In Dublin, a story of whiskey is more than just one night at the pub

Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin operates out of a stunning masonry church built in 1650 on the grounds of a cemetery whose first recorded burial dates to 1496. Illuminated by light that shines through modern stained-glass windows, copper stills beckon tourists.

If you’ve stepped into an Irish pub in America, you may have spotted a common placard that proclaims “Céad míle fáilte,” translated as “a hundred thousand welcomes” and indicative of the idea that Irish citizens greet strangers as friends.

During a trip last September, my first to the country in around 15 years, Dubliners did truly give this non-Irish traveler a warm sense of homecoming with their exceptional willingness to chat, unwind a good story, invite me behind the bar to pour my own Guinness, and, when I got lucky, buy me beers.

Though a tourist to Ireland might feel the fáilte anywhere, the embracing term pub culture exists for a reason. Truth be told, I feel most comfortable prattling with people over a pint, and the pub is where locals do go in real life to take part in the craic (gossip/fun/conversation), usually while sipping on a Guinness or Irish whiskey, once the most popular alcoholic drink in the world.

Camera icon Holly Aguirre
The writer eating an oyster at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, the most popular destination in Ireland.

To wit: one night, alone at the second-floor bar at Devitt’s of Camden Street after a rockin’ Irish band of hipsters had put away their instruments and my colleagues had tucked themselves into bed, a very articulate, very natty, very drunk older gentleman introduced himself. Sitting next to me along the wood, he said I carried myself like a contessa (yes, really), then told me about his former life in the American South – in heavy brogue, of course, because life as a travel writer frequently rivals fiction. While he described his escapades with 1980s-era mobsters, he punctuated his paragraphs with pleas to run away together.

As I kept declining, he kept talking. After about an hour and probably three more Guinness, he made a quiet confession: He had been sent to the United States by the Irish Republican Army.

He had killed people, he said, and the group needed to hide him. He stared hard at me when he finished, and with what may have been watery eyes said softly, “I’m glad I told you, Tara.”

So was I.

Though I can’t promise that an elder Irish gent will step out of central casting and into your trip, you could spend an entire vacation at the pub soaking up yarns. But thanks to the global prevalence of culinary tourism and the remarkably ascendant popularity of Irish whiskey (the fastest-growing spirit in the world), you can now augment your appreciation for the culture by formally learning about its deep drinking tradition instead of spending your time merely, well, drinking.

In more than half a dozen places in this country’s capital, from the whiskey museum to the Guinness Storehouse, you can collect at least a few legit pics to text your kids, parents, and co-workers when they skeptically ask if you ever left the bar.

Trust me, you’ll hear plenty of stories.

Fortunately, several factors add up to what may have never been a better time for Philadelphians to travel to Ireland for this type of educational tipple.

In March, Aer Lingus launched direct service from Philly to Dublin, with flights that run four days a week.

In 2016, the Irish government launched an initiative to make itself the world’s number one whiskey destination by making it easier for travelers to access distilleries and surrounding hotels and restaurants.

Camera icon Guinness
Steel pipes inside the Guinness Storehouse, in Dublin, originally constructed in the Chicago Style in 1904.

The Guinness brewery continually evolves its public attractions, and other large and small companies are building breweries and distilleries and adding visitor amenities.

Thanks to a recent law, the nation’s craft beverage producers will soon be able to sell individual drinks and to-go packages of their products between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to patrons who take a tour.

Consider staying and playing in one of two districts: The Liberties, where brewers and distillers are repopulating the neighborhood where drink-making thrived before 19th and 20th century laws and market forces robbed Ireland of all but the fewest of booze factories. Or sleep where I did, in the Temple Bar area, not only home to hundreds of pubs, restaurants, hotels, and coffee and tea shops but amusingly named after an actual bar.

Though beloved Philly publican and Dublin native Fergus Carey warns to “Be careful with your cellphones and pocketbooks while in Dublin,” I had no trouble walking around busy Temple Bar post-midnight once four trustworthy women gave me the all-clear.

