back in town. Two brothers, Jack and Stephen Teeling, opened a brand new distillery in 2015 a few streets away from where the original Teeling distillery stood.
Once inside, a guided tour took visitors through the fascinating history of the Teeling name. We were ushered into the belly of the beast, the scent of barley rushing up our noses. The first part of the whiskey making process was revealed here, as I followed the barley from tanks to fermenters being transformed from grains to a thick mixture.
The temperature rose suddenly as the group entered a second room where we found three massive copper pot stills, ‘’The Three Sisters’’, tenderly named after Jack Teeling’s daughters: Alison, Natalie and Rebecca. Inside their rounded bellies the beer-like fermented mixture made from barley, water and yeast was being heated until the alcohol vaporized and condensed back into liquid.
The final clear distilled spirit would end up in old casks for a minimum of three years, giving its color and taste. Teeling has been bold in that area, experimenting with rum, red wine, sherry and port casks to name a few. The company’s work has since been recognised at the highest level as its founders snatched the World’s Best Single Malt award at the 2019 World Whiskies Awards.
The guided tour entered its final stage as our guide led the tasting session of Teeling whiskey. As a complete novice, I did my best to keep a straight and delighted-to-be-here face as the whiskey was slowly burning the back of the throat. The complimentary cocktail that followed was (much!) better received. You could certainly say I left the Teeling Distillery merrier than I arrived.
THE TEELING DISTILLERY
Address: 13-17 Newmarket, Dublin 8
Price: From €15
Includes: Guided tour, whiskey tasting, complimentary cocktail
The Pearse Lyons Distillery – The American Influence
I’m not a religious person, but on a clear winter morning I somehow went to church. I didn’t visit any kind of church though. This one was very special.
Dating back to the late 12th century, the church of St James in The Liberties had served as meeting point for Irish pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. However, the last decades saw St James left uncared for, its steeple damaged by lightning and its ancient graveyard overgrown.
Until Dr. Lyons and his wife came along. A former brewer and distiller with a PhD in biochemistry, Dr. Lyons had moved to the United States where he founded a multinational called Alltech. Returning to Ireland with the dream of creating his own brewery, he bought the now deconsecrated church of St James.
The 4-year long, painstaking renovation of St James, a listed building, paid off and the new brewery finally opened in 2017. Finding myself at the gate of the Pearse Lyons Distillery on James’s Street, I was stupefied by the newly renovated church. As I looked up, I could see the clear blue sky through its unique glass steeple. At its foot, the old graveyard was now freed from wild grasses. During the renovation work, Dr Lyons would find nine relatives buried there, including his own grandfather, creating an emotional and intimate connection to the place.
Inside the church two copper stills took centre stage reflecting the subdued light of colourful stained-glass windows illustrating the story of whiskey-making. The stills, brought from Kentucky, had an unusual shape. “Mighty Mollie” had what looked like a ball in its throat while her companion, “Little Lizzie” had rectification plates in its neck, an arrangement common in the United States.
The double-distilled single malt was later aged in bourbon casks imported from a sister distillery in Kentucky; their mission: to produce an Irish whiskey “with a Kentucky flair”.
The guided tour of the little distillery ended with a tasting of the spirit made in this temple to Irish whiskey. I got to taste three samples of Pearse Lyons whiskey and was delighted to learn that they mixed well with chocolate! A gin produced by the Pearse Lyons Distillery was also on the menu and I fell right down for it. Spiritual redemption could wait a bit longer. Sláinte!
THE PEARSE LYONS DISTILLERY
Address: 121-122 James’s Street, Dublin 8
Price: From €20
Includes: Guided tour, whiskey tasting
Roe & Co Distillery – The Rebirth Of A Great Name
As I walked down Thomas Street, a busy thoroughfare in The Liberties, I stopped by a 30 meter-high former windmill clad with a faded green copper dome. The Saint Patrick’s Tower, as it was called, was sticking out conspicuously from the urban landscape of old brick apartment blocks, shops and offices typical for this part of the city.
