I am not a whiskey connoisseur. But I do enjoy a good Old Fashioned, and I have fond memories of sipping Jameson after hours when I worked at a bar in college. Since we are in Ireland, and Irish whiskey is definitely a thing, Joe and I have decided to sample some of the local eau de vie throughout our time here. Fortunately for us, there’s a charming little distillery 15 minutes from our apartment. So we dropped in for a tour and a tasting.
The Teeling Whiskey Distillery was founded in 2015 by two brothers. Their family, the Teelings, have been in the distillation business since the late 1700s, so you could say that the spirit runs in their blood. And even though Teeling only opened its doors two years ago, the brothers built their distillery with the knowledge – and product – of their family behind them.
A little bit of history
Many an Irishman will argue that whiskey traces its origins to the Emerald Isle. In 600 CE, Irish monks traveled to the Near East and observed the local people’s distillation techniques for making perfumes and other tinctures. They brought the practice back to Ireland with the intention of making medications. But when they were forced to hide the liquids in wooden barrels for some time, they accidentally discovered what they called uisce beatha, or the water of life. The barrels gave the tonic color and flavor, and the art of whiskey making was born.
Dublin used to be home to 37 distilleries. An area outside the city walls called The Liberties (because it wasn’t subjected to city laws) was supplied with plentiful water and became home to many distilleries and breweries during the 18th and 19th centuries. The industry was booming, despite various trials and tribulations.
One such setback occurred in 1875 in the form of the Great Whiskey Fire. A warehouse in the Liberties caught fire one night and spread to a nearby distillery. 5,000 barrels full of precious liquor burned, and the flaming whiskey flowed through the streets. The townspeople tried to quench the flames with water, but it only fed the blaze. Finally, the fire chief came to the rescue. He knew they had to smother an alcohol fire, and so collected the most plentiful resource in the area: horse manure.
After the fire was put out, the local people celebrated by bottling up as much of the spilt spirits as they could and drinking them all night long. Unfortunately, 12 people died that night – but none from the fire. They all died from alcohol poisoning, and likely from drinking manure-filtered whiskey.
The Great Fire aside, the whiskey business continued to flourish. But at the end of the 19th century, the Irish refused to adopt new distillation technology that would’ve propelled them forward. Irish whiskey dropped from 60% of the worldwide market share to just 2%. Prohibition in America didn’t help either, and the last distillery in Dublin closed in the 1970s.
But Teeling is helping to revive that lost spirit. John Teeling converted an old state-run potato schnapps distillery into the Cooley Distillery in 1987. After it sold in 2012, his sons founded a brand new Teeling Distillery in the heart of Dublin. They kept much of the “family stock,” and so were able to start selling whiskey immediately – they even have a 33 year old bottle in the gift shop that will set you back about 3,300 euros. They hold the distinction of being the first new distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years.
Irish whiskey must be aged for at least three years and one day in order to be called whiskey. Why three years and one day? Simple: because Scottish whiskey must be aged for three years, and the Irish wanted to be one day better than the Scots.
The Teeling logo is a phoenix rising from the ashes of a pot still, which represents the re-foundation of the Teeling brand and the resurgence of the Dublin whiskey community.
Teeling processes their spirits in both Oregon pine and stainless steel tanks – so I even found a bit of home in Dublin.
Irish whiskey makers are not allowed to use Irish oak to make their barrels. This is because they believe that fairies live in the sacred oak trees and must not be disturbed. They use French or American oak instead.
Every bit of the Teeling building is carefully crafted with perfect attention to detail. Recycled barrel light fixtures made by local artists hover over the two-story entryway, colorful paintings and messages left by past visitors adorn some of the walls, and huge, round windows let in lovely natural light. The furniture and bars mix wood and metal in beautiful ways that left me wanting to hire their interior decorator.
Our tour guide led us through the production area while regaling us with facts from the storied history of the Teeling family and its celebrated products. Their three copper stills – named after the three daughters of one of the founders – were custom-made for their facility.
After our tour, we tasted three whiskeys (a small batch, a single malt, and a single grain), all of which were smooth and delicious. One of them even smelled like caramel candy. I couldn’t help thinking back to the Great Whiskey Fire of 1875 and feeling thankful that our spirits were of a purer sort.
Since we’d stopped in on a whim before lunch, we ventured down to the bright, open Phoenix Café for a scrumptious and highly satisfying lunch of large sandwiches and various salads. A sparkling pink lemonade really topped it all off. Teeling Distillery should be high on your list if you find yourself in Dublin and have any interest in whiskey!