Don’t rent a car. Attractions across the city center tend to cluster within walking range, and the whole region relies on an extensive network of buses, DART trains, and Luas light-rail lines. Lyft doesn’t run in Ireland and taxis double as Ubers, so Carey recommends just hailing or calling a cab. Two of my Uber drivers didn’t drink alcohol but still knew all the best places in town. You can also rent bikes and motorcycles.

Download an app from visitdublin.com/see-do/travel-and-planning/getting-around to keep this info at your fingertips.

Beer and spirits geeks be warned: Though craft beer and whiskey are emerging in Ireland (100 craft breweries and 18 craft distilleries, according to the Irish Whiskey Association), you’ll have to search to find any. Pubs pretty much exclusively carry the big guys – Guinness, Smithwick’s, Harp, Murphy’s, Beamish, O’Hara’s, and some macro ciders – along with a few mass-market Irish whiskeys. More than one bartender didn’t understand when I inquired about craft or local or indie beers. Like. Totally. Didn’t. Get. It.

If you just want to retreat to an unfussy pub, hit up Fergie’s favorite, The Palace Pub, near the landmark Trinity College.

“The Palace Bar never changes,” says the owner of such iconic Philly bars as Fergie’s and Monk’s Café. “It’s old-world in the old country.”

When you’re ready to lift off your bar stool and douse yourself with some infotaining alcohol-related sites, go to these places.

Guinness Storehouse

Camera icon Guinness
The cooperage exhibit at the Guinness Storehouse. Until the 1950s, fermenting beer was held in wooden tuns — the large vessels made of oak or pine; they were replaced by aluminium ones.

The most popular destination in Ireland, the Guinness Storehouse refuses to rest on its lis (dead yeast cells … trust me, it’s a thing) by continually adding to its attractions. Visitors can learn about the brand through permanent exhibits like the new brewing floor that describes the brewing process clearly enough for anyone to understand and the third floor (my fav) that explores the beer’s legendary marketing history with powerful TV commercials, large-scale art installations, and paraphernalia from the early days to today.

Your basic ticket comes with a beer (18 and older only), and you can buy more, plus food, from six concession stands, restaurants, and the swanky top-floor Gravity Bar, with 360-degree-views, which is undergoing a major expansion and set to reopen in 2019.

Visitors can also purchase all kinds of pricey but interesting extras, like one that has super-knowledgeable brand ambassadors talking guests through a tasting in a luxurious private lounge. Most people don’t know that Guinness makes more than its ubiquitous dry stout.

Typically, ideas for new beers ferment at the Open Gate Brewery, a pilot system that opens to the public on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Nine dollars and fifty cents buys a board of ever-changing beers that’ll probably never make it out of the experimentation phase. Order a pizza, get a flight, and geek out with the beertenders.

Open Gate is the only place to witness any real brewing, as the commercial beer-making action happens out of sight elsewhere within the famed St. James Gate complex, a walled medieval section of The Liberties that has housed Guinness since its beginnings in 1759. Guinness’ parent company is opening its first – visitor-friendly – Irish whiskey distillery here in the next year or two.

Guinness Storehouse, at St. James’s Gate, is open seven days a week, except for Good Friday, Christmas Eve and Day, and St. Stephen’s Day. Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (last admission at 5), July and August from 9 to 8 (last admission at 6). Tickets vary in price depending on day and time and whether purchased in advance online – lowest price: adults and students, about $21; youths (13-17), about $19; children (under 13), free. The building dates from 1904 but is wheelchair accessible. Information: guinness-storehouse.com/en

Jameson Distillery Bow St.

You can tour the functioning Jameson whiskey distillery in County Cork or you can pop into Dublin’s Bow St. Distillery, which, like Guinness, provides an overview of the brand rather than a tour of a working factory. The destination, which did house the original 1780’s distillery, reopened last March after a $11 million upgrade that provides for three tour options. The basic $24 package includes a guided 40-minute tour of the mothballed distillery, a tasting of multiple expressions, and a drink at the bar. Or skip the history lesson and spend the same amount of money to taste straight from a cask at Dublin’s only functioning maturation warehouse. For the full monty, drop $71 on a blending masterclass complete with take-home bottle or $59 to spend an hour learning to mix your own Jameson drinks.

