'To be a real Dublin whiskey we needed to use real Dublin water'
Deep in the heart of the Liberties, Dubliner Jack Teeling is reviving the fine art of whiskey distilling. He speaks about the tender care required to produce a truly great Irish whiskey
Deep in the heart of Dublin's Liberties, there's a little bit of magic brewing.
Jack Teeling has spearheaded the construction of the city's first distillery in 125 years.
The family-run business has been a labour of love for Jack, his brother Stephen and, to a certain extent, their sister Emma - a UCD professor and world expert on the genome of bats (they call her batwoman).
CEO Jack speaks passionately about the craft and about his ancestral connection and how he comes from a long line of whiskey aficionados.
"Our family first started distilling back in 1782 when Walter Teeling had a small craft distillery in Marlborough Lane," Jack says.
"He was one of 37 other distilleries just in Dublin alone. With the advent of the industrial revolution and the Act of Union with the British Empire, that gave manufacturers access to all those markets and these smaller distilleries became a lot bigger.
"Irish whiskey back in the 19th century was one of the biggest global whiskey sales. Dublin whiskey sold as a premium because it was seen as better quality."
However, a lot of the distillers crumbled in the 20th century, in what Jack says are the "dark days of Irish whiskey".
"In the 1920s prohibition came into the US, which was our last main market, and after that Irish whiskey fell off a cliff," he explains.
"A lot of the old distilleries closed down. It wasn't until 1966 when the Irish government forced the last remaining distillers Jameson and Powers to merge together to form Irish Distillers which was a monopoly until 1970s when my dad set up Cooley.
"Ever since 1990, we are in a new golden era for Irish whiskey."
The capital was and still is an ideal place for whiskey making, due to its access to several water sources.
This newest distillery is using its own well, taking water from the Camac river in the city.
"This whole area is literally floating, it is the whole reason that Dublin is here - the black pool Dubh Linn," Jack says.
"All around here, up by Guinnesses, there are a huge amount of aquafers (underground water sources connected to rivers).
"To be a real Dublin whiskey we needed to use real Dublin water. We didn't want to rely on Irish Water."
Everything about Teelings is rooted in the capital, according to the Clontarf man.
"The company's tagline is 'the spirit of Dublin,'" Jack says.
"It's not just the spirit of alcohol, it is the character, personality of Dublin. It's gritty, it has its own sense of humour, so we want to represent that," he said.
"I had an idea when I was working in Cooley - Dublin has so much providence and heritage, why isn't someone building a distillery in Dublin and representing Irish whiskey in a more contemporary, modern way?
"As the new guys we are not trying to compete with the big guys like Jameson, we are trying to do something a little bit different.
"We are at a point where we can begin urban distilling - similar to what's going on in London, New York, Berlin. It's a style of whiskey that is respectful to the past but trying to do it in a more modern way."
The building on Newmarket Square, formerly used to store files from the Tribunals, has been gutted and turned into a high-spec production centre and visitor centre all rolled into one. Unlike some of the bigger tourist attractions, visitors can have a hands on experience and get up close to the whiskey.
"We were attracted to this area as it has the history. We are in the Liberties where the ruins of malthouses, breweries, mills, distilleries are, but also it had the right zoning - zoned industrial," Jack says.
"We want to show the real guts of the operation - what goes into the whiskey. There's a lot of pipework, engineering going on and to show the skillsets that we have in Ireland.
"You learn a lot more by seeing, touching, smelling it."
The factory takes delivery of four tonnes of barley each week which is ground, fermented and distilled on site.
"This technology is exactly the same as any brewery. Brewing and distilling are very similar - we just make a strong beer, extract the water from it and add a spirit at the end. We don't use hops. But the raw materials are the same," Jack said.
Visitors will have the opportunity to experience traditional wash-backs and stainless steel fermenters which show how whiskey was produced in old times and now - but produces the same product.
Jack proudly shows off the beautiful bespoke copper pot stills which came from Sienna in Italy.
"We wanted something like the traditional old-style Dublin pot stills, they have big beautiful bases and strong shoulders but they've given it an Italian flair," he says.
"They have some feminine curves, so much so that I've named them after my three daughters - Alison, Natalie and Rebecca."
He notes his girls might not be so pleased to discover that each of the stills weigh the same as a small baby elephant.
After the liquid has passed through the triple filtration process, it is aged and matured in casks, recycled from barrels used to mature rum and wine to give Teeling's whiskey a unique flavour.
Jack tastes a sample from each of the final products, signing off on the quality with his signature on the bottle.
It's a tough job, especially at 9am on a Monday morning, he laughs.
Finally, thirsty visitors are rewarded with tastings of the 'water of life' from the three varieties - small batch, single grain and single malt - in a brand new bar, which has large circular portholes and curved seating arrangements.
"We want it to feel like you in a whiskey barrel," Jack explains. Roll me home so.
Teeling Whiskey distillery will open to the public from June 13. Visit www.teelingwhiskey.com