In the cut-throat business of whiskey tourism, Jameson is spending big to get ahead

The Old Jameson Distillery is getting a €11 million revamp as it fends off newer rivals.

By John Parsons

THE OLD JAMESON Distillery’s boss, Ray Dempsey, admits the danger of losing customers to upstart Dublin competitors is keeping him on his toes.

“We’re a bit behind new entries into the market,” he told Fora, as the tourist attraction revealed plans for a €11 million revamp.

Those new entries include the Teeling Distillery, which opened in Newmarket Square last year, while the Quintessential Brands-owned Dublin Whiskey Company is also planning a €10 million distillery and visitors centre nearby in The Liberties.

Dempsey, who has run the Jameson facility since it opened to visitors in the mid-90s, said it was important for all operators to ensure “quality is the order of the day” in order to support the success of the Irish whiskey category as a whole.

“We would like new entrants to do something unique in terms of how they present their portfolio of products and how they run their brand – so it’s not all too generic,” he said.

“We should offer people a range of experiences as they go from one whiskey brand home to another.”

Last year, more than 600,000 tourists passed through different whiskey visitor centres and distilleries in Ireland – with visits to the Old Jameson Distillery accounting for nearly half of the total.

Lead image Jameson The Old Jameson Distillery in Smithfield
Source: Jameson

The whiskey trail

Over the winter, the building will undergo a complete renovation spearheaded by design agency BRC Imagination Arts – the same firm behind the Guinness Storehouse and Amsterdam’s Heineken Experience. It will close for seven months before re-opening in March.

The end result, Dempsey said, will be a broader range of options for visitors – including a “deeper dive” into parts of the production process and the option to taste whiskey at various stages of maturation.

When the work is done, he’s confident the site will be cemented as a cornerstone of the Dublin tourist trail.

The redevelopment will also involve the partial relocation of Jameson’s maturation warehouse, meaning the tourist attraction will also be home to thousands of oak barrels full of the ageing product.

“This is really wonderful for us because Jameson hasn’t been made on site here since the 1970’s when the process moved to Middleton,” Dempsey said.

“Having the casks on site provides a sensory experience – 2% of the whiskey escapes from the casks each year providing beautiful aromas in our warehouses, traditionally called the ‘angel share’.”

Food Irish Whiskey
Source: AP Photo/Michelle Locke

A whiskey renaissance

In another nod to the success of smaller competitors, the company aims to present the tour as more of a ‘craft experience’ – giving groups the chance to taste a broader range of Jameson variants.

“The growing popularity of Irish whiskey has been the main reason why we need to move with the times,” Dempsey said.

The category has been going through a recent renaissance, driven both by major players like Jameson producer Irish Distillers, and an ever-increasing number of smaller, independent producers.

Jameson also accounts for about 65% of Irish whiskey sales, which in turn account for about 8% of the global whiskey market.

Dempsey sees the refurbishment – the building’s third overhaul – as an opportunity to develop the brand further.

“Its role in growing awareness fuels the demand for the products, this in turn allows us to make huge investments in production and to be more sustainable for the future,” he said.