Open daily at 1 p.m., with last tour at 6 p.m., at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.  Information: jamesonwhiskey.com/us/visit-us

 

Teeling Whiskey Distillery

Established in 2015 as the first Dublin distillery in 125 years, Teeling opens its Liberties doors to the distillery itself and serves flights and cocktails at the on-site Bang Bang Bar and locally sourced food, coffee, tea, and whiskey at its Phoenix Café. The Teeling brothers have revived a defunct brand founded a few blocks away by an ancestor in 1782 yet commit 25 percent of their annual production to innovation. Book a 45-minute guided tour and tasting in advance and pick from the $18 Small Batch & Seasonal Whiskey Cocktail option, the $24 Trinity Tasting of a trio of small batch, single grain and single malts, or the $36 tasting of an award-winning single malt, single cask and vintage distillery exclusive single malt.

Open daily at 10 a.m., with last tour at 5.40 p.m., at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The building is wheelchair accessible. Information: teelingwhiskey.com/teeling-distillery

Pearse Lyons Distillery

Camera icon Donal Murphy / Pearse Lyons
Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin operates out of a stunning masonry church built in 1650 on the grounds of a cemetery whose first recorded burial dates to 1496.

Boasting an incredible history that spans two continents, Dublin’s second 21st century distillery operates out of a stunning masonry church built in 1650 on the grounds of a cemetery whose first recorded burial dates to 1496. Illuminated by light that shines through modern stained-glass windows, copper stills beckon tourists to get up close during guided tours that wind through the company’s heritage, the graveyard, and a tasting of three or four whiskeys.

Pre-purchase $21-$29 tickets or upgrade to a mixology class ($60), a food pairing ($90) or a pairing followed by the opportunity to blend and bottle your own whiskey souvenir ($178).

Open Monday to Saturday at 9:30 a.m., with first tour at 10 a.m. and last tour at 5 p.m. (for June, 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday); Sunday and bank holidays from 11:30 a.m. (first tour at noon). In July and August, opening and closing is one hour later. The building is wheelchair accessible.  Information: pearselyonsdistillery.com

Irish Whiskey Museum

The compact whiskey museum traces the development and lineage of the nation’s 900-year-old drink with artifacts used in its production, rare bottles, tutored tastings, and yes, live stories. Basic $21 tours provide for a guide and three tastings, while premium tours ($26) tack on a fourth sample and the $33 package lets buyers blend their own bottle on top of that. Finally, a $30 brunch encompasses, well, brunch, a 75-minute exploration of Irish food and whiskey through the centuries, and a four-whiskey tasting. The first three tours run daily; brunch dates depend on the season.

 Open daily at 10 a.m., with first tour at 10:30 and last Classic tour at 5:30 p.m.  Information: irishwhiskeymuseum.ie

Craft Breweries and Bars

Craft beer is a funny thing in Dublin. It’s easier to find it bottled or canned at the grocery than on draught at a pub. Though you can tour Irish craft breweries (and distilleries) and sample their wares, you won’t generally be able to buy liquid on-site until a new law that would allow  craft sales between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. works itself through parliament.

That said, the J.W. Sweetman brewpub opens to the public, and a few breweries are building taprooms in anticipation of a new law. To buy yourself a proper pint of local craft, Christina Ware, president of the Ladies Craft Beer Society of Ireland, recommends these bars: 57 The Headline, The Brew Dock, Porterhouse Central, and Beerhouse.

“The craft beer scene in Dublin is becoming better and better,” she says. “We have loads of dedicated craft beer pubs with a good variety of brews, and the breweries in Ireland are also coming up with more innovative and creative beers.”

She and I drank some tasty Trouble Brewing ales from County Kildare inside a Liberties beer bar called The Beer Market one rainy afternoon, and I thought the selection of Irish crafts was more than decent, especially considering it’s owned by Galway Bay Brewery in Galway. So if it didn’t make her list of favs, there’s clearly a lot more to discover on my next beer and whiskey tour of Dublin.