Nestled in the sleepy town of Kilbeggan, Matthew Jones discovers Ireland’s oldest distillery
Alongside the River Brosna, in the Westmeath town of Kilbeggan, hides Ireland’s oldest active distillery. Claiming over 250 years of continuous operation, the distillery produces some of the finest whiskey in the world.
The distillery itself is an odd assortment of structures, ranging from World War II era bunkers (you gotta keep the whiskey flowing!) to buildings filled with contemporary distillery equipment. Seeing the distillery in action is a special treat in this modern age.
As part of the ‘Kilbeggan Experience’ tour, you are permitted to make your way through the traditional distillery and into the current production area. What makes this tour especially interesting is that you can see the water wheel driving every aspect of the distillery and follow an intricate series of gears and drive-shafts on the tour. You finally end up in the brewing vats where you can take a peek into the massive grain silos and see the process in action.
Along the way, there is a massive amount of historical information, not only about the distillery, but about the town of Kilbeggan and the history of Irish whiskey. The curious-minded will lap up the display of old newspapers throughout the tour.
But what trip to a distillery would be complete without actually tasting some whiskey? At the end of the ‘Kilbeggan Experience’ you are treated to a sampling of some of the finest whiskeys produced on the premises, including a mouth-watering fifteen-year-old beauty.
For those who don’t appreciate good quality whiskey, the staff offer a tasting master class, where guidance on how to properly taste whiskey and understand its complexities is given. Finally, for those who are brave (and more than a bit foolish), you can try some raw spirit. This un-aged whiskey is clear in colour and clocks in at roughly sixty-five per cent alcohol, packing a mighty kick.
A trip to the distillery will easily fill up an afternoon – the pace of life in Kilbeggan matches the ancient water wheel in its slow, relaxed atmosphere.