Decisions, decisions. Chances are– if you’re visiting Dublin for a city break–then you’ll have a few of them to make, including this frequent head-scratcher: visit the Guinness Storehouse or The Old Jameson Distillery.
My Dad and I were lucky; we managed both, and were thus able to compare the two experiences, which feature prominently among the city’s top attractions.
Guinness is obviously the bigger of the two brands. In fact, I think we’d all be hard-pressed to name another brand so fundamentally and historically ingrained within a country’s national image; the Irish live and breathe the stuff, and it is by far Ireland’s top export.
Jameson, if not as internationally renowned as the Irish alcoholic beverage of choice, is at the very least the country’s most popular whiskey– that’s whiskey with an ‘e’, not the lazy Scottish spelling of the word –and another esteemed exporter and industry giant.
Now, until my week away in Ireland, I was neither a die-hard Guinness nor Jameson fan; occasionally I would push the boat out for a Guinness on St. Paddy’s Day or if I was starving and there was no food available at the bar (= tactful meal), and a mate and I once shared a bottle of Jameson at a house party back in my Uni days. That was just about it. But, as they say, when in Rome (sorry).
In the days leading up to our visit of the Storehouse, we underwent a rigorous yet inadvertent training process. Every drink we ordered, with the exception of one O’Hara’s Stout (in the interest of partiality), was a Guinness. I had been skeptical of this ‘Guinness tastes better in Ireland’ business at first; I was sure my first tasted just like any other I’d ever tried in my life: bitter, thick, hoppy and creamy, but probably a bit too heavy to have more than two. By my 5th pint though, it was the best tasting thing in the world. They say it’s because the lines are changed more regularly in Ireland than anywhere else, so the Guinness tastes fresher. I am inclined to agree. One word of advice though: never request an Irish Shamrock to be drawn on the frothy, white head of your pint– this, I am told, makes you sound like an ‘English c*nt’.
We bought our tickets online at €14.40 each, an exclusive online offer. We made our way by Metro (€2) from O’Connell Bridge, jumping off at Heuston Train Station. From here it was an uphill, 20-minute walk, but don’t be fooled by Google Maps; the entrance to the Storehouse is deceptively far, and punters often end up walking from the train station doubling back on themselves after finally passing through the side-street off Thomas Street. Solution: go straight up Echlin Street and turn left, go straight on until you see the entrance on your left.
Once inside, those with pre-booked tickets can collect from the self-service machines and walk straight through. The tour, if done exhaustively, lasts around an hour and a half and is completely self-guided. You might find that there are certain stages that you enjoy more than others– the free Guinness at the end is of course the treat everyone looks forward to but the initial history lessons, told by fictional HD members of the old Irish community, is brilliantly compelling. Arthur Guinness, the man who started it all, was a founder, a brewer, an employer, an entrepreneur, a visionary and a philanthropist. He was held in the absolute highest regard. Put simply, he was– and very much still is–a legend, and always will be.
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The most unexpected part of the tour came when we were ushered amongst twenty or so others into a brightly lit room with four white cylinder-shaped containers expelling white gases for us to have a good sniff of. The speaker introduced each one as the four main, key ingredients in Guinness: barley (75% of Ireland’s supply belongs to Guinness), roasted malt extracts, hops and yeast. They all smelled lovely, particularly the hops. We were then offered a small serving of the black stuff (just 2 days old) and shown the ‘proper’ way to drink it: puff chest out, raise arm with elbow out, deep breath, generous swig, swirl round mouth, swallow and exhale. It seemed to make a difference, so we continued to drink Guinness in this way for the rest of our trip. We must have looked really, really weird.
The memorabilia on the walls throughout the Storehouse were fascinating, but the most spectacular feature was the 12-foot wood carving of a pint, decorated with intricately sculpted horses and harps. The ‘making-of’ video/advert was typically impressive. To finish the tour we were allowed to pour our own pints (I tried the Shamrock and failed, which probably makes me a shite English c*nt) and swig them merrily on the top floor of the Storehouse, with panoramic views of Dublin all around.
Clear blue skies and dark ruby red Guinness make a deadly combination.
The Old Jameson Distillery
I think Jameson realises that, despite being a world famous brand in itself, it plays second fiddle to the behemoth that is Guinness. However, it does not let this fact interfere with its apparent ambition when it comes to showing tourists round its old distillery. My Dad and I went on a whim– for €14 each –and, neither of us being big whiskey drinkers, had not expected to enjoy it as much as we did the Guinness Storehouse.
What we got was something entirely different to the Storehouse Tour. Things kicked off with a short film, set in the late 18th century, about a New York Times journalist who had travelled to Dublin to interview founder John Jameson about his product and the brand’s philosophy. It was a bit cringeworthy at times, with the dodgy jokes and ridiculous Irish stereotyping, but overall a pretty impressive film!
Unlike the Guinness Storehouse, the Old Jameson Distillery tour is guided, so you do get the feeling that you learn a bit more, and there is a palpable ‘back in time’ sort of feel to it, owing to the churning (and presumably functioning) machinery and old-fashioned waxworks on display throughout. It’s a bit dark, so pictures don’t come out so well, but the lighting is just right in the ageing room, where you can see all the different aged whiskeys fermenting away in their barrels.
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In the next room the whiskey sampling takes place. Disappointingly, only eight people from our group were allowed to taste all three whiskeys being offered. The idea was for the volunteers to compare a triple distilled malt (Jameson) with popular double and single distilled malts by competitors. By the looks on some people’s faces they wished they’d have kept quiet. By the look on my Dad’s face he wished he’d been a bit louder. However, we were offered either a neat serving of Jameson Gold Reserve or a ginger ale and squeezed lime over ice cocktail. I took the latter, Dad manned up and went neat.
And that was that. Short but sweet, and overall, something definitely worth doing, though probably not if you don’t like whiskey. The Guinness Storehouse, on the other hand, can be enjoyed even by those who’ve no palate for the stuff– the high-tech sniffing room, self-guided option and interactive engagement make it a better choice, and the top floor which overlooks the rest of Dublin is an attraction all on its own.
Verdict: Guinness Storehouse (but do both if you have time!)
Have you been to either the Guinness Storehouse or The Old Jameson Distillery before? Which did you prefer?