The Old Midleton distillery is no longer a working distillery, of course (it's been replaced by a mega-modern distillery just up the road, actually) but at one time, most of the whiskey in Ireland was made here. The distillery closed down in 1975 and was carefully restored. It is a unique location -- 11 acres of original industrial buildings. It is the original home of Jamison's Irish whiskey, from 1825.
The tour is fun, although well choreographed and pretty flashy (nothing close to the Guiness Storehouse, though!) and this is a far better introduction to the art of distilling whiskey than the Bushmill's tour in Antrim. There's a tasting at the end f the tour -- when they ask for volunteers, trample the little old ladies to get picked -- the lucky four get to compare a half-dozen or so whiskey samples!
Irish whiskey is very different from Scotch whisky (not only the additional 'e') and the tour is quick to point out the excellent qualities of Irish vs Scotch liquors. Basically, the grains for whiskey are dried over direct heat in a kiln, instead of being dried by peat smoke. The smokey taste of Scotch is deliberately missing from Irish whiskey. That, and the whiskey is distilled three times (to bourbon's one and scotch's two).
This dstillery is home to the largest pot still in the world -- all copper, and holding almost 30,000 gallons. Basically, whiskey is made from barley, malt (sprouted barley) and water. The process of making whiskey, though, is an interesting tour through the old buildings:
lost in ireland 2005 travelogue and photos © rfingerson