Irish whiskey is really having a moment, and for many good reasons. There is something so special about how we Irish blend and brew our smooth, rich whiskies. Did you know there are 39 operational whiskey distilleries on the little island of Ireland? That is quite a lot for a small island, wouldn’t you say?
Now, if you didn’t know already, the actual island of Ireland is split into two countries. The Republic of Ireland, where the famous Dublin capital can be found, and Northern Ireland, our still British sister whose capital is Belfast city.
If you have the time, I recommend you do a real whiskey tour of both countries but if you only have time to zoom around the Northern Ireland whiskey trail, there is still plenty of whiskey fun to be had.
Is Whiskey From Northern Ireland Considered Irish Whiskey?
Look, the raging battle between the British and Irish has been pretty much quelled – bar a few bad feeling harborers – and the Irish do not hold many grudges. Northern Ireland is still Ireland, so of course, any Northern Ireland whiskey crafted in the six counties of the North is still thought of as Irish whiskey.
I mean, look at it this way, it is in the exact spelling of whiskey. The Irish love a little flare, which is why our whiskey spelling adds an extra if not necessarily needed, E., Unlike the Scots, who like to keep it simple without adding the extra E.
If Northern Irish whiskey was not considered Irish, do you think we would spell it that way?
Also, we love to shout from the rooftops about our Irish accolades and if that includes boosting the ego of our Northern Irish brothers and sisters, you can bet we are going to do it.
What Whiskey Is Made In Northern Ireland?
Ireland’s east coast features a plethora of whiskey distilleries, many of which include a tour or two to get you in touch with the whiskey roots of Ireland.
But, if you mean what famous whiskey is made in Northern Ireland? Well, I can tell you that one.
Bushmills distillery is one of the most famous Northern Irish whiskey distilleries. Some say it is the best Irish whiskey, but you must discover it yourself.
Considered the oldest licensed distillery in the world, Bushmills really is a rare gem, and the Irish are very proud of it. Plus it is located near the UNESCO world heritage site, the Giants Causeway.
But don’t stop there. Bushmills isn’t the only whiskey worth savoring when you visit Northern Ireland. There are around 13 Irish whiskey distilleries, each with its own flavor notes and histories and they are all well worth a visit if you are a lover of whiskey.
What Distilleries Are In Northern Ireland That You Can Visit?
So, you’re planning a trip around Northern Ireland’s whiskey trail and want to know every whiskey stop you need to see. I have covered you with a list of the eight must-visit Northern Irish Whiskey distilleries, from award-winning brands to distilleries located at the very northern tip of the country.
Let’s get your whiskey vacation off to an awesome start.
1. Hinch Distillery, Ballynahinch
Only a short stop south of Belfast city, Hinch distillery can be found on the rather scenic Killaney Estate. Winner of the best tourism experience at Tourism Northern Ireland’s Giant Spirit Awards in 2022, their tasting tours aren’t to be missed.
One of Ireland’s newest distilleries, the Hinch Distillery has made a real impact on the Irish Whiskey scene. Their triple-distilled whiskey used malted barley and water from the Mourne Mountains, alongside traditional mashing processes, to create a really recognisable whiskey.
Plus, if you have a travel companion who is more of a gin-fellow, they will love Hinch Distillery because they also craft an award-winning Irish gin, Ninth Wave.
- Classic Tour – £21.50 per person
- Premium Tour – £32
- Hinch Gin School Experience – £50
2. The Echlinville Distillery, Newtownards
Founded in 2013, Echlinville Distillery can be found in the Ards Peninsula of County Down. Echlinville prides itself on still crafting its excellent Irish whiskeys, poitín, and gin with the old traditional methods.
Bishop Robert Echlin, who travelled from Fife, Scotland in 1613, founded the Echlinville Estate where the distillery is now situated, near the impressive Echlinville Manor House. This Irish distillery is surrounded by all the history you could ask for to create a truly memorable experience.
The Echlinville spirits are crafted using the barley that is grown on the working farm and malted by hand on the estate. They credit the unique micro-climate and rich soil of the Ards Peninsula for their premium spirits and their unique flavourful taste.
With a range of tour experiences available, you can immerse yourself in the aromas of wood and whiskey as you see how their single malt whiskey and pot still whiskey are crafted in their cask warehouse. Don’t forget to have a good taste of their wares, they really are something special.
Keep an eye out on their social media accounts for special events that may fall during your holiday.
- Tour & Tipple – £20 per person
- Spirits & Cheese – £40 per person
3. Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills
Not only the oldest working distillery in Northern Ireland, but Bushmills distillery is also the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world. Founded in 1608 and named after the mills that could be found all along the River bush, this historical distillery was the first whiskey brand in Ireland.
Situated along the famous causeway coastal route in County Antrim, you could squeeze both Bushmills distillery and a trip to the famous Giants Causeway in one single day.
Disaster struck many times. First was the tax imposed on people distilling across Ireland in 1805. However, Bushmills powered through, keeping their quality of ingredients at the very heart of production even when others switched from barley grain to untaxed grains like corn.
In 1885, the old Bushmills distillery was destroyed by fire but this did not quell the Bushmill’s passion. They soon rebuilt their factory, the very factory you can visit today.
To this day, Bushmills Irish whiskey distillery has expanded its range from its Bushmills original single malt whiskey to include its aged Causeway collection, 21-year-old whiskey, Irish whiskey blends, and American oak cask finished whiskey to name just a few.
