One of the perks of getting an extra week in Dublin was getting to sample a lot of local specialties…and by that, I mean whisky.
Being a Scotch lover, I made it a goal to find an Irish whisky to call my favourite.
I started my whisky tour off with a visit to Pearse Lyons Distillery in the Liberties. Irish whisky has seen a huge resurgence in recent years, and this distillery is spearheading those efforts. It’s only three years old and just opened for tours this autumn, but also has the distinction of being one of the only distilleries in Ireland to produce their own whisky, rather than blend from other sources.
Getting to this point has been a little tricky, though, and this distillery has been somewhat a labour of love for its owners. The St James Church was neglected to the point of ruin when the Lyons bought it.
The steeple had been blown off by a freak lightning strike, and the graveyard in the back was in such disrepair that it was actually a surprise to find it sitting beneath the overgrown shrubbery.
In restoring it, Dierdre and Pierce decided to maintain as much of the church’s history as possible, while also making some modern upgrades. The once-missing steeple is now an iconic (and lightning-proof) glass spire, and the windows are now filled with artisanal whisky-themed stained glass.
My tour of the distillery started out with a little introductory video, giving a brief history of the church, the distillery, and the founder’s personal connection to the two. We were then led outside by our guide to hear some of the stories from the graveyard by Bernard, who in addition to being a fantastic orator and having a voice like a cup of tea, is also a genuine historian.
He told us how thousands of people, from aristocracy to bricklayers, have been buried in the little plot of land over the past couple hundred years, stacked right one on top of one another. Through careful excavation and research, they’ve been able to quite literally unearth a lot of lost history.
My favourite story was that of the most recent burial. A man by the name of Mr. Hardy was killed in a motor accident as a young man, leaving his young wife to raise their children on her own. Fifty years later, the church was now a storage facility and the grounds were overgrown. Nonetheless her family, honoring Elizabeth’s wish to be buried with her husband, hacked away at overgrown trees and branches in order to bury her.
Just a few feet away from them lies buried a Catholic man who framed the Treaty of Limerick, a former mayor of Dublin, and a recipient of the Victoria Cross. There are also young men buried right next to one another who died fighting on opposite sides of the Easter Rising in the biscuit factory just down the street. It’s a fascinating encapsulation of Irish history in just two acres of land.
After hearing about the church’s past, we were led inside to learn about the current distillery. Bernard expertly led us through the journey of making Irish whisky from harvesting the barley to building the casks, a process which you can read more about here if you’re curious.
Having peeked into casks and sniffed our share of malted barley, we headed over to the bar for the fun part.
We were served a dram of each of their four whiskys by their rather charming whisky expert, John, alongside some malteasers for good measure. The Original is a bourbon cask aged blend had a hint of smoke. This was actually my favourite of the lot, but that’s mostly because I like drinking whiskies that taste like a campfire. The Distiller’s Choice was sherry cask aged, blended with whisky distilled right at St James. It had a really nice fruitcakey finish that would be perfect for the holidays. The Founder’s Choice is a single malt with notes of orchard fruit that made for very easy sipping. The Cooper’s Select is their highest end whisky, aged first in bourbon casks and then re-casked into sherry barrels, with a warm gingerbread taste.
Because we asked so nicely, we also got a whiff of their upcoming gin. It surprisingly smelled just like a bowl of sangria, and I cannot wait grab a bottle and make some g&ts with it come summertime.
Another perk of the tour was getting to peruse their gift shop, adorably built to reflect the storefronts of the Liberties back in the day. Buying directly from the distillery is a lot less expensive than the corner store (or even duty free), so I’d obviously recommend picking up a bottle or two on your way out.
I loved my visit here because it felt like so much more than just a distillery tour. Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of whisky, a visit to Pearse Lyons still offers a great chance to understand more about the history of the Liberties, Dublin, and Ireland as a whole.