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Dingle in County Kerry, Ireland is a haven for single malt whiskey lovers

Here’s why Dingle, the southernmost town of the Republic of Ireland, belies its rather unattractive name

I have driven almost 70 kms through a wooded countryside and narrow roads that sweep into sharp hairpin bends to find the sea running along beside me as I near Dingle, a town in Count Kerry, Ireland, the most westerly in Europe. I am seeking out The Dingle Whiskey Distillery, which for some strange reason is not on nodding terms with my GPS system.

Each copper pot still holds 300 litres of whiskey. Representation pic
Each copper pot still holds 300 litres of whiskey. Representation pic

A few stops to ask the way, and I coast down a long road that leads to it. A rather ramshackle shed, a small office, and I come face-to-face with a large smile that preceeds a cheery, “Hullo!” Joe Joyce is obviously used to visitors. The tour guide fills me in on the history of Irish whiskey distillation, right from the 18th century, considered the Golden Age since it boasted 1200 distilleries, legal or otherwise, thriving throughout Ireland.

Guide Joe Joyce says water used in distilling was once drawn from a well below the property, with a now dysfunctional waterwheel
Guide Joe Joyce says water used in distilling was once drawn from a well below the property, with a now dysfunctional waterwheel

The most popular whiskey in the United States in the early 20th century suffered a blow when the prohibition of 1920-1933 messed with exports, and home-brew ‘moonshine’ or poitin produced in pot stills under a bright moon was sold as Irish whiskey, soiling the latter’s reputation.

Discerning drinkers investing 6,000 euros each in the first 500 limited edition casks of single malt whiskey will take delivery by 2018 in a cask or bottles inscribed with their name
Discerning drinkers investing 6,000 euros each in the first 500 limited edition casks of single malt whiskey will take delivery by 2018 in a cask or bottles inscribed with their name

Struggling to rise from the ruin, Ireland had only three distilleries until recently Bushmills in Antrim County, Midleton in Cork County and Cooley in Louth County. The Dingle Whiskey Distillery, established in 2012, is the new kid on the block. History lesson done, we walk in for a tour. The whiff of brewing liquor is heady. But more impressive are the gigantic copper pot stills.

The artisanal set-up produces small batches of liquor for those who the founders believe are connoisseurs
The artisanal set-up produces small batches of liquor for those who the founders believe are connoisseurs

It’s these that are used to distill liquid mixtures by applying heat to boil and later condense the vapour. Handcrafted, the stills reflect hours of elbow grease that must be expended in keeping them shining like gold. Copper is preferred for its malleability, heat conduction property and ability to neutralise off notes.

Rows of barrels stacked along a platform we stand on, make for a great picture. And they hold a story. A little less than three years ago, the distillery decided to create whiskey history. Not meant for the mass market, the artisanal set-up would produce a unique, sophisticated liquor that would find favour among connoisseurs.

The design of the still was the first step towards achieving this. The built-in bulge in the neck — a ‘boil bowl’ — ensured that the vapour did not rise right up and condense beyond the drop. Instead, it condensed and fell back into the still a few times before it eventually condensed completely and dripped into the receiver. The reflux would ensure a smooth, luscious spirit.

As marketing strategy to raise money, founder Oliver Hughes launched an initiative in 2013 that worked wonderfully. The distillery invited the discerning among drinkers and collectors to invest 6,000 euros each in the first 500 limited edition casks of single malt whiskey.

Investors, titled ‘Founding Fathers’ would have their name stamped on individual casks when the whiskey was ready, and take delivery in five years. So, in effect, each investor would find himself owning 3,413 shots of fine whiskey by 2018, in a cask or in bottles inscribed with his/her name, and unique cask and bottle number. It is to drink and share, or sell at a profit, thanks to the rising price trend.

To keep up spirits of those waiting for the golden liquid to reach their homes, the distillery holds a Founding Fathers’ Weekend to let like-minded owners, who don’t all belong to Ireland, gather and celebrate their vision.

