Like most things in Ireland, whiskey has a story to tell. It's a centuries-old tale of monks and Middle Eastern techniques, culminating with a booming export business by the early 20th century. One small town called Tullamore, in the geographical heart of Ireland, played an intriguing role in the country's rise to whiskey fame.
An unlikely hero named Daniel Edmond Williams arrived in Tullamore in the 1800s, and eventually created a tripled-distilled whiskey he dubbed Tullamore Dew, after his initials "D-E-W." Now, travelers can trace the brand’s beginnings at a new visitor’s center inside an original bonded warehouse on the banks of Tullamore’s grand canal.
It's a one-hour train ride from Dublin to Tullamore, a quiet place surrounded by ancient castles, monastic sites, and Ireland’s oldest oak forest. Inside the visitor’s center, guests can sip a 90-proof whiskey that's only available on-site, run their hands through vats of grains, and open glass "nosing pots" to sniff the vanilla, cinnamon, and citrus flavors that give Tullamore Dew its fresh, fruity flavor.
Video installations offer insight into County Offaly’s whiskey-steeped history; Williams arrived alone in Tullamore at age 14, having left his family far behind to sleep in a hayloft on the distillery grounds and learn his craft. The tour then takes visitors to ogle three different copper stills — low wine, column, and wash — that ensure a depth of flavor. Next, tour guide Marsha Sutcliffe talks about the role of wooden casks in the distillation process: leftover sherry and bourbon flavorings in the wood lend sweet and nutty essences to Tullamore Dew.
"Everyone here is important, but without these, we’d stall," Sutcliffe said.
That Tullamore Dew is still produced at all speaks to Irish perseverance. Prohibition and trade disputes with England in the 1930s decimated Irish whiskey production, resulting in the closure of Tullamore Dew distillery in 1959. Since then, ownership has changed hands twice, and production moved to County Cork. In 2010, William Grant & Sons took over the brand, investing $45 million in what will be a 69-acre distillery in Tullamore. Construction begins in April and should be completed in 2014.