Welcome to County Clare
I’m not going to lie to you, Tippler Nation, I left Oslo for the west coast of Ireland still ridiculously wine soaked from the night before. Thankfully, I had a layover in Heathrow, and if there’s one thing the Brits have in abundance, it’s fried food and beer. I went for “breakfast” fish & chips and a Spanish lager with my friends (two Dead Rabbit alums) also on a layover, and all was right with the world again.
It’s a quick little flight from Heathrow to Shannon Airport, which is the most westerly airport in Europe. Before it’s construction, the west coast of Ireland had Foynes: home to the flying boat and the birthplace of the Irish Coffee. Today you can visit the Maritime Museum and have lunch and an Irish Coffee right on the Wild Atlantic Way!
Fáilte go Clare!
Show Me The Whiskey…
Uisce beatha, the water of life. Once the most popular spirit in the world, Irish whiskey almost disappeared during Prohibition in the US and the years that followed. Up until a few years ago, there were only 3 distilleries in all of Ireland; thankfully, today there are over 36. The resurgence in the category is both delicious and exciting, with traditions being revived and new ideas evolving in liquid form!
I came to Cooraclare to experience the revival of Irish Whiskey Bonding. Louise McGuane began Chapel Gate Whiskey Co. and J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey (full disclosure – I’m a J.J. Corry brand ambassador) on her family’s farm in 2015. Since then, she’s been diligently building a flavor library with casks and new make from as many distilleries in Ireland as she can, and sourcing barrels from Spain, to Kentucky, New York, to Mexico. Louise and her team even created the world’s first agave cask influenced Irish Whiskey, The Battalion, “in honour of the Battalion San Patricios, or ‘St. Patrick’s Battalion, a group of Irish men who fought for Mexico in the Mexican/American War of 1846-1848.” The McGuane farm is available for events and tastings upon appointment.
Check Out Some Of Our Other Favorite Irish Craft Spirits
While I spent all of my time exploring the best things to do in Western Ireland there are A LOT of great craft spirits throughout the whole country. Read a rundown of some of our other favorites…
Walking into the custom dunnage warehouse (which is to the left of the field with the faery tree), the first thing that will hit you is the heavenly aroma of aging whiskey: heady, rich, and a little naughty. From the direction of the window placement to the humidity monitors and gravel floor, everything in the warehouse is created for optimal whiskey aging. We began our day with tastes from the oldest cask in residence (it’s over 30 years old, folks) and worked our way through various new blends and over to a lateral tasting of different sherry influences. At barrel proof.
We also participated in our own whiskey blending session, all three of us created wildly different blends using the same base whiskeys: a sherry aged malt and a bourbon aged grain.
If you happen to be in County Clare (or the Shannon Airport), make sure you try a pour of the J.J. Corry Banner Blend, which was made specifically for bars in “The Banner County”!
Want to visit other whiskey folk on the Wild Atlantic Way? Check out this Distillery Directory!
Interested In A Special Whiskey?
The Cliffs of Moher Experience announced, on July 5, 2022, it has partnered with J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey to create a new series of Irish whiskeys finished in sherry casks in the iconic O’Brien’s Tower. Clare-based J.J. Corry has selected single malt, pot still and single grain whiskeys from around the island of Ireland to mature within the tower, which was built by Sir Cornelius O’Brien on the edge of the world-famous cliffs in 1835.
J.J. Corry will carefully monitor the whiskey and when deemed ready, they will be disgorged and bottled as Single Cask Cliffs of Moher Whiskey. Each of the nine casks will yield approximately 100 bottles of whiskey.
Pour Me A Pint
Sure, we all know that if you ask for a pint in this part of Ireland you’ll be handed a certain very famous stout, but there are actually craft breweries popping up all over the country. The drive out to Ennis to visit Western Herd is a windy one, past several of the country’s wind farms. Western Herd, like most things in Ireland, is a family run operation. Maeve Sheridan and her brother Michael Eustace started the brewery in an 80 year old shed built by their great-grandfather. Their beers are brought to life by head brewer Bridger Kelleher, a transplant from Montana. The “herders” are currently in the process of renovating the old stone farmhouse and accompanying structures to build a tap room with an outdoor pizza oven. There is also a yoga studio on site.
