Irish Whiskey Renaissance

Stuart’s latest take on the global Irish Whiskey revival and the Mecca that is Galway.

While Irish Whiskey is undergoing an amazing global revival of popularity and sales, my own shocking experience is that the very people who are allowing this opportunity to pass them by are Restaurant and Pub owners back home in Ireland.

Last year I highlighted a great opportunity for the owners of Ireland’s premium restaurants to polish up the experience they offer their fine diners by putting as much care into developing an Irish Whiskey List as they do into their wine list. We even offered to assist in a pilot project with a grant of €250 in matched funds and free advice to the first Irish restaurant to create a premium Irish Whiskey List for their diners. Despite contacting the Irish Restaurant Association with our idea, the opportunity passed unclaimed.

My experience in bars and pubs here in Ireland has been little better. The general knowledge about Irish Whiskey brands types and customs amongst Irish bar staff is quite poor over all. In my regular travels all around Ireland, it’s quite obvious to me that the majority of bar staff in the pubs of Dublin and greater Ireland have very little knowledge or understanding of Irish whiskey. Often, they don’t know the difference between Scotch, Bourbon or Irish Whiskey. The default is to serve with ice and in a variety of glasses from wine glasses to tall boys to brandy glasses and even half pint glasses. I was used to this when I lived in Brussels last year, but in Dublin? It’s disappointing to say the least.

But there is hope and hope comes from the West!

Old Joyce Distillery BuildingsOver 200 years ago Galway was one of Ireland’s thriving whiskey hubs. But as road, rail and canal networks expanded from Dublin in early Victorian times, Galway whiskey distilleries suffered as the larger Dublin based and Scottish influenced distilleries expanded to the west and the south.

Looking at my copy of The Lost Distilleries of Ireland (See Link below) by Brian Townsend with foreward by John Clement Ryan, the 22 Galway based distilleries of the late 1700’s had been reduced to just two by 1822.

These were John Joyce and Catherine Haurty and both were closed by 1807. By 1823, a Patrick Joyce was running a distillery on Nun’s Island. He did well and peaked at 100,000 Gallons in 1833. However things went down hill after that and he was gone by 1840, possibly due to competition from Burke’s Quarter Barrel, Richard Lynch and Burton Persse, who had two distilleries (Newcastle and Newton Smith) which at their peak were producing over 120,000 gallons per year. By comparison, Allmans from my own home town of Bandon were producing 500,000 gallons a year at their peak.

Burton Persse’s son bought the old Joyce distillery buildings in 1840 and after using them for a few years as woollen mills, converted them back to what we now know as the Nun’s Island distillery. It continued such until the Great War with output of their “Galway Whiskey” peaking at around 400,000 gallons a year. As the new distillery took off, their existing smaller distilleries in Newcastle and Newton Smith were abandoned.

In the years before the Great War, the Dublin distilleries began making greater inroads into the west of Ireland and it was this increasing competition which finally closed Galway whiskey and the Nun’s Island distillery for good around 1915.

For many years, Galway has led innovation in Irish tourism and cuisine and now it appears as if the City of the Tribes is about to follow suit with innovation in Irish Whiskey Tourism.

Garavans in Shop Street is an iconic Galway Pub beloved by Irish literati such as Samuel Beckett. Under the leadership of Paul Garavan, it has also developed into one of Ireland’s leading Irish Whiskey bars with an incredible menu of Irish Whiskeys and tasting platters all served up by a super friendly staff of Irish Whiskey experts led by head barman Brian. Don’t leave the pub without asking for a copy of their book “Days and Nights in Garavans” which is full of great yarns from the pub’s rich history.

Galway Pub An Púcán on Forster Street has also taken up the Irish Whiskey challenge with a fine range of Irish Whiskey behind the bar and regular Irish whiskey tasting evenings and talks throughout the tourist season. Their latest and exciting news is the the launch of their own “An Pucan” expression of Teeling whiskey which I look forward to reviewing here in coming weeks. is proud to support the Galway Whiskey renaissance and will be working hand in hand with our Galway whiskey friends such as Garavans, An Pucan and the G Hotel to build a critical mass of Irish whiskey presence in Galway over the next few months though our new Irish Whiskey Tourism site

Now, would any Galway restaurant like to take up our whiskey menu sponsorship offer?


  1. Hey Stuart! In the year that has passed since your ‘Whiskey Challenge’ to the Restaurants & Pubs of Ireland, I can say with enthusiasum that Galway has met that challenge
    (at least in their pubs) and last August was the roll-out of the first ‘Irish Whiskey Trail’. Multiple pubs along Shop, Street, the High Street, Forster and along Eyre Square participated. The Trail began at the Square, with the wonderful ‘Macnas’ in full dress and fine oratory, and followed along Shop & High Street until finishing at the Spanish Arch. There was a lavish parade and an excellent musical oratory at the Arch, telling the history of Irish Whiskey and the significance of Galway in the production of it. The pubs that participated have all since earned their ‘Official Irish Whiskey Trail’ plaques and offered tastings, as well as information on each whiskey.
    The event was an enormous success and is slated to be an annual event.
    Since moving here to Galway in May of 2015, and being a lover of Single Malt Scotch Whiskey, Canadian Rye Whiskey
    (I’m a sucker for a really well made ‘Old Fashioned’) and of course, American Bourbon Whiskey – I was eager to try my first Irish Whiskey!
    They did not disappoint!
    I’ve gone through with the tasting (and finishing!) of 14 now, and have definitely settled on some favorites. I like mine ‘neat’ only and the glass it’s served in matters! These are my personal picks…
    For everyday – Yellow Spot or Red Breast 12
    For a bit more depth – Jameson’s Black Barrel, Jameson’s Gold Reserve, or the Writer’s Tears
    For a special occasion – The Irishman or Tullamore Dew 10
    And when I’m craving the best…Glendalough 13!
    (absolutely the most divine drinking experience of my life!
    Have yet to find a Scotch Single Malt Whiskey to even come close)
    Since I’m not a ‘peat & smoke’ kind of gal, that pretty much eliminates the Connemara’s or other Irish Whiskies that taste of salt, brine, or charcoal! Just not my thing.
    As for where to find good Irish Whiskey behind the bar – There are three really well stocked and knowledgeable pubs that have become my favorites for snuggling up with a delicious Whiskey…
    Sonny Malone’s, the Dai’l, and Blakes.
    All three offer excellent inventory, great advice, whiskey tasting boards, information pamphlets provided and patient bar men!
    A young Irishman by the name of ‘James’ at Blakes is particularly well versed and I believe the staff there have all attended classes on Irish Whiskies. Sonny Malone’s always offers an ‘Irish Whiskey of the Month’ and tasting menus. Discovered Writer’s Tears and Gold Spot there!
    McCambridges Market & Cafe also do regular tastings and I’ve gotten lots of great information from their staff.
    Happily, I have many more Whiskies to discover and look forward to ‘furthering my education.
    Irish Whiskey is a treasure and you’re right about the lack of real whiskey menus available in any of the restaurants.
    I’m wondering if perhaps the taxation issue may be to blame? If so, very sad indeed!

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