Whiskey, History, & Rock ‘N’ Roll At Ireland’s Slane Distillery & Castle
You all know by now that I’m a huge fan of behind-the-scenes experiences, particularly if they include a drink at the end! And while the Irish distilleries in Dublin often get the attention and the vast majority of tourists, there are so many more amazing ones to explore outside the city.
I had the chance to tour one of them, Slane Distillery, which is located in County Meath and just a short drive from Dublin. If you’re planning a trip through the historic Boyne Valley area, you should definitely check it out…it’s a fun place to while away an hour or two, blending a historic location and modern whiskey making.
While the famous Jameson Distillery in Dublin has been a must-visit for decades (and yes, is great), in recent years dozens of smaller distilleries have opened up all over the country, and provide a more intimate experience.
If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, I think you should try and visit at least one Irish whiskey distillery within your itinerary (check out the whole Irish Whiskey Trail). Even if you’re not a huge whiskey person, the culture and history of Ireland is so entwined with distilling that it will really add to your overall trip experience.
In Slane’s specific case, its location in the Boyne Valley is a huge selling point as well. Often called “Ireland’s Ancient East”, it’s home to the famous Newgrange cultural site (which gets over 200K visitors a year) as well as the Battle of the Boyne, Hill of Slane, and other historic sites foundational to Ireland’s early history.
Other awesome things to see & do near Slane:
Full disclosure, I work for Brown-Forman, who owns Slane Distillery (so I was able to visit on a work trip). However, they have no relationship with or endorsement of this blog…all opinions are, as always, completely my own.
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What it’s like visiting Slane Distillery
The distillery is nestled on the banks of the River Boyne, on the grounds of beautiful Slane Castle Estate (more on that below), within the little village of Slane. This area is only 30-40 minutes from downtown Dublin, so an easy day trip or perfect place to visit on an Irish roadtrip itinerary.
When you roll up to the distillery there’s a really cool-looking welcome area. In this time of COVID uncertainty I would definitely check the website to see which activities are on offer, but typically you’d be able to not only reserve a tour ahead but walk in, and also be able to sit and have a cocktail or coffee in their bar area.
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In times past this area attracted many whiskey distillers, but over the centuries the art was all but lost. Within the last decade, though, Slane has re-established the Boyne Valley’s whiskey cred, building a state-of-the-art distillery in the castle estate’s 250-year-old stables.
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But this distillery isn’t only focused on its ancient history…the Conyngham family (who’s owned Slane Estate for over 300 years and founded the distillery), have a strong commitment to sustainability and innovation in whiskey making.
From growing their own barley, supporting biodiversity growth in the River Boyne (salmon ladder!!), collecting rainwater for irrigation, and more, they aim to be a zero-waste, carbon-neutral distillery. They feel a strong responsibility to the land (and people), given the family’s historic ownership and role in the region.
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If you take the regular tour, they’ll walk you through the different steps of the whiskey-making process, including the parts more unique to Slane.
You’ll learn about the barley and maybe get to try your hand at grinding some, hear about the mash, the stills, and the triple-casking process that is more unique to this distillery.
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Basically what that means is that their liquid goes in three different types of barrels—new American oak (like bourbon), used Tennessee whiskey (“seasoned”), and sherry casks (like some scotches). Then they blend those three liquids together to make Slane’s specific flavor.
Like most distilleries, at the end of the tour there’s a tasting, where they talk you through the flavors and scents you’ll experience. You can also have a cocktail in their bar area afterward, though I don’t think that’s included with the tour. Sometimes there are cocktail classes available (book ahead!), which I think is a really cool experience.
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COVID has obviously played havoc with opening days and times, tour offerings, and more. You can check their website for the most updated info, but whether it’s a distillery tour, cocktail class, an event (sometimes they bring in food trucks or live music or a farmer’s market), or just stopping for an Irish coffee cocktail, this is a great stop if you’re going to be in the area!
And while you’re here, you absolutely need to make sure to visit Slane Castle and explore the village a bit.
What to do at Slane Castle
This is literally next door to the distillery, and has sat on the estate for over 300 years as the ancestral home of the Conyngham family. You can walk around the grounds, take a tour of the castle, have a drink at the bar or a meal at the lovely Gandon Room (I recommend!).
They’ve had a food truck and outdoor bar during COVID as well, and have outdoor seating even for picnickers. You don’t need to spend much time, but its a nice stop…even just to get out of the car and stretch your legs for a bit.
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Bonus experience: the iconic Slane concert
If you’re looking for an incredibly unique travel experience (and/or music experience), consider planning your trip around one of the famous Slane Castle concerts. In Ireland, the name “Slane” is an institution, and to them the first thing it means is MUSIC.
Back in the early ’80s during a time of political unrest and challenging economics, Lord Henry Conyngham opened the doors of Slane Castle estate and hosted the first open-air concert there. That year Thin Lizzy headlined, with U2 as one of the supporting acts, and a national tradition was born.
The sloping grounds of the castle estate form a natural amphitheater, and with the beautiful castle as a backdrop you can enjoy world-class rock acts with 70,000-110,000 of your closest friends.
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The concert has been headlined by dozens of iconic bands over its 40-year history (several have played multiple times)…from U2 to the Rolling Stones to Queen to Bob Dylan, the past concert list looks like a “Who’s Who” of rock ‘n’ roll history.
Metallica was headlining the year I went, which was cool but would have been at the bottom of my list personally. The entire day was still just an amazing thing to experience, though. There wasn’t a concert in 2020 and won’t be in 2021 due to COVID, but hopefully these special events will be back starting in 2022. You can check their website for updates.
So if you’re going to be in the Boyne Valley area or traveling through County Meath, give Slane Distillery (and Castle) a gander and add a bit of extra spirit (alcohol pun!) to your itinerary!
Other distillery & winery visits you’ll love:
- On The Scotch Whisky Trail: Glendronach, BenRiach, Glenglassaugh
- Visiting Louisville’s Rabbit Hole Distillery
- A Whiskey Pilgrimage: Visiting The Historic Jack Daniel’s Distillery
- Mendoza Wine Tours…Exploring Argentina’s Wine Country
- Bourbon History…& Actual Bourbon At Louisville’s Old Forester Distilling Company
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