The distillery also takes pride in its gin, which it makes in small batches of 500 litres, using a secret combination of flavour elements that come from local botanicals like the rowan berry, fuchsia, bog mrytle hawthorn and heather, macerated in spirit for 24 hours.

When the spirit is distilled, it passes through a flavour basket in the neck of the still. Every bottle comes decorated with a tiny replica of the famous painting of the riverscape that the distillery overlooks. The water, drawn from a well 240 feet below the building adds the final punch.

Their vodka is distilled five times for a sweet touch of pureness, reminiscent of the fresh air in the region. Joyce takes me out to show me the giant, old waterwheel that once drew water from the well below. Rusty with age and disuse, it still symbolises the blending of tradition with new ideas, and the pride the region derives from its past.

Somehow, it all comes together wonderfully. The river flowing along, the underground well, the gleaming copper and the stout wooden barrels, and the fact that the owners are happy producing two casks of whiskey a day, (which will be released in 2016, the centenary of Irish independence), and wait patiently for their Golden Batch to mature in 2018 and flow into the homes of the Founding Fathers.

The handbook
getting there: Shannon Airport is the easiest one to get to from international destinations. And from here, it’s 117 km to the town of Dingle, with bus services operating regularly. The closest airport to Dingle is Kerry Airport, 50 km away. Buses run from outside the airport terminal to Dingle.

Two main roads are available into the Dingle Peninsula the N86, which runs along the south coast of Tralee, then over the mountains to Dingle, and the R561, which runs from Castlemaine to Kerry Airport, Killarney and the Ring of Kerry.

Time your visit: Summer (July and August) offers good weather and 18 hours of daylight, but you’ll pay a bit more for hotels and airfare. Spring and fall see thinning crowds, but avoid travelling in winter since bed-and-breakfast options and local eateries stay shut from October until Easter.

Dingle for teetotalers

What if you don’t enjoy whiskey? Here are five reasons why you should still be heading to Dingle

Enjoy seafood off the boat
At heart, Dingle is a fishing town. The trawlers that set out every morning return with the day’s catch and feed the restaurants, whose staff collect at the harbour to pick from salmon, crab, scallops, sole, mussels and lobster.

Most streets in the town centre are marked by brightly coloured buildings housing pubs and eateries
Most streets in the town centre are marked by brightly coloured buildings housing pubs and eateries

Out of the Blue on the harbour is a seafood-only eatery, so focused on fresh produce that it keeps its shutters down if it hasn’t managed to land fresh fish that day. How about a lunch of chargrilled kebab of monkfish served with green mango puree and coriander butter on the side?

Plan a romantic drive
The Slea Head Loop from Dingle town is where you should be headed in a car. It’s a 40 km drive that offers you dramatic scenery. The road that clutches the coast is smooth, although challenging due to bends, so you can even choose to cycle by renting a bike from Main Street.


Pic credit/en.wikipedia.org

The other drive we’d recommend goes via N86 towards Tralee via Camp to offer a glimpse of Conor Pass, Ireland’s highest mountain pass. Don’t opt for a cycle here because it’s a gruelling uphill climb.

Enjoy a dollop of Murphy’s
Murphy’s Ice Cream on Strand Street has quite a following. Devoid of colouring, powdered milk and flavouring, it relies on farm milk, local cream, free range eggs and organic sugar.

Pic credit/en.wikipedia.org
Pic credit/en.wikipedia.org

They temper chocolate, infuse alcohol, and scrape vanilla beans by hand. They even make their own sea salt from Dingle sea water and distill Dingle rain to make their sorbets. Their pink champagne sorbet is a star, so is their coffee.

Sign up for a crystal workshop
Glass arrived to Ireland with the Celts, who used it in beads and jewellery. But an invention in the 17th century in glass-making established an industry that makes Ireland famous for its mouth-blown, cut crystal. Dingle Crystal workshop owned by Sean Daly just outside Dingle Town allows you to watch craftsmen at work. He is usually around to offer you a tour and give you a demonstration.

Go sailing
If the water is where you belong, hire a yacht to spend a few days touring the nearby islands, bays, and the harbours of Kerry and Cork.

-Compiled by SMD Team

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