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!
Over 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.
IrishWhiskey.com 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 IrishWhiskeyway.com.
Now, would any Galway restaurant like to take up our whiskey menu sponsorship offer?