The Irish have pretty much mastered the art of whiskey making. And whiskey drinking. They have a unique style and a unique language that describes their products and their consumption. Toasts. Lots and lots of toasts and sayings. “What butter or whiskey cannot cure, cannot be cured.” “Love makes the world go around. Whiskey makes it go twice as fast.” A passion fueled by a wonderful whiskey tradition.
It all started in 1608 with the world’s first licensed distillery – Bushmills, in northern Ireland. By the late 1800’s there were more than 30 distilleries. By 1990, due to prohibition, war and the popularity of blended scotch whisky, that number had dropped to three. That’s all that remained of the Irish whiskey industry, once the most popular in the world. Things began to turn around, however, with a world-wide marketing campaign of Jameson whiskey by new owner Pernod Ricard, and through the creation of several new distillers, to the point where Irish whiskey is once again the largest growing whiskey product in the world.
So what’s new in the world of Irish Whiskey? With the exception of the old standbys like Jameson, Bushmill and Kilbeggan, essentially everything else is fresh, popular and growing. Brands like Redbreast, Tullamore, Teeling, and Writer’s Tears are jumping into the spotlight and making their mark in the whiskey industry.
One of my favorite stories about Irish whiskey comes from the Mitchell family of Dublin. In 1805, Mitchell and Sons had a bakery and confection store on Grafton St. They started importing sherry and port, by the cask, for sale in the store. Rather than discard the empty casks, Mr. Mitchell took a stroll over to Bow Street and purchased some whiskey from the Jameson Distillery. In the basement of his store, he starting aging the whiskey in the various casks that he had collected. He kept track of the aging process by dabbing the ends of the casks with various colours of paint. Two hundred years later, Green Spot, Yellow Spot and Red Spot whiskeys are Irish standards.
So what makes Irish whiskey unique? For starters, it’s triple distilled. Three times through the process. The Irish claim that this gives it a nice smooth taste. The Scottish claim that the Irish distill all the taste out of their whiskey. Me? I like it. Irish whiskey has a smooth, flavorful taste that is easy to drink. And it’s versatile, too. I know that the purists drink their whiskey straight up, but I can assure you that a dram of Irish whiskey takes a mug of hot chocolate to a whole new level. And Irish coffee speaks for itself.
This segment marks the end of our Introduction to Whisky. So where do we go from here? In the coming months, we’ll be looking at everything whisky, from where to buy it, to how to drink it, to the aging process, the blending process, and more. Please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have opinions, facts, or arguments that you would like to discuss in future articles. Until next time, Sláinte!