Revamped Jameson Distillery, Bow Street to open in March

Following a six month renovation project, the Jameson Distillery, Bow Street is set to reopen its doors in March with a new and improved tour. Mark O’Brien sat down with General Manager Ray Dempsey to find out what prompted the revamp and what visitors can expect from the new tour.

Irish tourism has experienced remarkable growth over the past few years, with visitor numbers increasing by over 40 per cent between 2010 and 2015. What’s even more remarkable is that Irish whiskey tourism has grown by over 60 per cent in the same timeframe, with Irish whiskey experiencing something of a renaissance in recent years. To capitalise on this growth, the Irish Whiskey Association recently launched the Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy, which it hopes will increase visitor numbers from the current level of around 600,000 that it currently stands at to 1.9 million by the year 2025.

With around 430,000 annual visitors to their Dublin and Cork locations, Jameson account for the bulk of Ireland’s whiskey tourists. The Old Jameson Distillery in Smithfield, Dublin attracted around 300,000 visitors last year but closed its doors in August 2016 to undergo an €11 million redevelopment. It is now almost ready to open its doors again this March, under the new name of the Jameson Distillery, Bow Street, a name that links back to the company’s roots on Bow Street in Smithfield. The Old Jameson Distillery was remarkably successful but General Manager Ray Dempsey feels that the Jameson Distillery, Bow Street will dial up the Jameson story and prove a real hit with visitors.

“Most people would say, ‘What are you doing changing the place? The place is fantastic’,” says Dempsey when asked why Jameson decided to close and renovate such an iconic attraction. “But we know that our story moves on and the model of our business changes.” Jameson have renovated before, the first time in 1997 and then again in 2007. One of the factors that prompted this current renovation was the huge advancements in technology that have been witnessed in the last decade. “It’s incredible even in one decade from 2007 to 2016, there is so much more available out there now in terms of technology to bring your story to life,” says Dempsey. “There are great solutions out there that weren’t available 10 years ago but moreover we’re constantly talking to our visitors and we’re realising that people want to find out so much more about Jameson than we were able to tell them in the past so we really took the opportunity to be able to give them a much better Jameson immersion.”

Another factor in the decision to renovate was the fact that the attraction had become so popular, people found themselves queuing for longer to get in. “People were beginning to have to wait longer to go out on tour which was a negative that we wanted to convert into a positive,” says Dempsey. “So when we were looking at how we were going to use the space in the Old Jameson Distillery, we felt that if we could duplicate the tour so we could have two tours and that would improve the frequency of tour departures and therefore reduce the queuing time.” There will now be two Bow Street experiences that are exact replicas of each other, allowing groups of up to 30 people to go out on the tour twice as frequently.

The tour will tell visitors the Jameson story and explain how Jameson’s method of triple distilling leads to a unique, smooth whiskey that has become famous all over the world. There will also be two new experiences for visitors to enjoy. “If you’re already familiar with the story of how Irish whiskey is made and you want to find out more about what makes Jameson so different, you can do a deeper dive into the Irish whiskey process,” says Dempsey. “You can take part in a Maker’s Craft Experience, which is a 90 minute experience that’s made up of a classroom presentation for 60 minutes and during this you will be brought through the Maker’s series, which is three new expressions of whiskey that has been released, so there’s Cooper’s Crows, the Blender’s Dog and the Distiller’s Safe. You’re brought through a deconstructed description of how these whiskeys are made and what makes them different and then you get a chance to blend your own whiskey.” After a trip to the warehouse to sample some maturing whiskey, visitors will be brought to JJ’s Office to share a convivial drink at the end of the tour.

The second tour is the Shaker’s Tour, which delves into the world of cocktail making. “We’ve put together a 90 minute craft experience designed around allowing people to make four different cocktails,” says Dempsey. “They will get a demo by the master shaker who will show how to create different skills with a shaker and cocktail making and again after 60 minutes they will also visit the maturation warehouse and then end up in the snug and probably taste one of their cocktails before they leave.”

In 2013 there were four distilleries in operation in Ireland and five visitors centres. That has now increased to 16 working distilleries with another 13 granted planning permission. “There’s nearly one per county,” says Dempsey, who heartily supports the Whiskey Tourism Strategy’s plan to rival Scotland and Kentucky as a whiskey tourism destination. “What a transformation in terms of bringing a focus and a reference to this industry and of course I have to say it has all been brought about by the demand for people internationally for Jameson Irish Whiskey initially because Jameson was the biggest exporter of whiskey around all the markets.”

Jameson is a huge Irish success story and has experienced 27 consecutive years of growth, selling 5.7 million cases of whiskey last year. Dempsey has seen some very dedicated fans make the pilgrimage to the distillery over the years. “I’ve seen people with ‘Jameson’ tattooed on their arms,” he says. “I’m humbled by how big they are into the brand.”

Dempsey’s enthusiasm for the reopening is infectious. “I thought we’d never close to start the job and now I can’t wait to open because I’m seeing the renders coming to life and every time I walk around the site I get so connected to what the future’s looking like and it’s going to blow us away,” he says. “I can’t wait to see the reaction on our visitor’s faces when they come because it is very different to the way it was from the point of view that we have completely dialled up the Jameson story and it’s going to be exciting. I can’t wait for you to see it.”

The waiting is almost over and a new era is about to dawn in Smithfield as the Jameson Distillery, Bow Street is soon to open it’s doors and spearhead the Irish whiskey tourism renaissance. Keep an eye on for details of the reopening.


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