A Tour At Ireland’s Clonakilty Distillery…With An Impromptu Trip To Galley Head
As I meandered across the southern coast of Ireland, I stopped in little towns to take photos of brightly colored buildings, ate scones, listened to the waves crashing, and generally stopped whenever the whim struck. And one of those places it struck was Clonakilty Distillery.
You might also like: Why Fleece-Lined Leggings Are A Travel Game-Changer
Clonakilty is a larger town with old ties to drinks industry (beer, mostly), that’s recently been trying to revive that connection. So when I saw the bright copper still as I drove through the town, I knew I had to stop!
You might also like: The Only Carry-On Suitcase You’ll Need
My visit started with all the things you’d assume, from a retail shop to a tour to a tasting. And it ended with THIS. But before we get there, let me back up and start at the beginning…
You might also like: 20+ Tips to Survive (& Thrive) on a Long Flight
Where to stay along the south coast: You’re spoiled for choice along the south coast, depending on your overall itinerary and where it makes sense to base.
If you’re going as far as Ardmore, I HIGHLY recommend the amazing Cliff House Hotel (It’s definitely a splurge, but completely worth it, here’s my detailed review). Right near Galley Head I also stayed at Seafield Farmhouse, which was charming and beautiful but the breakfast wasn’t much (maybe caught on a bad day). Other good towns to look at are Rosscarbery, Baltimore, Skibbereen, Kinsale, and Cobh.
Other Irish explorations to add to your trip:
The Perfect 7-Day Ireland Roadtrip Itinerary: Hidden Gems
A Detailed Guide To Renting A Car & Driving In Ireland
A Road Trip Along Ireland’s Southern Coast: Things To Do In County Cork & Waterford
The Medieval Charms of Kilkenny
Driving Ireland’s Beara Peninsula
Why The Ardmore Cliff Walk Should Be On Your Southern Ireland Itinerary
Exploring Ireland’s Breathtaking Dingle Peninsula (plus 10 Hidden Gems)
24 Hours On Wild & Beautiful Inis Mor, In Ireland’s Aran Islands
What to Expect at the Cliffs of Moher (& Where To Go Instead)
Duchess For A Day: A Luxury Stay At Dromoland Castle (Co. Clare)
Why You Should Consider Loop Head Instead of Cliffs of Moher
What to Do With 2 Days in Dublin
What to Do in Ireland’s Boyne Valley Region & Slane Village
Clonmacnoise Monastery, Ireland: A Road Trip Must-See
What to expect at Clonakilty Distillery
I pulled into Clonakilty Distillery without much planning and parked in the large lot behind the distillery. You enter through their retail shop, and it’s open, airy, and lovely!
As soon as the gentleman at the counter was free, I asked him about tours and he mentioned that one had just left if I wanted to catch it.
You might also like: 5 Essentials for Winter Travel: Must-Have Items for Cold Weather
I caught up with the group and we started the tour with a really well-done video, which included gorgeous sweeping shots of the coast. This is what sent me off on a wild hare to Galley Head, where the barley is grown. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
You might also like: My Favorite Face Sunscreens & Moisturizers for Travel
We continued on into the main distilling area, talking through their process linearly. They use malted and unmalted barley (pot still means it needs at least 30% raw unmalted).
Then comes the yeast and the tour guide memorably said, “Yeast will chew its way through the sugar and then basically shits out the alcohol” 😂
You might also like: My Favorite Cross-Body Purse for Travel
Clonakilty does make vodka and gin as well (it’s faster to market as it doesn’t have to age at all). Many craft distilleries do this as a means of income before their own whiskies come to market. The second pic below shows the gin and vodka stills.
What’s fascinating is that theirs is made from whey byproduct, not grain (or potatoes or whatever)…they get it from a dairy processing plant. The tour guide says their gin is very botanical, “like the key ingredients of a curry” (ha!) He recommended a mint garnish (maybe lemon).
In addition to a gin and vodka tour (rather than whiskey, they do offer “gin school”, where you can distill it and infuse your own botanicals. Gonna be honest, I was bummed to miss out on that!
You might also like: The Best Travel Pillow for Different Types of Sleepers
The whiskey is triple distilled (I think all Irish ones are?), and the ABV ramps up from about 25% on the first distilling to about 80% by last still.
I never get tired of seeing shiny copper stills!
You might also like: How to Make Any Itinerary At Least a Little Epic
And like most Irish whiskies, the unaged whiskey goes into used barrels for a minimum of three years and one day (this is more similar to Canadian whiskey, whereas American whiskey goes into new barrels). For Clonakilty, they’re stored in a mild maritime climate without extremes of heat or cold, yielding a very (in my opinion) light whiskey.
You can see how the whiskey takes on color over the months. If you didn’t know, whiskey comes off the still and goes into the barrel as clear liquid—100% of the color and around 50% of the flavor come from the barrel.
You might also like: Travel FAQ: How to Pay for Things Overseas & Other Travel Money Tips
Then it was time to taste! They gave me two different whiskies to taste, a port cask finish and a single malt. I also convinced them to let me try the gin too.
Should you visit Clonakilty Distillery? It depends on what you’re looking for. There are certainly more historic distilleries in Ireland that offer a more unique and/or in-depth experience. But if you’re in the area I think it’s worth a stop. It’s also worth noting that Jameson’s Midleton distillery is nearby, for a contrasting experience.
You might also like: 11 of My Best Tips for ANY Trip
How I ended up at Galley Head, Ireland
So from there, I didn’t have concrete plans before heading to my B&B, and I felt inspired—so decided to take a drive out and see Galley Head for myself. This is where the barley for Clonakilty Distillery’s whiskey is grown, by the Scully family who founded the distillery.
The jut of land is crowned with a lighthouse, thought it’s hard to get a good angle for photographing the lighthouse. You can even rent the lighthouse keeper’s house, which sounds HELLA cool.
You might also like: 10 Places I’m Dying to Visit in 2023
This part of the trip was totally impromptu, and Galley Head was indeed beautiful! Sadly a fog was rolling in, not a heavy one but enough to obscure the lighthouse views a little bit. I still loved all the rolling wavy green grass and the crashing waves with the pops of purple flowers.
But this type of spur-of-the-moment thing is exactly the kind of thing you should do on a roadtrip! If you want to visits Clonakilty Distillery, you can check tour times here and look at reviews on TripAdvisor.
Other whiskey explorations you’ll love:
- A Whiskey Pilgrimage: Visiting The Historic Jack Daniel’s Distillery In Lynchburg, TN
- Whiskey, History, & Rock ‘N’ Roll At Ireland’s Slane Distillery & Castle
- Bourbon History…& Actual Bourbon At Louisville’s Old Forester Distilling Company
- What It’s Like Touring Jameson Distillery In Dublin, Ireland
- On The Scotch Whisky Trail: Glendronach, BenRiach, Glenglassaugh
Pin for later!