The tower was the only landmark left of the former Roe distillery, a name that dominated The Liberties, rivaling two other big whiskey producers: Jameson and Powers. The wealth of the Roe family was such that Henri Roe donated £230 000 (€35 millions today!) to renovate and save Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral in the 1870s. But what was once the biggest whiskey producer in Ireland in the 1880s didn’t survive the downturn of the early 20th century and closed in 1923.
In 2019 the Roe name resurfaced. In the former Guinness power station located down the very same road the Roe distillery had been sitting on, a new, state-of-the-art, Roe & Co distillery opened, backed by Guinness owner Diageo.
The guided tour started in the distillery’s swanky shop surrounded by golden brown whiskey bottles and inviting, chic green sofas, a clear reference to St Patrick’s copper dome. After a quick history lesson on the foundation of the Roe distillery, the guide led the visitors to a walkway overlooking the whole whiskey-making operation.
Like Russian dolls, three copper stills were sitting in line, from big to small, their onion-like bellies reflecting the natural light streaming through massive industrial windows. Meanwhile technicians and engineers were busy looking after the machinery and wooden fermentation tanks making sure the magic happened.
Whiskey tasting followed in Room 106, called after the 106th and final version of whiskey which master blender, Caroline Martin created for the brand. The group looked at colours and textures before trying their noses and taste buds to each whiskey sample.
The new Roe whiskey was designed to work well with cocktails. A cocktail enthusiast myself, I was delighted to be introduced to the secrets of cocktail making. Apron on, the visitors took their place around a room that reminded me of my high-school science lab – but a lot posher.
Following the guide’s clear instructions in an atmosphere filled with both great excitement and slight worries, people around the room started to create their own cocktails from a series of ingredients lined up in front of them. We poured, me mixed, we tasted. Happily, I got mine right!
The tour ended in the distillery’s sleek bar bathed in a warm golden light. A complimentary drink was on offer. Of course I couldn’t resist the delicious cocktail of the day, edging closer to jolly drunkenness with every sip I took.
ROE & CO DISTILLERY
Address: 192 James’s Street, Dublin 8
Price: From €17
Includes: Guided tour, whiskey tasting, complimentary drink
The Dublin Liberties Distillery – A Name In The Making
The day I started researching Dublin’s new distilleries was the day I heard its name for the very first time. The Dublin Liberties Distillery was a bit of a mystery to me and I was clearly intrigued. It didn’t make headlines for being the first distillery to open in Dublin in a century; it didn’t boast any modern architectural features nor had it a famous name attached.
I found the Dublin Liberties Distillery down one of The Liberties’s old alleyways, quietly sitting on Mill Street in the shadow of the Teeling Distillery next door. Opened in early 2019, It was hiding behind the brick facade of a tastefully renovated 300 year old building which used to be, among other things, a tannery.
Eager to set themselves apart from the other Dublin distilleries, the Dublin Liberties Distillery had secured its own natural spring water source, a key ingredient in the whiskey-making process. Under the direction of Darryl McNally, master distiller with almost 20 years of experience at the revered Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland, the new distillery wasn’t playing around.
The now familiar aroma of barley rushed up my nose once again as the guide led me through a room filled with steel tanks. Inside, the barley bathed in warm water, releasing its sugars. Mixed with yeast, the sugars were then converted to alcohol inside fermenters.
Next door, the air seemed to fill with alcohol and the rising temperature started to make me uncomfortable. Still, I couldn’t take my eyes off the three magnificent copper pot stills gleaming like golden Buddhas in their temple. Inside each of them, alcohol was slowly extracted from water and purified.
I finally sat at a long wooden table under old beams to taste two of the distillery’s final products. With every visit I found myself more seduced by the charms of Irish whiskey. This time I easily sided with the young, smooth taste of the Dubliner aged in Bourbon casks. Meanwhile the spicy taste of the Dublin Liberties ‘Oak Devil’ set a fire down my throat.
THE DUBLIN LIBERTIES DISTILLERY
Address: 33 Mill Street, Dublin 8
Includes: Guided tour, whiskey tasting
Map of Working Whiskey Distilleries In Dublin
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Meet the Author
Hi! My name is Chris and I am a Dublin-based travel blogger, originally from France. Travelling from the Shetland Islands to Brittany, from Cornwall to Donegal, I hope to inspire people to make the Celtic frontier their next adventure.Learn more