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Success after the slump: ‘Extraordinary’ rise of distilleries in Ireland

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I have frequently commented on the Scottish boom in new distilleries, whether whisky or gin. Yet it pales beside the current Irish distillery boom.

Back in the late 1990s, all of Ireland had just three whiskey distilleries – Bushmills, Midleton in Co Cork, which produced all “traditional” Irish whiskies (Jameson’s, Power’s Paddy, Tullamore Dew, Redbreast, Green Spot) and newcomer Cooley near Dundalk, a plant that once made industrial alcohol from waste potatoes.

Today, new distilleries and breweries are popping up faster than tweets on Donald Trump’s Twitter page. The basic numbers may match Scotland’s but, starting from such a tiny base, Ireland’s percentage numbers are exponential.

This is extraordinary, considering how badly Ireland was hit by the 2008-9 financial crisis and how steep Irish alcohol taxes are (average central Dublin price for a pint is around six euros), but it may be the Irish passion for a good drink and conversation has spurred this unabated renaissance.

Ireland also seems also to have no qualms about its national passion for drink, whether beer or spirits. The Guinness storehouse (pictured) is by far Dublin’s, and Ireland’s, biggest tourist attraction, luring 5000 visitors daily, 7000 on Saturdays and Sundays. Its vast brewery site boasts 60-plus huge fermentation tanks which produce three million pints a day – in a country of five million inhabitants. On Dublin’s roads, Guinness tankers are by far the most obvious HGVs.

That said, the Guinness Storehouse exhibition, spread over six escalator-linked storeys, borders on excess. Every company aspect – its history, water, barley, malt roasting, yeast, hops, fermentation, casking, bottling, distribution, shipping, advertising, sponsorship, you name it—is trumpeted to saturation levels at the visitor, who needs a stout constitution to reach the top floor.

Interestingly, one of Dublin’s lost distilleries has been re-opened beside the Guinness Storehouse. The Roe family’s Thomas Street Distillery started in 1757 but closed in the bleak 1920s. Later, Guinness acquired much of the site, demolishing and replacing the buildings.

Some of these, plus others, have become the new George Roe distillery, opened to visitors in June. The distillery site includes the 1750s St Patrick’s Tower, the saint with mitre and crozier standing atop the famous city landmark and last “smock” windmill in Europe. Perhaps both finance and faith helped to restore the distillery….


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