Western Herd has done several collaborations with Chapel Gate Whiskey Co. and they are looking to expand production into the U.S., so you might be able to taste them soon! I’m a big fan of the Loop Head pilsner, named for a local lighthouse on the Wild Atlantic Way! I also really liked the Flora and Fauna DIPA…which tips the scales at 9.45% ABV and doesn’t taste like it. You have been warned.
Fun Fact: Loop Head was used in the filming of The Last Jedi. May the force be with you!
Animals are everywhere! Every morning in Cooraclare I awoke to actual mooing, that’s how close the cows were. Since the village has a population of 100, I’m going to say it’s safe to assume that cows outnumber residents.
If you are looking for a unique getaway, how about an Alpaca farm in Loop Head, Kilkee? The Flying Alpaca Farm specializes in Italian cuisine and, yep, Alpacas! I did not have the pleasure of snuggling an Alpaca on this trip, but I did get to hold a baby lamb after several pints and more than one whiskey…and I may have climbed a fence to do it. With the owner’s permission, of course!
One of the best things to do in Western Ireland? Hiking! There are plenty of hikes and walks along the Wild Atlantic Way, one of the more famous being the Cliffs of Moher. Formed over 320 million years ago, the cliffs are home to over 30,000 pairs of nesting seabirds (like puffins!) and rise 702 feet at their tallest point near O’Brien’s Tower. From the tower, you can see all the way to the Aran Islands, the “islands of saints and scholars,” which are accessible by ferry from Dolin or Connemara.
Look familiar? Inconceivable! The Cliffs doubled as the “Cliffs of Insanity” in The Princess Bride. They also appear in Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince and several other films!
The Northern Cliff Walk (connecting Liscannor and Doolin, a 4.5 hour commitment) is currently closed,but you can meander south from Moher to Hags Head in a little under 2 hours.
If you are the hiking sort, you could also venture southwest to the Kilkee Cliffs. The path winds around the Loop Head peninsula, through the quartz embedded Diamond Rocks and the tidal “Pollack Holes.” This area is also known for its snorkeling and scuba diving!
Take The Scenic Route
No one is in a hurry on the west coast of Ireland, let go of your concept of time and slow way way down. Breathe. Everything here is the scenic route. Want to stop and smell the flowers? I did!
Yes, I actually pulled over and stuck my face in the yellow flowering shrub known as Gorse– it smells of coconuts!
After all that hiking, you are bound to be hungry! As with most of our travel here at The Crafty Cask we think one of the best things to do in Western Ireland is eat local cuisine! Second only to drinking all of those delicious tipples,of course.
Sure, there are cafes and picnic tables if you want to do your own thing once you’re at the Cliffs, but why not book a Grá & Co Picnic? Founded by Clara Clarke in 2020 after she lost her job in hospitality, Grá (“love” in Irish) is a luxury picnic service and coffee cart that offers everything from packed hampers to fully catered on location lavish picnics.
We arrived at our “pod” on Guerin’s Path, overlooking the Cliffs, and were immediately in awe of the beautiful spread: smoked salmon, local cheeses, salt and herb studded focaccia, sparkling wine and individual chocolate Pot de Crème. Clara even included a non-alcoholic sparkling wine for those that weren’t imbibing!
For another I-Can’t-Believe-This-Place-Is-Real moment, drive out to Spanish Point. The area gets its name from the 1588 wreck of the Spanish Armada. These days, it is a bustling coastal resort getaway. There are quaint little cottages to book, picturesque dining opportunities, golf courses, even a surfing school!
We stopped for tea and scones at The Armada Hotel, home to the Armada Festival of Music and Dancing. The scones were…well I am still speechless… they melted in my mouth. Their produce, meat, dairy, seafood and everything else is locally sourced and they even make their own whiskey and gin!
