Impossible to think of Ireland without thinking of its exceptional whiskey know-how! It must be said that this typically Irish invention has literally conquered the rest of the world… Real pioneer of the genre, it was the Irish whiskey which then inspired to the Scots the idea to produce a derivative named whisky. Nowadays, Irish distilleries, some of them centuries old, still strive to produce high quality whiskeys…
History of Irish Whiskey
An Invention dating from the 5th century
While there is little information on the exact origin of the beverage, it is hypothesized that it was St. Patrick who, in 432 and after a trip to Egypt, brought a still to Ireland. He would have thus spread around him the use of this material, giving birth to a now very well known beverage: whiskey!
When the English invaded Ireland in the 12th century, the British discovered this strange alcohol produced by the Irish.
Originally called “Uisce Beatha”, this alcohol with a terrible name greatly frightened the English, thinking that the absorption of this “water of life” made, according to the English, the Irish fighters particularly fierce in battle. It is moreover to the English that we owe the name of Whiskey to force of deformation: uisce, fuisce, uiskie, whiskey.
Noting the growing fame of the drink, Elizabeth I (1533-1603) levied a tax on the beverage. Sir Thomas Philips obtained one of the first official licences in 1608, and opened immediately his distillery Old Bushmills.
In 1661, the government raised the tax to 4 pence per gallon of whiskey, which created a considerable increase of illicit whiskeys (called poteen or poitin), so much so that the Excise Department, the British unit in charge of collecting the tax on alcohol, was ordered in 1761 to stop the multiplication of Poteens.
The Time of Repression
Then begins a great wave of repression, which lasts several centuries, and which aims at repressing as severely as possible the illicit productions of whiskey. It is then that certain large houses decide to regularize their situation, among which those of John Power, John Jameson, George Roe and William Jameson.
The misdeeds of the repression, slowed down considerably the production of legal and illegal whiskey, and clearly disadvantage the Irish product. Very quickly, the whiskey loses its notoriety following the law of the “Immature Spirit (Restriction) Act” which obliges the distillers to apply an ageing of their product of 3 years to obtain the official “label” of Irish Whiskey. This measure forced many establishments to close their doors, due to lack of means and the loss of many markets such as the United States, which was then in the midst of prohibition.
On the occasion of the entry of the Eire into the European common market in 1966, 4 distilleries on the edge of the abyss decide to unite around the Irish Distillers, a new group composed of Jameson, Cork Distilleries, Power and Old Bushmills (in 1972). The strategy bears fruits, and Irish whiskey quickly conquers market shares all over the world, so much so that 2 big British distilleries try to take over the group. Allied-Lyons and Grand Metropolitan even launched a hostile takeover bid in 1988, which failed in favour of the French group Pernod Ricard.
At the same time the Cooley distillery was born. It is an independent distillery located about 80 km north of Dublin, which produces a whiskey which is only distilled twice, contrary to the triple distillation techniques used in the other Irish distilleries.
Since that day, Irish whiskey is again consumed all over the world, and appreciated by great whiskey lovers.
Good to know: the difference between whiskey and whisky
Many ask the difference between whiskey and whiskey. It’s not just a question of spelling, but a question of manufacturing process.
In general, whiskey is of Irish origin, because it is made from a triple distillation technique (a typically Irish technique), and often from a Pure Pot Still: a mixture of malted and unmalted barley.
Whiskey, as for him, is often of Scottish origin. It is not distilled 3 times, and the single malt only uses malted barley.
This leads to very marked differences of tastes. Whiskey is often lighter and fruitier than whisky. A phenomenon amplified by the triple distillation technique.