Bushmills is an Irish legend and the Bushmills whiskey brand can now be found worldwide.
- Distillery Tour From £15
- Premium Tour & Tasting – From £40 per person
4. The Copeland Distillery, Donaghadee
Another distillery on the coastal causeway, it seems as though this particular area of Northern Ireland is well-loved by its whiskey distillers, The Copeland distillery is located in the historic harbour of Donaghadee in County Down. Its story is relatively short, having been founded in 2016, but the Copeland Distillery has already made its mark.
To create a truly unique aged tipple, they offer a unique blend of three Irish whiskeys within their merchants quay Irish whiskey – grain whiskey, double distilled, and triple distilled.
But they haven’t stopped there. They also produce flavoured gins as well as a variety of cask-aged rums. The values of the Copeland distillery shine through as they want to celebrate the heritage of the Copeland Islands area while creating innovative spirits.
Even though they are the new kids on the block, they offer a pretty robust tour where you can learn about the botanicals they use, have a taste of their gins and watch their unique distilling process.
The Copeland Distillery also has its single malt Irish whiskeys currently in production, due for release in 2024.
- The Copeland Experience – £20 per person
5. Wild Atlantic Distillery, Castlederg
The last five years have been an incredible time of innovation in the Irish Whiskey industry and the Wild Atlantic Distillery in County Tyrone is one distiller that has been making some noise. Although better known by the masses for their single bottles of wild Atlantic gin, this distillery also crafts a beautifully aged whiskey for a premium tasting only. That is until its whiskey has aged perfectly for sale because this distillery only opened its doors in 2020.
That’s right unless you are willing to crack out almost £5k for an entire cask of the stuff or join their exclusive 1921 whiskey club, tasting their luxury whiskey can be a little tricky. Unless you visit the distillery and take part in one of their fabulous tours.
The Wild Atlantic Distillery wants to bring whiskey production back to the area for the first time in over 100 years and their aged whiskey won’t be ready till 2024.
Brothers Brian and Jim Nash have got their teeth into something special, using locally sourced ingredients for their spirits and you can join the fun with their tour.
- Distillery Tour – £45 per person
- Cocktail Class – £95 per person
- Gin School – £95 per person
6. Rademon Estate Distillery, Downpatrick
Situated on one of Ireland’s most historic estates that date back as early as 565AD, Rademon Estate Distillery opened the doors of its glass distillery in 2013 and is surrounded by a rich and impressive history. Run by founder and head distiller David Boyd-Armstrong and his wife, Fiona, the Rademon Distillery really is a family affair.
Although Rademon Estate Distillery is better known for its award-winning Shortcross gin, it launched its first Irish single malt whiskey in 2021, called Shortcross Single Malt. Each bottle of spirits is hand-poured at Rademon and is finished with its signature sealing wax that gives it a really traditional feel.
Rademon Estate Distillery offers three different tour options and you can create your very own personalised label and a hand-dipped bottle of gin or whiskey.
- Whiskey Tasting & Tour – £25.50 per person
- Gin Tasting & Tour – £25.50 per person
- Whiskey Discovery & Tour – £49.50
7. Killowen Distillery, Newry
Nestled in the middle of the Mourne Mountains in County Down, the Killowen Distillery uses the old-fashioned process of heating over a fire to give their traditional spirits their warmth and full-bodied flavour. Founder Brendan Carty wants to revive this traditional distilling technique and Killowen Distillery is the only business in Northern Ireland that uses these traditional methods.
Crafting their whiskey in small batches and aged for five years in bourbon casks, Killowen Irish whiskey is smooth, balanced, and rich. Although their chosen distilling processes take a lot of time, this gives the whiskey the time it needs to develop its distinct taste.
But it’s not just whiskey they produce. Along with rum and gin, Killowen Distillery produces a classic and traditional Irish spirit, poitín, a potato-based spirit.
Although they only have one tour of their distillery on offer, the tour is very well-rounded. You get an in-depth look at local native botanical crops, the history that changed and impacted their use, the types of distillation the company uses, and even enjoy some delicious samples of their new make whiskeys and gin.
- Tour & Tasting – £36 per person
8. Mourne Dew Distillery, Rostrevor
Proud to be the first legal distillery to actually operate in the Mourne Mountains after centuries of the art and tradition being absent, Mourne Dew Distillery is another premium distillery based in this wild and beautiful mountain range.
Launching its first gin in 2018, Mourne Dew has gone on to expand their ranges to classic whiskeys and the national drink of Ireland, poitín. One of their most popular whiskeys is the triple-distilled Irish whiskey that has a soft and mellow vanilla and toffee palette.
Unlike the other distilleries I’ve chosen for this list, the Mourne Dew Distillery doesn’t give you a tour of where they make their magic. Instead, they have two different experiences held in one of Ireland’s oldest pubs, Fearons Bar in Rostrevor.
Learn about the history of Irish spirits and how poitín became the national drink of Ireland. You will also get to enjoy a selection of cocktails crafted with their premium spirits.
- Whiskey & Poitín: Spirits of Fire and Rebellion – £25 per person
- The Glorious Gin Revolution: 1688 and All That – £25 per person
I am a British-born copywriter who moved to Ireland over a decade ago and have been captivated by Irish culture, landscape and folklore. I enjoy sharing my passion for Ireland through my writing as a freelancer.