For all of Dublin’s 21st-century buzz and bustle, and its burgeoning number of operating distilleries—more than ever in living memory—it’s certain secluded spots that appeal to Carol Quinn.
“I love a pub with a snug,” she says. “When people think of Dublin, they think of pubs, and the snug was always this private area in a public space where you could have those private little conversations.”
Quinn knows Dublin—she’s the archivist for Irish Distillers—and proceeds to share the history and charm of a snug, once used by ladies who preferred not to be seen drinking. “Women would have gone in and called for a cup of tea in a china cup,” Quinn says. “But it wasn’t a cup of tea, it was a nice little shot of whiskey, which you could sip in a very refined manner out of your teacup. That’s what was happening in the snug.”
Such is the spell cast by Dublin—an alluring mix of companionship, conversation, history, a splash of humor, and a lot of fun. Dublin has the best pubs, the best craic, and pours the best pint of Guinness you’ll ever put to your lips. Now imagine discovering your own favorite pub and serenely surveying the scene with a glass of whiskey in your hand.
This is easier than ever now. In the heart of the city, you can immerse yourself in Irish whiskey lore, the production history and techniques, the new distillery openings, all the while marveling at the casks sleeping under the city’s streets. Or, if you prefer life at a slower pace, take a stroll along the Liffey and pop into an old-fashioned bar, select a whiskey to match your mood, and maybe dip into James Joyce again. In Dublin, the choice is yours.
Outside, the streets are a riot of color, as storefronts, street art, and advertising vie for the attention of tourists—of which there are many. They come to admire the elegant Georgian terraces around Fitzwilliam Square, cross the cast-iron Ha’penny Bridge, explore the cobbled streets behind Temple Bar, or listen to street performers strum and sing on Grafton Street. An influx of tech workers drawn to the trendy Silicon Docks neighborhood maintains the city’s easygoing urban style.
A New Golden Era
More than a million people are expected to visit an Irish distillery this year, with two out of five coming from the U.S. and Canada. “We’ve welcomed nearly 100,000 people from the United States since we opened our doors,” says Stephen Teeling, who along with his brother Jack opened Teeling Whiskey in 2015, the first new distillery in Dublin in 125 years. They can trace their family’s whiskey roots back to the 18th century. “Hopefully, we’ve sparked a revival of distilling in Dublin which will rekindle a new golden era of whiskey production in the city.”
In four years, Teeling Whiskey has gone through over 4,000 tons of barley and filled more than 10,000 casks. Their three copper pot stills, named after Jack’s daughters, are inspired by the shape and style of Dublin’s 19th-century stills. After the tour, the distillery’s upstairs Bang Bang Bar encourages visitors to linger with a cocktail or glass of Teeling whiskey, or precious Irish single malts aged as long as 30 years. The gift shop has sold 150,000 bottles of whiskey, and you can fill your own bottle straight from the cask to take home.
Dublin was once home to 37 distilleries, but distilling died here in 1976 when John Power & Son ceased making whiskey in order to consolidate operations with Jameson and Cork Distilleries Company. Following Teeling’s lead, the Pearse Lyons Distillery opened in 2017 as a boutique distillery inside a converted church. They run a number of engaging tours where you can observe Mighty Mollie and Little Lizzie, their Kentucky-made copper pot stills, hard at work.
The company behind The Dubliner whiskey opened the Dublin Liberties Distillery in February 2019, and hopes to attract 80,000 whiskey lovers a year to their new visitor center and cocktail bar. Roe & Co Distillery, which also opened in 2019, promises to re-imagine Irish whiskey with a strong focus on innovative cocktails in its prime location beside the Guinness Storehouse. For a capital city, downtown Dublin is safe and easy to walk around, with good pubs and whiskey attractions all within a comfortable stroll.
“What makes Dublin a lovely whiskey city is that each pub has a different story to tell you,” says Quinn. A new initiative called Powers Quarter is a trail connecting six pubs, all within walking distance of the site of the original Powers John’s Lane Distillery (now part of the National College of Art & Design), where the green domes of the now-idle copper pot stills can be seen in a courtyard off Thomas Street. Among the six pubs on the self-guided trail is The Oak on Dame Street, where the signature drink is Powers Irish Coffee. “It has a beautiful backbar with this gorgeous oak paneling taken from RMS Mauretania,” says Quinn. Powers had pioneered the selling of tax-free whiskey to tourists coming over on the liners in the 1930s.
The Return of an Icon
Jameson Distillery Bow St. reopened to the public in 2017. This is a must-see attraction where the world’s bestselling Irish whiskey delivers an outstanding immersive visitor experience, from blending to cocktails and tastings, drawing on nearly 240 years of history. When a distillery was founded at Bow St. in 1780, Dublin was the second-largest city in the British Empire. Bow St.’s peak years were in the 19th century, from the 1830s onward; at one point, it produced a million gallons of whiskey per year, which is the equivalent of 6.5 million bottles. “That’s just about enough whiskey to get everyone on the island of Ireland drunk for 24 hours,” quips Karl, our tour guide. “That’s a joke,” he deadpans. “We have a much higher tolerance than that.”
In the Jameson archive, a notebook from 1826 was found that belonged to John Jameson’s son and successor, packed with pages of handwritten mashbills and details of old whiskey recipes. During the conservation process, as pages were carefully detached from the spine, a few grains of barley tumbled out. They might have once been in Jameson’s pocket.
Jameson Distillery Bow St. includes the only active maturation warehouse in Dublin, the only place in the city to inhale the angels’ share, the whiskey that evaporates from the casks. The racked warehouse was built to house the 84 first-fill American oak bourbon barrels used exclusively for the final finishing period for the recently released Jameson Bow Street 18 year old. The vertiginous walls of bourbon casks from O.Z. Tyler, Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace, and Wild Turkey now hold Irish whiskey destined to become Batch #3.
Even my airport driver is keen to offer a lesson on the allure of ‘Jemmie and Ginger,’ which holds a treasured link to his past. “My grandfather always drank Jameson,” he says, “although he would add a drop of peppermint to it.” This well-known Irish ‘cure,’ sometimes known as Paddy & Pep, was taken the morning after the night before, when you were feeling several shades of green. The whiskey was the hair of the dog, but the peppermint was there to soothe your stomach. Sage advice: you never know when that could come in handy.
As a destination for whiskey lovers, Dublin is vibrant, cultured, and incredibly friendly, its streets filled with music and welcoming restaurants bursting with fresh, local ingredients. But the best thing about Dublin? It’s producing whiskey again, and everybody’s invited.