Editor’s note: I agree with Sam that having an experience with alcohol – or even just places they serve or make it – is an essential part of visiting Dublin. I also wrote about it, and you can read my take here. For more of Sam’s writing, click here to visit his index page.
While in Dublin, a local Dubliner who had had a couple of drinks asked me the question, “What is the difference between an Irish funeral and an Irish wedding? There’s one less drunk person at an Irish funeral!” He then burst out laughing before quipping, “I am Irish, so when I tell that joke, it is funny, but if you tell it, it’s racist!” Indeed, the jokes about Ireland’s proclivity for alcoholic beverages have been the subject of pride, humor, and also negative stereotypes. In Dublin, there are so many great places to see that highlight the richness of Ireland’s tremendous religious and literary culture, but also, no trip to Ireland is complete without imbibing in some of their famous beverages and pub life. In this article, I will tell you my favorite places to go in Dublin to experience the famous libations of the island nation.
Ahead of any other place in Ireland, the number one most visited attraction is the Guinness Storehouse. At this place where Guinness Beer is brewed in the heart of Dublin, a couple million people visit per year. In front of the Guinness Storehouse are numerous horse-drawn carriages with the famous St. James Gates surrounding what appears to be a massive warehouse and factory. However, step inside the Guinness Storehouse and you will be transformed into what seems almost like Willy Wonka’s factory but for beer. In the middle of the storehouse is a seven-floor glass atrium in the shape of a pint of Guinness. Each floor explores a different part of the Guinness story.
Upon walking into the Guinness Storehouse, you will see below the glass floor the 9000-year-lease with Arthur Guinness’s famous signature for £45 per year dated back to 1759. The staff will remind you that while they have been brewing at the St. James Gate Brewery for a fully 264 years, they have more than 8700 years left of brewing there according to their lease. On the rest of the first floor, you will see exhibits on the four key ingredients of Guinness Beer: water, barley, hops, and yeast. The remaining floors show the exact precision of roasting the beer and how with the introduction of the nitrogen into Guinness, each pint of Guinness has 300 million bubbles in it. On various other floors, the barreling process and production are shown, and there are also quite a few exhibits on the interesting history of the brewery’s advertising. Another worthwhile floor is the one that includes the tasting room where you can experience the various smells from different stages of production that the beer has and where you will be shown how to properly drink Guinness.
There are gimmicky experiences that you can purchase at the Guinness Storehouse such as a class on how to make the perfect pour of Guinness into a pint glass or paying an extra €10 to have your face put on the foam of a pint of Guinness. However, the highlight of the self-guided visit to the Guinness Storehouse is the top floor, which contains a circular bar with splendid views of Dublin. All visitors (18 and over) are entitled to one pint of Guinness with their admission ticket. While I always enjoy a pint of Guinness, this is no ordinary experience. Not only are you having Guinness in the place where it was produced, but the bartenders are all specially trained on the unique way of making a perfect pour of Guinness and as they bring out your pints, watching the colors of the beer change and the gravity lift the bubbles to the foam on top of the beer it feels more like you are witnessing art as opposed to having a beer.
While Guinness is easily Ireland’s most famous beer, the country is also well known for their Irish whiskey. While American whiskey typically uses corn, rye, or wheat, Irish whiskey is made with barley. Throughout Ireland there are numerous distilleries that one can visit and sample their product, the most famous one being Jameson, also based out of Dublin. While I was tempted to go there, I actually chose a different experience. Though I loved the Guinness Storehouse, it very much felt as though I was in a giant advertisement for Guinness (because I was). For the Irish whiskey experience, instead of going to a distillery, I opted to visit the Irish Whiskey Museum located across the street from Trinity College and the Irish Parliament building. I chose to go here over a distillery because since it is not affiliated with any particular label, the museum touts how they give an unbiased experience and are promoting Irish whiskey as a whole instead of one company over another. This museum gives a guided tour to discover how Irish whiskey is made and the history of Irish whiskey. The tour takes you across four different rooms, with each one telling a different period of Ireland’s relationship with what has become the fastest growing spirit in the world. You will also see how Ireland had in 2013 only four distilleries in operation, and how only a decade later there are 24 distilleries with another 26 being planned. The guides at the museum, which has interactive videos, are not only knowledgeable and informative but also very funny and will have you not only interested but also laughing as well. There are four experiences that you can purchase for your visit. The classic experience gives you a tasting of three different and unique Irish whiskeys at the end of the tour. The premium experience (which I opted for) gives you a fourth whiskey to taste and a souvenir whiskey glass to take home. You can also book a blending experience that will teach you how to make your own blends of Irish whiskeys or an Irish coffee tasting and making experience.
You also cannot visit Dublin without going to its famous bars and pubs. The most notable district is the Temple Bar district which has Irish pub after Irish pub for several blocks and is open late, with many pubs featuring live music. The most famous bar in the Temple Bar district is its namesake, the Temple Bar. This red pub is located on a corner in the district and dates back to 1840. At night, it is illuminated with bright yellow lights from the outside. Being so famous, it is often packed in there. If you want to have yourself a Guinness, there are throughout Ireland specific pubs that are designated as “Guinness Pubs”, which specialize in serving Guinness, and supposedly the Guinness tastes better at those. These pubs advertise outside their doors that they have this designation. While tourists flock to the Temple Bar pub, the one that I made sure to hit up was off the main Temple Bar strip but still in the district. The Stags Head pub is one of Dublin’s most historic pubs, having been founded in 1770. It is Victorian style on the inside with classic wooden ceilings and walls, chandeliers, and stained-glass windows. Above the bar is, true to its name, a mounted stag’s head and there is also a stuffed fox on display. The pub has been featured in numerous films. However, why I chose to go to this pub is that it was a favorite of James Joyce, the Irish literary hero and author of Ulysses, when he was a young man. Dubliners brag that the list of famous literary pubs in Dublin is as long as Ulysses itself.
Enjoying an Irish coffee or other Irish beverage in one of these pubs will remind you that while pub-life, Guinness Beer and Irish whiskey are all important parts of Ireland’s culture, it is one aspect of this great, historic nation’s rich legacy.
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