Locke's Distillery at Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath, is a handy stop on the old Dublin-Galway road (N 6). Established in 1757, the original distillery on this site operated for almost 200 years until it closed in 1953. It has since "re-invented" itself and re-opened as a museum of whiskey-making. A 25-minute tour, which must be reserved in advance, traces the step-by-step process, ending in a "tasting room" for a sample of Kilbeggan Whiskey. Today the Kilbeggan brand is still produced, but not on this premises. It is one of the brands offered by Cooley Distillery (below). More information: Locke's Distillery, Lr. Main St., Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath, tel. 057-933-2134); web: www.lockesdistillerymuseum.ie
The Cooley Distillery is probably the least known of Ireland’s distillery tours, located in the Cooley Mountains on the Carlingford Peninsula, just outside of Dundalk, and midway between Dublin and Belfast. This distillery is fairly new, established in 1987, with a goal of reviving old distilling techniques and restoring some vintage brands, such as Kilbeggan and Tyrconnell, as well as developing new brands such as Connemara Single Peat Malt and Greenore Single Grain Irish Whiskey. Visitors are welcome to tour the facilities in a hard-hat-style behind-the-scenes tour guided by distillery staff members. Because tours are done on a small and personalized style, advance reservations are required. More information: Cooley Distillery, Riverstown, Cooley, Co. Louth, tel. 042-937-6102; web: www.cooleywhiskey.com
Last, but certainly not least, is the grand-daddy of the whiskey-making enterprises, Old Bushmills in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is the oldest distillery of its kind in the world, officially licensed in 1608. Visitors are welcome to take a walk-through tour of the plant to view the whole process, essentially unchanged over the centuries. Escorted by well-versed guides with informative and amusing commentaries, the 40-minute tours end in the Potstill Bar, a pub-style "tasting room" where guests are invited to sample the product. More information: Old Bushmills Distillery & Visitor Centre, Main St., Bushmills, Co. Antrim, tel. 028-2073-3272; web: www.bushmills.com
Patricia (Pat) Preston has written 23 travel books (15 about Ireland). Her latest book, Ireland Travel 101 (http://www.IrelandTravel101.com) won 1st Place in the Travel Guide category of the North American Travel Journalists Association annual competition this year. Visit Pat’s web site (http://www.IrelandExpert.com).