Posted by: acooksca | 09/17/2014

Dublin’s Irish Whiskey Tour

Bowe's Pub, Dublin

Bowe’s Pub, Dublin

There may be more pubs in Dublin, Ireland than bicycles in Amsterdam. Looking for help on where best to sample small batch Irish whiskeys we stopped by James Fox Co., merchant of whiskey, wine and cigars. “There is a fellow, Michael Lawlor is the name, and here’s his flyer.” Michael’s Irish Whiskey Tours promised to visit 4 historic pubs, sample 4 of his favorite whiskeys and answer all our questions about what makes Irish whiskey unique. Best of all a tour started in 15 minutes at a classic pub one block away.

The Irishman, Founder's Reserve

The Irishman, Founder’s Reserve

Michael meets 5 of us outside The Palace Bar and guides us into a back area. Even before getting our names he places an ample-sized tasting glass of 92-proof Palace Bar Batch #1 whiskey before us. “Warm it a little with your hands around the glass. Smell the aroma and taste the whiskey. Now add the smallest splash of water. Does it change?” Indeed it does. The clean and bright, slightly edgy whiskey turns smooth. “That splash doesn’t always work, but most the time it does. Try it both ways…maybe a couple of times.”

Michael worked in the glass bottle industry for 30 years. He saw a notice in a local wine and spirits shop for part time help and thought of his sons. But before he got home that night he was thinking why not do it himself. A year later his glass company job dissolved and he began working full time at The Whiskey Shop in central Dublin. That was 12 years ago. Just last month he began his own whiskey tour business taking groups of 1 to 10 visitors to his favorite Dublin pubs.

We enter the ancient looking Bowes Pub passing their “snug bar”, a clean and cozy room at the front of the establishment originally provided for female patrons. From the bar Michael brings us The Irishman Founder’s Reserve, an 80-proof whiskey with the wintery flavors of clove and almond. This is the creamiest texture of all and by the end of the tour seems to be the favorite. The other 3 tasters have just come from doing the Whisky Trail in the Scottish Highlands where they acquired a taste for the complexity added by barrel finishing. “Irish whiskey must be aged in oak and we get most of the barrels from Bourbon country in the U.S. This lends a sweet finish to our whiskeys, which are distilled from barley. We don’t use corn like in America because it has to be imported from France.”

Micheal leads the way to Mulligan's

Micheal leads the way to Mulligan’s

Mulligan’s Pub (est. 1782) looks familiar. It is often used in films and T.V. documentaries about James Joyce, a local son. Joyce wrote here in the small back room where we find seats. The room was the center of Counterpoints, a story in The Dubliners. Michael presents us with a glass of 92-proof whiskey aged 6 years in rum casks. This is a lemony, floral whiskey by Teeling’s. “Most small batch whiskeys are made by the big producers. In the last few years some private distilleries have sprung up and this Teeling’s was made in the first new distillery to be built in Ireland in 60 years.”

Strolling between pubs Michael points out the house of 2 brothers, instigators of the Easter Rebellion, who were killed in 1916. Nearby is the house where Oscar Wilde was born. And here once stood the grocery where Wilde worked as a young man. It is now Kennedy’s Pub. At Kennedy’s we are offered Coonemara, an 80-proof whiskey with medium peat smoke and hints of apple and pear. By now Michael has educated us about Irish whiskey, Dublin’s literary history and modern pub life.

Kennedy's Pub with a photo of Oscar Wilde

Kennedy’s Pub with a photo of Oscar Wilde

Whiskey is our focus but the most widely ordered beverage is Dublin’s iconic Guinness Stout. “Guinness tastes different between pubs. The company comes out to pubs and cleans the equipment monthly but some pubs take it upon themselves to clean it more often. You can notice a difference between cleanings. Also, in some pubs the beer tastes better from the tap in the back room than the front, but who knows why. Best to just try as many as you can until you find one you are the most happy with.”

Whether you order Guinness or Irish whiskey, the real reason to wander into a pub in Dublin is the camaraderie and warm hospitality that is so easily extended to all who come through the door. When Michael leaves us it is with a parting bit… “if you need anything, anything at all, here’s my cell, just call me.”

The official website:

From the website:   “We will be discussing the age old argument of what if anything to add to your whiskey. Michael will be explaining the “The Seven Steps To Heaven”, the differences between Irish Whiskey, Scottish and American Whisky and we will touch on Persian alchemists, Scottish monks & Irish customs men. The tour lasts between 2 and 2 1/2 hours depending how many are on the tour.”


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