Currently we are going through a second golden age for Irish whiskey. A few years ago there were only 4 distilleries on the island and next year we are expecting to see nearly 30 in operation. Irish whiskey is no longer playing to the stereotype of the “fighting Irish” or just a simple additive to make caffeine alcoholic. The Irish whiskey industry is forging a its place in the global marketplace. It’s synonymous with traditional craft, high quality, smooth and palatable whiskey and this reputation has seen the sector grow by double digits for the last few years.
We are currently seeing 600,000 visitors a year arriving whiskey tourism and that is forecasted to grow to 800,000 in the medium term according to the Irish Whiskey Association. Dublin is currently the Mecca for Irish whiskey tourism with the Old Jameson Distillery attracting the majority of spirits tourism in the country. Although, in Ireland itself, you would be forgiven in thinking that no-one outside of the industry has noticed a thing. It seems that whilst the industry is going through a renaissance Irish publicans aren’t catching on. City centre pubs still consider a bottle of Jameson original juxtaposed by a bottle of Paddy a “diverse” whiskey selection.
Although, one city that has been taking big steps to rectify that by facilitating whiskey tourists with knowledgable bar staff and decent menus is Galway city.
August 14th, marks the official launch of the “Galway Whiskey Trail”. The trail is a publican lead initiative to promote Galway’s ties with Irish whiskey through education of bar staff, improved bar menus and whiskey events all across Galway. 10 bars and 1 off-licence are directly tied with the trail and they have been busy training their staff on all facets of Irish whiskey for the last couple of months. Those associated with the trail are bolstering their whisk(e)y selections with choice brands from around the world. Don’t worry the big names of Irish whiskey aren’t hogging all the limelight of course. The craft distilleries, such as Glendalough and Hyde whiskey, are also getting their fair amount of shelf space giving the consumer great selection.
The launch is featuring events all across the city, culminating in the official opening of the trail by Master Distiller Brian Nation and Master Distiller Emeritus Barry Crockett. They are visiting every establishment on the trail to initiate each one individually. Each establishment will be presented with a stone plaque that identifies the establishment as a member of the trail.
Don’t be fooled in thinking that the trail is lined up to be a one hint wonder either. With a website about to be launched, it will be listing tastings, talks, pairing events, historical, cultural tie ups all throughout the year with each venue scheduled to host a minimum of two events per year. Advertising will also appear in the airports and hotels across the country, highlighting everything the trail has to offer. My big hope is that there will be a fair bit of invention to mark venues apart so that it won’t just be whatever roadshow rolls in from IDL or Beam Suntory and is claimed as an event. But I have big hopes that this ground up initiative takes flight and fares much better than the long outdated “Irish Whiskey Trail”. Hopefully, since this is a collaborative initiative, the publicans will encourage each other to ensure the trail a big success and draw in a fair percentage of those 800,000 tourists a year. I’ve been assured that several of the pubs have events in the pipeline and new kids on the block ‘An Pucan’ have already confirmed three events before the end of the year.
Already positive side effects can be seen within the city. Bars and restaurants that are not affiliated with the trail are strengthening their whiskey menus in anticipation of the tourism that the trail may bring the city. Its looking like Galway might be on track to be the next big thing in whiskey tourism.
So, I will wait with eager anticipation to see what Galway has to offer in the coming months. Perhaps the trail will become a template for future initiatives promoting Irish whiskey across the country. Who knows perhaps in time we will see a Belfast or midlands trail!? Or better yet, how about a Dublin version?
I’ve got my fingers crossed that this isn’t just a flash in the pan, but only time will tell.