A Brief History: It’s Origins, Rise, Fall and Current Revival….

Ireland is renowned for its whiskey and at any cause for celebration be it a wedding or toasting our Patron Saint Patrick, whiskey is often the drink of choice. The Gaelic phrase “uisce beatha”, which means “water of life”, was the name given by Irish monks of the early Middle Ages to distilled alcohol. It is said they learned the process of distillation while on trips to the Mediterranean in the 11th Century.

In the 18th Century Scotland caught up and out-produced Irish distilleries however, despite this, Irish whiskey was still the most widely consumed whiskey type in the United States. Unfortunately, two events in 20th Century history were to lead to the almost demise of the Irish whiskey industry namely, the Irish War of Independence and prohibition in the U.S.. As a result, relationships with Ireland’s two largest whiskey consumers now ended. Fortunately a few distilleries managed to weather the storm and are now enjoying a renaissance.

Today the Irish whiskey industry has seen an unprecedented resurgence. Irish whiskey exports are forecast to double by 2020! An improved global economy has seen a dramatic rise in Irish whiskey sales around the world, especially in the U.S. Coupled with this, there is a growing attraction for Irish whiskey by the Millennial generation seeking something ‘new’.

So How’s it Made?

According to experts only the finest malted barley and the purest of Irish waters are needed for Irish whiskey production. These two ingredients, coupled with the expertize of the distiller, combine to make the perfect whiskey.

Use of blended grains or single grain produce a distinct character. Different water sources will alter the flavour of the whiskey. For example, water which runs through peat bogs gives the whiskey a smoky flavour which some people love. It’s important to remember that each whiskey is individual, a product of its maker, they are the only ones who know the exact ingredients and their proportions to achieve the desired result.

Irish whiskey cannot be called Irish whiskey unless it has been aged for three years on the island of Ireland. Oak casks are usually used for aging whiskey however, in recent times some distillers are experimenting with sherry, port or even wine casks to see it’s influence on the final product.

The Difference Between Irish and Scottish Whiskey

It’s an obvious question, so here’s the answer……

  • Irish whiskey as mentioned, must be brewed in Ireland, Scottish in Scotland.
  • Grains and the way they are processed prior to fermentation is key. With Scottish whiskey the barley is allowed to sprout prior to fermentation and then dried with peat moss smoke lending it a smoky stronger flavour. Irish whiskey is more neutral and therefore easier to use as a mixer.
  • Scottish whiskey is distilled twice again making it stronger in flavour, while Irish whiskey is distilled three times lending a smoother flavour.
  • Irish whiskey is aged for three years and Scottish for two.

Courses in Irish Whiskey (Don’t you wish they’d offered these in college :-))

The Irish Whiskey Experience, Killarney, Co. Kerry

Participants get to blend their own Irish whiskey, draw it from the oak cask, and learn how to pair it with artisan cheese or chocolate. A history of the spirit and production methods are also explained. The adjoining bar stocks 1000 Irish whiskeys alone!

The Irish Whiskey Academy, Midleton, Co. Cork

This academy is actually located on the grounds of the old Midleton Distilleries in County Cork. A range of courses and all-inclusive packages including accommodation are offered. Check out the link:

The Irish Whiskey Museum, Grafton St., Dublin

Enjoy the history and stories associated with Ireland’s whiskey distilleries. Classic and premium tours are offered and the museum is open daily.

Seasoned Irish Whiskey Drinkers Suggest Ten of the Best Irish Whiskeys You’ll Want on Your Shelf:

Gary Quinn, Barfly columnist for The Irish Times

  • Tyrconnell Maderia Finish warm and smooth, aged for 10 years with a sweet malty flavour.
  • Palace Bar Fourth Estate Single Malt – lots of flavour and aged for 21 years.

Finn Mac Donnell, Dick Macks pub Dingle, Whiskey Bar of the Year 2014, 2015

  • Redbreast 12-year-old Single Pot Still – a combination of malted and unmalted barley makes for a wonderful whiskey.
  • Teeling 21 year old Vintage Reserve – limited to 5,000 bottles.

AL Higgins, The Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin

  • Teeling Small batch Irish Whiskey – an aged blended whiskey with fruit notes.
  • Knappogue Castle 2000 Mongeard -Mugneret Red – Limited edition finished in a red wine cask. Flavours of hazelnuts, mocha and sweet fruits.

Ailbhe Roche, The Irish Whiskey Museum, Dublin

  • The Irishman Single Malt – Great for beginners and very smooth.
  • Redbreast 21 year old – Elegant with a smooth taste.

John Wilson, drinks correspondent for The Irish Times

  • Mitchell and Son Green Spot Pot Still Whiskey – Red and green apple fruits with a touch of honey and light toastiness with a lovely textured feel in the mouth.
  • Power’s John’s Lane Release, 12 year old Pot Still Whiskey – Rich smooth texture combined with a delicious spiciness and refreshing citrus note.”

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