Dublin’s most exciting new attraction this year has to be the the shiny, just-opened Teeling Distillery. Ireland has long been famous for her whiskies – the stuff was invented here, after all – and Dublin proper has its own proud distilling tradition, once home to dozens of family-run stills. Sadly, in recent years, the Irish whiskey trade has shifted to a few large manufacturers, mostly operating in less expensive premises outside of Ireland’s major cities.
The Teeling family – Dublin distillers since the eighteenth century – has brought the art of distilling back to the heart of the capital, in particular the Liberties, the neighborhood long known as the the city’s industrial home for brewing, distilling, tanning, and manufacturing. Even more exciting, they have recently opened their doors for visitors to take an intimate look at the process of whiskey production, from ancient tradition to modern business enterprise; from Oregon pine to stainless steel.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of the distillery since its announcement last year. So many visitors to the city are surprised to hear that none of the beautiful golden elixirs served in Dublin’s pubs are made locally. Now, finally, tourists and locals can visit a working, modern-day whiskey operation without taking the long trip to Midleton or Bushmills. This week, I was invited to tour their brand-new distillery and taste their top-notch tipples with the knowledgeable and friendly staff.
Cycling to the Liberties is like stepping back in time; many of the one-way back streets and lanes are still paved with bumpy cobbles, and if the streetlights were replaced with gas lamps, one might think oneself transported back to a cold, nineteenth-century night. It is easy to see why so many Irish whiskey distilleries were built in this very practical neighborhood. Rounding the corner to Newmarket – a very old street near the corner where the Teeling family first entered the whiskey trade in the eighteenth century – I got my first look at the attractive and inviting new Teeling facade.
Taking me through the distillery was Cáit, whose tour kicked off with the story of whiskey in Dublin, the Liberties, and the Teeling family. As she told the story, we all breathed in the delightfully warm, humid, bready scent coming from the mashing and fermenting grain. After laying the groundwork, we entered the modern floor of the working distillery. No ancient, stained wood floors or hand-cranked mills of the distilleries of old greeted us, but a wonder of mechanized modern machinery.
After an explanation of the grain malting process and a look at the wet grain mill – dry mills produce too much carbon-based dust, which can explode if touched by an open flame – we had the opportunity to smell and taste malted and unmalted barley for ourselves. This intimate sensory connection with the natural ingredients of whiskey was my favorite part of the tour – finished whiskey tasting aside, of course – as it allowed us to experience the taste, smell, and feel of the whiskey at each step of the process and compare it to the bottled product at the end. Having tasted unrefined malted and unmalted barley, would we be able to find those same flavors in the fermented, distilled, and barrel-aged whiskey in the tasting room?
The crushed grain is mashed in warm water to extract the starches and sugars and moved to a fermenter as wort, where yeast goes to work on the sugars, producing (mostly) alcohol and carbon dioxide. The distillery uses both traditional, custom-built Oregon pine fermenters and state-of-the-art stainless steel units in the process. The open pine fermenters kicked out that glorious yeasty aroma that we had all been enjoying since stepping onto the distillery floor.
Again, at this stage, we were given the opportunity to smell and taste the fully-fermented wash, basically a strong, cloudy, unhopped beer. This allowed us to sensorily connect the raw grain to the next step in the process – crucial to keeping the smell, taste, and feel fresh in our sensory memory. Once fermented, the wash is distilled three times, reducing the volume and concentrating the alcohol more and more with each run. All Irish whiskey, by definition, is triple-distilled and barrel-aged for at least three years and one day.
As to the barrel-aging, Teeling whiskies are matured offsite for safety and practical purposes – maybe the only slight drawback to this otherwise fantastic and fully-comprehensive tour. Happily, the barrel maturation process is thoroughly explained and, once again, guests are allowed to see, smell, and taste whiskies through the aging process, noting the difference in color, aroma, and flavor as the whiskey absorbs the spirit of the wood.
The tour of the production process concluded, it was time to engage with the finished product. After seeing, smelling, and tasting the grain through its long journey from seed to spirit, I personally had a much better understanding of the finished product. I could taste the same malty taste of the grain; I could pick up the vanilla flavors from the seasoned barrels. Cáit was not only a great tour guide, but a knowledgeable tasting tutor, guiding us all through the complex process of whiskey tasting, which, for a whiskey novice like myself, is nearly as complex as that of making the stuff!
I was very happy to see a working whiskey distillery back in Dublin and open for visitors, and I was even more pleased to experience such an informative and entertaining tour – with great whiskey samples at its conclusion. The value of the Teeling experience is top-notch in the city, especially when compared to the other alcohol-themed attractions in Dublin. The hour-long tour and tasting in a working distillery should be a worthwhile stop for experienced fans and whiskey newbies alike.
Nuts and Bolts
- Tours operate daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.* The entrance to Teeling on Newmarket is tucked away in the historic but maze-like Liberties. Make sure to find the location on your map or mobile device before diving into the tiny lanes. For a scenic and interesting walk to Teeling from City Centre, head a few blocks west from Christ Church, go south on Francis Street to its end and turn right on Dean Street. Take the first left on St. Luke’s Avenue, then the first left again down Brabazon Street to Newmarket. Again, check it on your map before jumping in. Alternately, the Dublin Bus hop on hop off service (green bus) has added a stop (12A) at Teeling for an easier trip.
- Teeling offers three tasting packages, all of which include the distillery tour. The €14.00 basic tour includes one whiskey sample and one whiskey cocktail. This is the best choice for those mostly curious about the whiskey process or who don’t much care for whiskey. The €20.00 tour includes a 20 mL sample of Teeling’s three most popular basic whiskies. This package seems to be the best value for those who are interested in learning about whiskey tasting. For experienced whiskey fans, the €30.00 package includes a tasting of three fine single malts, including a luxurious 21-year-old.*
- For a coffee and a snack before or after the tour, or for those wanting to simply visit the neighborhood, the Teeling cafe is open to the public. The gift shop is similarly open to purchase souvenirs and special bottlings not sold in stores—including an exclusive, “fill-your-own-bottle” single malt at cask strength, hand-signed and only available at the distillery.
*Prices, packages, and hours current as of July 2015. Visit the Teeling Website for current prices, opening hours, and to book your tour time in advance. See my full disclosure for more about invited reviews.