In a country known the world over for its fine whiskey, Teeling Distillery is the first new Dublin distillery in over 125 years. Even more surprising, when Teeling opened in 2015, it marked the first time in nearly 40 years that Irish Whiskey was being made in Dublin.
At one time there had been as many as 37 whiskey distilleries in Dublin. It was the whiskey capital of the world. The last Dublin distillery, John Power & Son ran dry and closed its doors in 1976. Jameson had relocated to County Cork in 1971.
The Teeling family had been the whiskey business, off and on, for over 230 years. Walter Teeling had established a distillery on Marrowbone Lane in the Liberties area in 1782. This area of Dublin had been known as the “Golden Triangle” of Irish whiskey. Moving forward to 1987, Walter’s descendant John purchased an industrial alcohol distillery in Cooley, County Louth and converted it to a whiskey distillery. Cooley Distillery operated until 2011 when it was sold to Jim Beam.
As part of the sale, John’s son, Jack negotiated to purchase the 16,000 casks of whiskey still on hand and, with these, founded the Teeling Whiskey Company to bottle and distribute the product.
Then, in 2013, Jack, along with his brother Stephen, decided a return to Dublin’s glory days was long overdue and began work to bring distilling back to the Liberties area. Thus was born; Teeling Distillery in Newmarket Square, not far from where their ancestor, Walter first started the family business.
I had the good fortune to visit Teeling recently. While the facility is new, it has the look and feel of this old part of Dublin. The interior of the visitor center is paneled with wooden barrel staves and features a modest museum honoring the history of the “Golden Triangle” and all the distillers and brewers who have occupied the Liberties area over the many years.
As you are waiting for your tour to begin, browse through the collection of old crockery and glass bottles. Some of the names you will recognize and many have long since moved on. Or, you may grab a snack at the on-site Phoenix Cafe.
I found the information on the “Great Dublin Whiskey Fire” of 1875 to be fascinating. Until now, I was unaware of this disaster. On June 18th of that year, Malone’s Bonded Warehouse, housing over 5000 barrels of whiskey, caught fire. The flaming liquid flowed through the streets quickly spreading to the buildings along the way. Adding water to the inferno only spread the flames further. It was finally quelled by smothering the flames with the abundant supply of horse manure.
£54,000 (€6.5/$7.4 million today) worth of whiskey was lost as well as 13 lives. The victims did not die from smoke or flames as you would expect. They died from drinking the contaminated whiskey from the streets.
Paying homage to history and the great fire, the Teeling Distillery logo depicts a Phoenix rising from the flames of a pot still.
The tour begins with our guide, a lovely young Irish girl with the lilting voice you would expect, coupled with an obvious passion for the product.. We enter the distillery just off the museum area to see the grain hopper and mill which crushes the malted grain to expose the starchy interior. The grain is then mixed with water and heated to convert the starches to sugar. The hot liquid, known as “wash” at this point, is separated from the grain and cooled before yeast is added to ferment the wash.
The distillery uses both wooden and stainless steel fermentation vessels. It takes five days in the wood vessels and three in the stainless for fermentation to complete. The wash is now at about 8% ABV (alcohol by volume) before it is transferred to the first pot still.
Teeling uses a triple fermentation in a series of three pot stills named after Jack Teeling’s three daughters; Allison, Natalie, and Rebecca. Each of these pots get progressively smaller as the volume of liquid they handle is reduced.
Allison is the first and largest of these stills. The wash is heated to 94°-99.9°C to separate the alcohol form the water and impurities. The alcohol steams off and is then condensed back to liquid. The whiskey at this point is 25% ABV and is still brown with impurities.
It is then transferred to Natalie and heated from 84 ° to 99.9°C to continue the distillation. The whiskey emerges from this still at 65% ABV and is still a bit yellowish with impurities.
Rebecca is the smallest and last of the three stills. The whiskey is heated from 78.3° to 99.9° and the final product is 85% ABV and as clear as water.
A portion of this un-aged “moonshine” is diluted with distilled water to 52.5% and bottled to be sold as Spirit of Dublin Irish Poitín, which literally translated from Gaelic means “little pot.” This is a nod to the home made whiskey of the past which was outlawed in Ireland in 1661. It was traditionally made in small batches in little pots. The regulations were loosened in 1989.
The bulk of the product is then aged in a variety of used oak casks; American bourbon, port, calvados, amaretto, etc. By law, Irish whiskey and Scotch must be aged a minimum of three years. Until 1997, the requirement in Ireland was three years +1 day to distinguish it from the Scottish product. Teeling ages its whiskey five to six years. The various casks are then blended and diluted to 46% for bottling and sale. Teeling also still does special bottlings of the older whiskey from those original 16,000 Cooley casks dating as far back as 1983.
All of Teeling’s whiskey is aged in a maturation facility located about an hour out of Dublin for safety reasons – no repeat of the fire of 1875. The changing seasonal temperatures cause expansion and contraction of the oak casks, working the whiskey in and out of the wood. This is what mellows the whiskey, adding flavor and color. About 2-3% per year of the cask whiskey is lost to evaporation. This is known as the “Angels Share” and is considered a “Gift to the Gods” for good luck.
The tour ends in the Bang Bang Bar with a straight-up sample of the flagship Teeling Small Batch whiskey and a very tasty seasonal cocktail made with the same. There are tasting options which can be purchased with the tour ranging from €15 – €30.
There is also a somewhat limited selection of Teeling gift and souvenir items. You may also purchase and fill your own bottle of Teeling direct from the cask.
Experience The Spirit of Dublin – If you are a fan of whiskey, you owe it to yourself to include Teeling Distillery on your visit to Dublin. Voted the World’s Best Whiskey Visitor Attraction 2016 by Whiskey Magazine.