While we weren’t looking, Ireland has jumped to the forefront of cuisine and a personal favorite delicacy: booze. Before our trip, I hadn’t much explored fine Irish whiskeys beyond Jameson Black Barrel. It’s smooth with a bite, and rather affordable compared with its Scottish neighbors considering its fine taste. Ireland’s famed dark stout and oldest beer, while a stronghold at every pub I’d stopped at in Dublin, do not demonstrate the crisp red and pale ales emerging from small breweries along the west coast. Moreover, gin served in large stemmed goblets over ice, with a variety of garnishes, proved to be a very a popular order.
Distilleries around Ireland are producing whiskeys and gins rivaling its neighbors to the east and their craft beer scene is aglow. Make the tour to these standout brewers and distillers to taste Ireland’s freshest ingredients poured into a single bottle, or at least ask your local bartender in Donegal. But never drink and drive, especially on the left.
Sláinte (pronounced Slahn-chay)!
Fitz’s Pub in Doolin serves up their delicious homemade Dooliner Beer. The red ale is smooth and lightly hopped adding a fresh burst. It’s made with all natural Irish ingredients and the brewers promise it comes with a no hangover guarantee.
Achill Island Brewery
Achill Beer is distinctly crisp, refreshing, and Irish. Made with mountain lake water from some of the highest mountain lakes in Ireland and carrageen moss, a local red seaweed, its taste is the Wild Atlantic Way, bottled. As the brewer says, “Chiseled by the ocean, lashed by the wind, and pelted by the rain. Now we have bottled it for you to taste.” Achill Island’s Croaghaun mountain is the tallest sea cliff in Ireland peaking at 2,257 ft.
An Dúlamán Gin
Sliabh Liag Distillery
Sliabh Liag (pronounced “Slieve League”) Distillery is producing exquisite whiskeys and maritime gins from the celebrated high cliffs of Donegal.
Irish seaweed also plays for the distillers here in their An Dúlamán Gin. It has an incredibly refreshing and light flavor, delicious over ice with juniper berries for garnish or with a splash of tonic. Carrageen Moss, Sweet Kombu, Dulse and Pepper Dulse seaweed are harvested on the full moon when the tides lift the ingredients and distilled in a small copper still.
Sliabh Liag Distillery
Their blended whiskey Silkie is smooth, rich and elegant in flavor and proudly now sits on our home bar. Silkie earned its name from legends of sea-maidens whose deep brown eyes and enchanting voices were irresistible to men.
On my next trip to Donegal, I hope to make it further North to visit the Sliabh Liag Distillery and taste their entire collection.
Dingle Original Gin
Dingle Original Gin, produced in County Kerry, is a stronghold in pubs and bars across Ireland. In the style of a Dry Gin (prepared in a Coffey still), it employs botanicals from the Kerry landscape producing something distinctly Irish, slightly more floral, but with a style broad enough to be suitable for an array of tastes and concoctions.
Walsh Whiskey Distillery at Royal Oak
How can anyone resist an Irish whiskey called Writers’ Tears? I obviously needed to sample (and decidedly take a bottle home) of the Writers’ Tears Red Head. The triple-distilled single malt is matured in Spanish sherry casks resulting in a wonderfully smooth, slightly nutty and fruity whiskey worthy of its name.
Spot Whiskies (Green and Yellow)
The Mitchell & Son Wine Merchants of Dublin entered the whiskey bonding business in 1887 first producing Green Spot, a delightfully crisp single pot still whiskey. Relatively little else is known about the history of Green and Yellow Spot, but today it is owned by Irish Distillers (a subsidiary of the French drinks conglomerate Pernod Ricard), the producers of Redbreast and Jameson, and manufactured in County Cork.
The Dublin Liberties Oak Devil
The Dublin Liberties Irish Whiskey
Named for the area beyond Dublin’s old city walls and all the mystique and danger that came with the freedom beyond, the Dublin Liberties are a young distiller in a 400-year-old building, producing fine whiskeys, notably aged in bourbon casks. The Oak Devil has notes of Christmas cake, spiced, wooded, dark fruits, and caramel.
The Distiller’s Safe
Jameson, Whiskey Makers Series
The Distiller’s Safe is part of Jameson whiskey makers series which includes The Cooper’s Croze and The Blender’s Dog. It should be noted that all three are spectacular products — Distiller’s Safe just happens to be my personal favorite because of my own flavor profile. It’s an Irish pot still crafted by Jameson’s head distiller, Brian Nation — bright and zesty with hints of cinnamon, mandarin, and licorice. This trio is not yet available in the U.S. but they can be purchased duty-free at the Dublin airport.
Smithwick’s Red Ale
Smithwick’s & Sons Ireland
Smithwick’s has the distinction of being the oldest operating brewery in Ireland, predating even the Smithwick’s family, for as far back as the 13th century, monks settled at St. Francis Abbey and used water from the well and local ingredients to produce beer. Since 1705, the Smithwick family has been producing beer in Kilkenny, but their ownership was held secret as Catholics were not allowed to own businesses at that time. In fact, it wasn’t until 1800 that the Smithwick name could finally proudly be posted on the door. Our first, and rather jet-lagged morning in Ireland was spent in Kilkenny and the Smithwick’s tour was our first order of tourism. Certainly, you’ll learn about beer making, but even more, you’ll walk away with greater knowledge about Ireland’s fraught history.
The Smithwick’s brewery was among the most important employers in Kilkenny and their beers loved across Ireland. In 1964, Smithwick’s was purchased by Guinness and thence became a staple in bars around the world.