From Barley to Blarney: A Whiskey Lover’s Guide to Ireland is a guide to Ireland’s booming distillery business, and some of the island’s best bars.
The Irish whiskey and distillery industry is booming in a way that it hasn’t for over a hundred years, when Scottish whisky began to replace Irish whiskey as the world’s favourite spirit. This was due to several factors, as this entertaining book explains. Things have changed, though, as the book also says: ‘For the past twenty years, Irish whiskey has been the fastest-growing spirit in the world.’
In that sense the book is very timely, though it will need regular updating with new whiskey distilleries still opening every year, not to mention the gin distilleries too. I’m sure the author wouldn’t mind. Although several names are credited as authors, there was one main writer, Conor Kelly, who pulled the text together after two whiskey tours of Ireland with Tim Herlihy (Distillery Expert), Jack McGarry (Mixed Drink Expert), and Sean Muldoon (Pub Expert). Joining them was the photographer Elaine Hill, whose beautiful work appears throughout the book.
The Gang of Five made two tours of Ireland (including Northern Ireland) in a camper van, and a grand old time they must have had. At first, though, I was expecting more of a travelogue, full of adventures and misadventures, but it’s not that kind of book. It begins with a few basic factual spreads: A Distilled History of Distillation, Styles of Irish Whiskey, and How Irish Whiskey is Made.
There’s then a breezy introduction, but after that the book becomes a more conventional listing of distilleries and pubs, broken down geographically by province, beginning with Leinster and Dublin City. Each province gets its own introduction, followed by a spread for each distillery, and then at the end there are spreads on what the authors consider each province’s ‘Great Irish Pubs’.
If this was a book that had been done from the desk, as it easily could have been, it might have ended up as a dry encyclopaedia that was useful as a reference work but not something you’d read cover to cover. However, by visiting all the pubs and distilleries, and talking to the owners and the experts, each entry is filled with conversation as well as information. The reader hears directly from the distiller or the pub owner, and we all know there’s no conversation like an Irish conversation. All you need is a session of live Irish music playing in the background, and you could be there with them.
This guide to Ireland’s distilleries also looks good. In part that’s due to the lovely photography, which isn’t all stills and barrel warehouses, but of the people and the places too. It’s also down to the attractive design, with plenty of white space making for easy reading. Each entry gives you an essay on the distillery’s history, interwoven with the conversations the authors had with the key people there. At the end there’s an At A Glance panel of information – when was the first distillation, how big is their production, what styles of whiskey do they do, whether there’s a visitor center and tours, that kind of thing. And if reading the entry makes you thirsty, there are some recommended Key Bottlings you can look for.
All in all, this is a great read as well as being a great reference source on Ireland’s whiskey distilleries. If you’re planning a trip there it’s going to be indispensable, but equally useful if you’re simply an armchair Irish whiskey fan.