Fun Fact: Their “Baby Grand piano was a wedding gift to Adele Astaire by her brother Fred in Lismore castle in 1932. Fred Astaire is said to have played this piano regularly on his visits to Ireland.” The hotel purchased and restored the piano in 2019.
I’m Still Hungry
The Wild Atlantic Way is known for its seafood! Most places serve a delicious cream kissed seafood chowder with brown bread and trust me, it is worth every calorie. Mussels, crabs, oysters, and fish are abundant in these parts! The area also raises phenomenal livestock and do not get me started on the eggs and dairy.
Go the way of the fried and crispy with fish and chips from Russell’s in Dolin. Attached to Fiddle & Bow hotel, there are cozy little outdoor heated booths to enjoy your crispy fishy bits. Pair with a pint or craft cider from the inside bar and finish with one of their local whiskey selections!
If you find yourself further southwest, you want to stop by The Long Dock. Built in the 1820s, the building has always been a pub. Everything is sourced locally and their bar boasts local brews from Western Herd and a wide array of local gins and whiskeys. It’s a great spot to sample multiple local tipples at once! Highball it up with local mixers from Poachers–their rosemary tonic with the Pig’s Elbow gin from J.J. Corry is pretty fab. We put a pretty solid dent in the lunch menu (which actually tells you who farmed what meat or caught which bivalve or fish). It is impossible not to feel at home in this pub, my friends and I were recognized by a local whiskey blogger dining with his family and subsequently had a lovely chat with a couple of Californians about craft beer. You can always make new friends over drinks!
Craving something sweet? Seek out chocolates from Clare based Wilde Irish Chocolate! The sweet treats are available in shops and farmer’s markets throughout the region, and you can also visit their chocolate factory and book a “taste and make” experience! My favorite, shocker, is the Irish Whiskey Truffle Bar.
Still hungry? Book a food tour!
To The Pub!
Oh Tippler Nation, there is nothing like a good bar. Truth be told, if I was given my way I would’ve been totally happy to snuggle up on a bar stool at The Long Dock all night and join their “mug club.”
If you are looking for music, head to Dolin! Widely regarded as the home of Irish music, pubs like the family run McDermott’s (founded in 1887) have music nightly and they also pour local craft beer and spirits. Russell’s Bar at Fiddle & Bow was also a great vibe!
For a mellower evening, pop into Doonbeg and try and snag a table with a sunset view at Michelin rated Morrissey’s, I am a big fan of their cats and martini wallpaper. I bet our founder, Suzanne (Hi Cali & Pinot), would be as well!
Most areas in County Clare have at least one local pub to while away the hours (Cooraclare currently has one, maybe two if the other is actually open) and we popped into quite a few in Kilkee one afternoon. I recommend stumbling in and seeing what happens!
Just remember to be polite and patient, nobody is in a hurry on the west coast of Ireland. Not even you.
Want to be fully immersed in an Irish Pub without leaving your couch? Pick up a copy of From Barley To Blarney or stream The Irish Pub.
Slí an Atlantaigh Fhiáin: The Wild Atlantic Way
It is impossible not to fall in love with the west coast of Ireland–from the people, to the music, the food, the craft beer, spirits, and cider. Everything about it is intoxicating and every seemingly routine trip or activity reveals some stunning vista or ancient ruin. No wonder literary works of art were written here, the very air makes you feel poetic. And oh so ready for a whiskey.
I’m already dreaming of my next trip back to Slí an Atlantaigh Fhiáin.
“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
What are your favorite things to do in Ireland?
There’s certainly things I missed, especially given I was only in one region. Let us know some of your favorites in the comments below! For more travel tips and all things craft alcohol, follow us on Instagram!
Jena is an event host & contributing writer for The Crafty Cask, as well as an award-winning bartender, cocktail educator, Cicerone Certified Beer Server, and Executive American Whiskey Steward. Based in NYC, Jena has been working in the craft alcohol world for the last 15 years with recipes appearing in Manhattan restaurant/bars & multiple publications. She is the 2019 Nikka Perfect Serve Global Runner Up and a 2020 Cognac Connection winner.
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