By Richard Thomas
Although they account for only 6% of global whiskey sales today, the Irish were once the world’s top whiskey producers, and during their 19th Century heyday the center of this dominant industry was Dublin. Hand in hand with the revival of interest in Ireland’s native spirit has come the desire to return the whiskey business to the city that was both the capital of the nation and of its whiskey business. Alltech, Dublin Whiskey Company, and Teeling Whiskey Company have distillery projects in Dublin’s Newmarket district, but beating them all to the punch (from a tourist’s point of view) is the spanking new Irish Whiskey Museum.
Located across from the main gate of Trinity College and above the famous James Fox Cigar Shop, the Irish Whiskey Museum opened its doors two weeks ago, giving Dublin a much-needed supplement to its heretofore sole whiskey attraction, the Old Jameson Distillery. Free of brand association, the museum is poised to give visitors a sound overview of the history of Irish whiskey.
Following the multimedia storytelling model so excellently applied in Louisville, Kentucky’s Evan Williams Experience, the Irish Whiskey Museum takes the story of Irish whiskey from its roots in medieval times, through the heyday of tax-dodging poitin-makers, and into what is the core of the museum’s presentation: why Ireland fell from its perch as world whiskey’s top dog. This part of the tour is set in a comfy, posh Victorian style bar, and much of the story is laid out by bickering characters on flat screens playing such individuals as John Jameson and Aneas Coffey, inventor of the column still. The answer provided at the Irish Whiskey Museum hinges on Coffey’s invention and the Irish whiskey industry’s stubborn decades-long refusal to adopt it, but the other factors — two world wars; the War of Independence and subsequent trade war with the British; Prohibition; and the Great Depression — are dealt with as well.
After the presentation is a generous tasting of four Irish whiskeys, and when I was there that selection embraced three different companies. The museum also has a comfy and attractive cafe adjacent to the ticket counter and gift shop, one with a view overlooking Trinity College’s front gate. It’s worth stopping there for a break, either before or after doing the museum tour.
Diehard whiskey enthusiasts interested in the nitty gritty of Irish whiskey production won’t find that at the Irish Whiskey Museum, and will need to make the trek to a working distillery for that. With their often tongue-in-cheek flair, the museum’s presentations are aimed at a broader audience. Even so, the museum’s brand-free approach offers a valuable presentation to whiskey fans as well as to the average tourist, and what with its convenient central location, the museum should be a high priority stop for whiskey drinkers visiting Dublin.