If you’re looking to experience a part of the world steeped in history, with plenty of stunning scenery, locals friendlier than you could ever imagine, and have an amazing craic in the process, Northern Ireland should be at the top of your list of must-visit places.
If you like a wee dram, or rather, a great dram *wink, wink* or two, a trip to Northern Ireland is going to be a dream come true. We all know just how popular a pint of Guinness is, and we all know that a pint of the black stuff tastes phenomenally better in Ireland than anywhere else in the world, but what about spirits? Well, if you’re a whiskey-lover, Northern Ireland is ideal.
It’s safe to say that the Irish know their booze, and with Irish whiskey proving to be so incredibly popular all over the globe, that’s testament to just how amazing Ireland is when it comes to whiskey production. Because of this, you’ll find plenty of distilleries throughout the region, but which are best? Well, why not make your own mind up?
Here are several of the most popular whiskey distilleries and tours across Northern Ireland for you to explore.
Those of you with an interest in history, as well as a wee dram of your favourite tipple, will immediately want to shortlist the Titanic Distillers.
Located at the historic Thompson Dock and pumphouse, down the Maritime Mile which was once home to the ill-fated HMS Titanic.
Visitors to this distillery, which herself was the city’s first working distillery in close to 90 years, will hear all about the tradition of whiskey in Belfast, how it died down, and why it made such a huge resurgence. Not only that, but they’ll also get to see firsthand how a working distillery operates, and of course, sample more than just a wee dram along the way.
Offering a Signature, Legacy, Premium, and Dock tour, you get to decide which tour is right for you.
The Signature Tour for example, is 60 minutes and allows you the chance to explore the distillery and learn about it along the way. Not only will you learn about the building and discover how their amazing Irish whiskey is made, you will also get to enjoy a sensory tasting experience before browsing the gift shop.
Their Dock Tour allows you to venture down to the docks to see where the world-famous ship once stood (we recommend dressing for the weather and wearing sensible footwear) while their Premium Tour combines both, and more besides. By going premium, you get a 120-minute guided tour of the distillery, docks, and pump house, before once again sampling their goods.
For a more detailed insight into how their whiskey is made, and indeed, to learn more about the distillery, the building, and the location, their Legacy Tour is highly recommended. Throughout the tour, tastings of their amazing spirits, including their delicious Vodka, are also included.
Before you leave, we strongly recommend you pick up a bottle of their Premium Irish Whiskey. Offering notes of sweet vanilla, aromatic winter spices, and a touch of peat smoke, this is the perfect dram for all weathers and all occasions.
Founded in 2016 by Terry Cross OBE, and located at Ballynahinch, CO. Down, this may be a new distillery but make no mistake about it, they know exactly what they’re doing.
Visitors to the distillery will not only get an insight into what it takes to run a distillery, they’ll also find out how it was opened, and how to produce truly exceptional whiskey along the way.
Their distillery tour is well worth a visit, as you’ll be able to take a detailed, guided tour around the distillery. Beginning at their ingredients room, you’ll see just what ingredients are used to produce truly exceptional Irish whiskey. Afterwards, you’ll be taken to the mash house, still house, spectrum room, and finally one of many bespoke tasting areas, where you’ll enjoy some of the amazing drams, and gins, they produce.
Fans of bourbon whiskey simply must try their small batch bourbon cask. Made from a blend of single grain and single malt whiskey, this tipple is finished in an ex-bourbon cask where it takes on the sweet and smoky characteristics you’d expect to find with bourbon.
With plenty of sweet vanilla and summer fruit salad from the off, this light hazelnut-coloured whiskey also offers plenty of caramel and toffee, with a lingering citrus zest undertone, and a touch of charred oak.
Ireland’s first farm distillery, this is yet another must-visit location for anybody who enjoys a great deal of history alongside their drams.
The distillery crafts their spirits from crops grown on their very own land on the family farm. Because of the microclimate in the area, the barley produced here is like no other anywhere else, which is why the whiskey is so exceptional.
The Echlinville stillhouse is where the magic happens. Specially designed using state-of-the-art equipment, the stillhouse itself is a sight to behold. The statuesque column stills and copper pot stills are the icing on the cake, and really give the distillery a feel of importance and grandeur.
The Echlinville Estate, founded by the Echlin family nearly three centuries ago in 1730, went on to become Northern Ireland’s first licensed distillery in more than 125 years when they distilled their first spirit back in 2013. Since then, the distillery has gone from strength to strength, and is proving to be a very popular tourist destination.
If you’re stuck for ideas on what to do during your stay in Ireland, there are plenty of tours and experiences to choose from here. They offer private bookings, comedy nights, summer walks, a burger, beer, and spirits tour, and plenty more besides.
A firm favourite amongst many visitors however, has to be their Spirits and Cheese experience. Here, guests will take a guided tour of the estate and distillery, before getting the chance to sample some of Ireland’s most popular cheeses from Indie Fude, as well as the whiskeys, gins, and other tipples, that pair beautifully with them.
