Midleton Distillery: Built Heritage and Whiskey

I went on a number of great guided tours during my visit to Ireland but the award for most cheery tour guide definitely goes to the Jameson Experience at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork.  The enthusiasm and friendliness of the guide reminded me a lot of Mary Poppins.  It was clear the guide was reading from a set script, but she also took time to interact with everyone in the group and answer individual questions. 

The Midleton Distillery tour takes visitors through the old distillery buildings, some of which date from the late 1700s.  The tour focuses on the history of the Jameson family, brand, and the whiskey making process.  Featured on the tour are mills, water wheel, maltings, stillhouse, warehouses and kilns.  The distillery which is featured on the tour is no longer actively used and the newer Midleton Distillery can only be seen at a distance from the tour route.  The old brick buildings included in the tour were interesting and a variety of the old equipment such as steam engine and pot-still were still located in their original locations.

Prior to this tour I knew very little about the whiskey distillation process and the history of legislation

Whiskey at different stages of maturation. 

around whiskey.  Apparently, in Ireland whiskey needs to be matured for a minimum of three years to be called whiskey — if it is sold prior to the three year mark it can’t use the title whiskey and can only be sold as a ‘spirit’.  This requirement was introduced following a number of upstarts which attempted to sell products which were not ‘pure’ whiskey and hadn’t been matured for as long.  The tour clearly explained all the steps involved in making whiskey from the growing of the raw ingredients to the bottling process.

At the conclusion of the tour a handful of members from the tour group participated in a tasting test. The tasting compared American, Scottish and Irish whiskey and explained the differences in the production process of each country.  I found the Jameson tour less focused on the Jameson family/corporate history than the Guinness experience.  Granted, the very nature of the tour means that it was closely connected to the history of the Jameson product but overall the experience didn’t feel as though the brand was being forced upon you. 

Photographs by Andrew MacKay

Corporate History at the Guinness Storehouse

Brand or corporate museums have never been high on my list of places to visit.  But, while in Dublin I did visit the Guinness Storehouse.  The Storehouse is really more of a corporate museum than a traditional brewery and the visitor experience has more in common with a museum visit than a brewery tour.

Visits to the Storehouse are self guided and well labelled routes direct visitors to displays about Guinness ingredients, the brewing processing, the Guinness family legacy, worldwide distribution, and past advertising campaigns.  Many of the displays had interactive video or audio components and the shear size of the operation was pretty amazing.  

While some of the displays were educational, the whole experience reminded me a bit of the Biff Tannen Museum from the Back to the Future II movie — where the museum is really just a form of promotional advertising.  Given the corporate nature of the attraction I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised.

Made from old wooden Guinness barrels

Despite the corporate undertones there was some neat components of the visit.  Upon arrival in the main atrium visitors get to see the well known 9000 year lease that Arthur Guinness signed for the St. James’s Gate Brewery site.  One floor also contains an optional tasting experience.  During the tasting experience visitors are directed into a room that has four stations of what looks like dry ice (there is billowing white mist everywhere).  The stations turn out to be different Guinness ingredients and visitors are given the opportunity to smell the ‘smoke’ and guess which ingredient is which.  It’s a neat visual experience and if nothing else it’s worth doing just to see how excited children get at the prospect of a room filled with mist.

With the price of admission visitors are given the opportunity to ‘cash-in’ their ticket for a pint of Guinness.  Visitors have the choice of their enjoying a pint in the Gravity Bar that overlooks Dublin or learning to pour a ‘perfect’ pint of Guinness in a bar on the fourth floor. 

My partner and I opted to learn to pour a Guinness — it was a fun interactive part of the tour which I’m

View from Gravity Bar

glad we decided to do.  And at the end of the pouring experience everyone receives a slightly cheesy certificate that denotes their ability to pour Guinness.  We still went up to the Gravity Bar at the conclusion of our visit and there was some interesting views of the city.  Popular landmarks and heritage sites are labelled on the glass windows in the Gravity Bar so visitors can tell what they are looking at.  The only downside to the spectacular views was how crowded the small Gravity Bar space was.

The Guinness Storehouse was about what I expected it to be, an interesting experience but definitely not one of my favourites.  The building the Guinness Storehouse is located in part of the original brewery site and is quite old.  But the experience doesn’t really touch on any of the built heritage features of the site and focuses more on the “Yay Guinness” experience.

Engaging Corporate Heritage: Struggling to Cultivate Institutional Memory

My most recent post, Corporate Heritage: Struggling to Cultivate Institutional Memory, can be seen over on the Active History group blog.  My post looks at the reasons why institutional memory is non existent in so many institutions, why organizations should care about institutional memory, and how to foster a culture which cultivates institutional memory.