In the early 1800s the Irish whiskey industry was riding high – its domestic market, despite its small size, was stronger than that of much more populous England. While there were distilleries scattered all over the Emerald Isle, Dublin was home to the five largest players. At their peak these distilleries would produce more than 40 million liters a year. At the end of the century Ireland’s whiskey was considered the finest in the world – commanding a 25 per cent premium on Scotch whiskies – and that produced in Dublin was especially prized.
The fortunes of Ireland’s whiskey industry would however turn with the dawning of the new century. The Irish had failed to see the potential of new distilling technologies and blending, and rapidly began losing market share to Blended Scotch whiskies. The war of independence with Great Britain, Civil War, and then prohibition in the U.S. left the industry hanging on by a thread.
Of the 28 large active distilleries in the late 1800s, only a handful manage to limp into the 2nd half of the 20th Century. The last of Dublin’s distilleries closed in the mid-1970s, by which point there were just two distilleries on the whole island, Bushmills in Northern Ireland, and the New Midleton Distillery in the Republic. The latter accounted for the vast majority of production and almost all the brands of Irish whiskey on the market. That was until things finally started to look up in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The rebirth of Irish Whiskey started slowly with the opening of the Cooley Distillery in 1987, but it rapidly gathered pace in the 2010s as the global whisky market began to boom.
In 2011 the Teeling family sold Cooley to global drinks giant Beam Suntory, giving them the capital to open not one, but two new distilleries. John Teeling opened the massive Great Northern Distillery in Dundalk, while his sons Jack and Stephen decided to build a distillery in the heart of Dublin’s Liberties.
When the Teeling family sold Cooley, the purchase agreement let them keep 16,000 casks of whiskey. Jack Teeling used this whiskey to found and supply the Teeling Whiskey brand, until he could build a distillery. Stephen joined his brother in the business a few years later, and in 2015 they opened the Teeling Disitllery in Newmarket Square, only a few blocks from the Marleybone Lane Distillery founded by their ancestor Walter Teeling in 1782. The Distillery produces both single malt and traditional pot still Irish whiskies.
Around the corner from the Teeling Distillery is the Dublin Liberties Distillery. The DLD produces both double and triple distilled single malts. Production began in 2019, but the distillery has been selling whiskies sourced from Cooley and Bushmills while they wait for their own to mature.
The Pearse Lyons Distillery is without question Dublin’s most beautiful. Named for its founder, a Dublin born and Irish raised scientist and entrepreneur who founded a large agrifood business in the US. After opening the Lexington Brewing Company and Town Branch Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky, Pearse set his sites on opening a distillery in his native land. Distilling began initially in Carlow in 2012 but was moved the deconsecrated St. James Church 2017. Pearse and his wife Deirdre took 4 years to carefully restore the old church before it was converted into a distillery. The distillery bottles both Blended and Single Malt whiskies and has in recent years begun producing single pot Irish whiskey too.
One of the newest distilleries in Dublin is Roe & Coe, founded in 2019 by the world’s largest drinks company Diageo. Its name is a nod to the Roe family, one of the “big 4” distilling families in Dublin, whose Thomas Street Distillery operated from 1757-1926. Located in the liberties, the distillery was installed in the old Guinness power station, on the old brewery’s massive estate. Guinness – like Roe & Co. – is owned by Diageo.
Dublin may never recover the mantle of being the Whiskey Capital of the World, but Irish Whiskey’s fortunes in the city are looking up. In addition to the four distilleries mentioned above, there are a couple of other small new distilleries and attractions to see in Dublin. Most notably the visitor center at Jameson’s old Bow Street Distillery. Whiskey hasn’t been produced there in more than 50 years, but it is well worth a visit.
~ Story by Andrew Ferguson