The past few years have seen lots of new Irish whiskies hit the market. Thanks to the increase in popularity and the success of the new releases, there are now as many as 50 distilleries in various stages of planning, building and production across Ireland.
While the future is looking very bright, the present is still pretty impressive. Here are some of our favourite Irish whiskey distillers, old and new, who are already up and running.
The longest running distillery in Ireland, with a claim of being founded in 1608. It’s a tenuous one, with a license being issued to a distillery somewhere near the current one, but they’ve still been around for a long time. For years, they were one of only two distilleries in Ireland, and are still one of the two biggest names in Irish whiskey around the world.
Along with Black Bush, the quintessential Northern Irish blend, Bushmills also has a range of excellent single malts. And it doesn’t stop there – if you find an old, anonymous Irish single malt, there’s only one place it could have come from…
Midleton is Ireland’s biggest distillery and is best known as the maker of Jameson. Irish Distillers, the company that owns Midleton, rose out of the ashes of the whiskey industry in the 1960s. The Cork Distilleries Company, John Jameson & Son and John Power & Son merged and focused on developing one distillery that could meet all of their whiskey needs – Midleton.
Since then, the, now renamed, Old Midleton distillery has been replaced by the new, much larger Midleton distillery built next door, and shortly after it opened the Powers John’s Lane and Jameson Bow Street distilleries in Dublin closed. The company has not only ridden out the fallow years, but been at the forefront of driving the industry’s recovery, with Jameson’s huge popularity opening the door for new Irish distilleries.
Along with Jameson, Midleton also makes Powers and Paddy (the big-name whiskies of John Power & Sons and Cork Distillers respectively), and both Redbreast and the ‘Spot’ whiskeys: Green Spot, Yellow Spot and Red Spot. Until recently, Midleton was the only distillery in Ireland, if not the world, making pot still whiskey, and it’s thanks to them that the style didn’t entirely disappear during the 20th century.
The distiller that heralded the Irish whiskey renaissance. Founded in 1987 by John Teeling as Ireland’s third distillery, Cooley was previously a plant making alcohol from potatoes. Teeling added whiskey column stills, following them with pot stills a few years later to create a distillery that could make all the whiskey styles he needed to make a range of Irish whiskeys: Kilbeggan grain (formerly known as Greenore), Kilbeggan blended whiskey and Tyrconnell single malt. The distillery also makes Connemara single malt – a rare peated Irish whiskey.
Teeling sold the distillery to Jim Beam in 2011 and his sons have gone on to found their own distillery in Dublin. More details below…
After Cooley’s emergence as a large player and the subsequent rise in popularity of Irish whiskey around the world, it was only a matter of time before smaller producers started to appear. Dingle was the first of that wave.
Dingle’s first spirit emerged from its stills in November 2012, and the last 6 years have seen a number of small batch releases of both single malt and pot still whiskey – the first pot still whiskey to be sold in Ireland for years that wasn’t made by Irish Distillers.
The distillery’s releases are small – a few hundred bottles drawn from a handful of casks – and they sell out quickly, but they are worth seeking out to see how this pioneering distillery is continuing to develop and refine its style.
Of all the distillers in this list, Dublin Liberties is the newest – the distillery opened last week. Based in the heart of Dublin, the distillery doesn’t have any whiskey of its own yet – Irish spirit has to be aged for at least three years before it can be called whiskey – but the company has launched a range of blended whiskies, also called Dublin Liberties, selected by master distiller Darryl McNally, formerly a distiller at Bushmills.
Spirit is now flowing at Dublin Liberties, so expect to see some of the distillery’s own whiskey in 2022.
Pearse Lyons, who passed away in 2018, was an Irish businessman, brewer and biochemist who worked his way through the brewing and distilling industry in the 1970s. In 1980 he founded Alltech, a biotech company specialising in animal feed. He couldn’t stay away from the drinks world, and in 1999 opened the Lexington Brewing company, with Town Branch Bourbon following in 2011.
While the company now also has a distillery in Dublin, built in a church in The Liberties, it only opened in 2014 and spirit distilled there is only just becoming whiskey. However, Lyons started the project back in 2005, sourcing whiskey from Cooley. In 2012, the company started making spirit at another distillery, giving it even more stock to play with. Recently, the Pearse range of whiskeys appeared on the market, and the latest iteration, with added age statements, will be landing at The Whisky Exchange soon.
Slane Castle is best known these days as the site of some of Ireland’s most impressive concerts, starting with Thin Lizzy and U2 in 1981, and Metallica next up this summer. Since 2018, the castle has had a sideline – making whiskey.
It’s a really interesting distillery, one of a tiny number which are making grain, malt and pot still whiskey on site. Add to that grain grown on the estate, and plans to play with yeast and barley strains, and you’ve got a whiskey maker to keep an eye on.
The earliest spirit distilled on site will be legally whiskey in late 2021, but in the meantime there is a blended Slane whiskey, made using spirit made elsewhere but matured by the Slane team in a combination of new oak, first-fill bourbon and sherry casks.
Read more about Slane > https://blog.thewhiskyexchange.com/2018/03/slane-distillery/
After the Teeling family sold Cooley distillery, it didn’t take long for them to set up a new operation. Eldest son Jack started the Teeling Whiskey Company, with former Cooley colleague Alex Chasko as master blender, and used some of the stock that he’d taken with him from Cooley to create a blended Irish whiskey with the family name on the bottle – Teeling Small Batch. This soon grew into a full range of whiskies that’s still growing today. As soon as Cooley had finished the transition to Beam ownership, Jack was joined by brother Stephen and the planning of their own distillery kicked up a gear.
The distillery is now up and running, and the first release using all its own whiskey has landed on the shelves in Ireland, and will be appearing at The Whisky Exchange shortly. It’s especially exciting, as it’s the first ongoing release of pot still whiskey from an Irish distillery other than Midleton that’s available.
While not that well known in the UK, Tullamore DEW is the second biggest Irish whiskey in the world behind Jameson. The name comes from the location of the original distillery and the initials of one of the distillery’s owners, Daniel E Williams. These days, there is a distillery in Tullamore again, but in the 1960s the name was bought by Powers and until recently the whiskey was made at Midleton.
In 2010, William Grant and Sons – owners of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Grant’s blended whisky, among others – bought the brand and set about building a new distillery in Tullamore. The distillery opened in 2014 and for the past year has had spirit maturing that is now legally whiskey. For now, the whiskey in bottles of Tullamore DEW still comes from Midleton, but soon enough it’ll all be made at the distillery.