If you’d rather keep things simple however, then their Tour and Tipple experience is perfect. As the name implies, visitors will receive a guided tour around the distillery, farm, and estate, while learning about its history and the process of distilling spirits from field to glass.
Following the tour, you will then get to enjoy two drinks of your choice (gin, whiskey, or poitin, also known as ‘Irish Moonshine’.
Obviously you can’t leave empty handed, so why not grab yourself a bottle or two before you head off? Personally, for a bit of fun we recommend their ‘Dead Island 2 Dunville’s Irish Whiskey’.
Gamers in particular, will love this dram as it was made in collaboration with Dead Island 2, the sequel to the zombie-slasher video game that never takes itself too seriously. Featuring an eye-catching glow in the dark skull and crossbones label, complete with bone-shaped palm trees, it’s obviously a gimmick whiskey, yet it tastes far superior.
With notes of sweet buttery popcorn, vanilla, toasted caramel, freshly baked cookies, orchard fruits, and a touch of smoke, it’s a very easy-drinker. This versatile dram can be sipped neat, served tall with a mixer, or enjoyed over ice.
For a more serious whiskey however, Dunville’s PX 20 Year Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey comes highly recommended. At 55.5% ABV, it’s surprisingly smooth and offers the perfect balance of sweet, fruity, buttery, and smoky. This is a premium whiskey available for a very reasonable price.
Made up of over 500 acres of land which can be traced back to AD565, with the original estate house itself being built in 1667, this is one of the most historic distilleries you’ll ever encounter.
The distillery itself may not be as old or historic, but the estate itself more than makes up for that. Having been founded in 2012, the distillery, which began with gin, has grown and expanded, with their glass still house in particular, proving incredibly popular.
Housing their gorgeous copper still pots, as well as their remarkable visitor centre, it is well worth a visit, especially if you’re a whiskey and/or gin lover.
Offering gin and whiskey tours and experiences, we’re going to look solely at the whiskey tours and experiences today (sorry gin-lovers, it’s nothing personal).
For a fully immersive guided tour of the distillery, their 90-minute Shortcross Irish Whiskey Discovery & Tour Experience is what we’re recommending today. Here you’ll receive a guided tour of the distillery, you’ll see how they make their whiskey, you’ll get to sample whiskey straight from the cask, and you’ll learn about the art of distilling thanks to head distiller and founder David Boyd-Armstrong.
Oh, and there’ll also be plenty of other tastings along the way, of both the Irish whiskey and poitin as well. As if that wasn’t all, you’ll also receive a £5 voucher towards a 70cl bottle from their gift shop, and a Shortcross-branded whiskey glass to take home.
So, what will you put your £5 voucher towards? Well, if you don’t have any plans the next day, how about the 66% ABV Cask Strength Rye and Malt Irish Whiskey?
Aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and virgin chinkapin oak casks, this is a cask-strength whiskey that will really appeal to whiskey purists out there. Offering notes of peat, oak, mixed fruits, toffee apple, orange peel, candied ginger, and dark honey, it leaves you with a velvety rich finish reminiscent of vanilla fudge and Seville marmalade with a whisper of spice for good measure.
Finally, for something a little more unique that isn’t your typical distillery tour, how about a trip to the world-famous ‘The Friend at Hand’?
A bricks and mortar whiskey off-licence complete with a small museum dedicated solely to whiskey distilling in Belfast, this is a must for any history buffs out there who want to learn more about Irish whiskey and the whiskey industry in and around Belfast.
Here you get the opportunity to browse and purchase from the largest collection of Irish whiskey you’ll likely ever encounter. With more than 600 whiskeys to browse, many of which are limited-edition, this is like heaven itself for Irish whiskey fans.
Those who visited in the past, often remarked that the only thing that was missing was tasting rooms. Well, that has now been rectified, as adjacent to the hugely interesting museum, you’ll find the tasting rooms where from Mon – Sat, a minimum of 6 people per party can schedule their very own private tasting. This spacious and luxurious tasting room is the perfect place to relax, unwind, and enjoy a wee dram or two before deciding which to opt for.
Personally, we recommend the 13-year-old ‘Reconciliation’, only for sale at The Friend at Hand. In the words of the creators ‘to reconcile is to put aside our differences, to have enough courage to extend the hand of friendship or the strength of character to accept The Friend at Hand’.
This 46% ABV delight is a pale straw colour that offers plenty of buttery shortbread notes, accompanied by syrup sponge and vanilla custard, accompanied by golden clover honey and crisp orchard apples. In the background, there is a suggestion of smoke that ties everything together perfectly.
If you’re looking for a selection of rare, award-winning, limited-edition, and delicious whiskies just like the ones listed above, be sure to head on over to the Greatdrams.com website and check out the selection of amazing drams we have available.
Here you’ll find all manner of different whiskies, primarily Scotch, to suit all palates and budgets. Whether you’re looking for smooth and creamy reminiscent of the blended Irish whiskey covered above, harsh and smoky, tart and fruity, or anything in between, here at Great Drams, we’ve got what you need, and plenty more besides.