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How Irish Whiskey is Made

Is there anything better than a little nip of Irish whiskey to warm the soul? 

Over the centuries Irish whiskey (different to Scottish whisky or Scotch) has been enjoyed by countless natives here on the Emerald Isle and then, in more recent times, by millions worldwide.

There’s no denying its popularity or appeal but you might be wondering how is Irish whiskey made? Where did it come from?

We’ve answered a few of the key questions below. 

Origins

The word whiskey comes from the old gaelic “uisce beatha” which simply means the “water of life”. Not a bad moniker if we do say so ourselves! 

It’s said, that whiskey in its original form was first brought to Ireland by monks returning from travels in Europe and Asia. This original incarnation wasn’t aged in any way and was usually clear and flavoured with thyme, mint or other botanicals. You could consider this original form similar to something like gin.

It’s reported that there was Irish whiskey as far back as the 12th century but the first written record comes in 1405 and it wasn’t until 1608, under the helm of King James I, that the first official license for the distilling of Irish whiskey was granted but, more on that later… 

Different Types

True whiskey connoisseurs could talk for hours about the intricacies and differences but, despite our love for a good nip, will just give you the basics to keep you right.

The first point to consider is that Irish whiskey is kiln dried rather than dried over smoked peats like in Scotland. This leads to the whiskey tasting more of the grain, rather than the smoky overtones you’d get in Scotch.

After that Irish whiskey can roughly be separated into four distinct versions: 

Single Malt Whiskey: Uses malted barley, a single pot still, a single distillery and can be distilled up to three times.

Single Pot Still Whiskey: Uses malted and unmalted barley and is often refered to as “pure pot still”. 

Grain Whiskey: Whiskey distilled using a continuous column or Coffey still and often lighter in colour and more neutral in taste.

Blended Whiskey: A mixture of all styles and very common in both Ireland and Scotland today.

Famous Irish Whiskeys

Without doubt the most famous Irish whiskeys are Old Bushmills and Jamesons. Both are the longest running whiskey brands, to withstand the early 20th century downturn, and this legacy has played an important role in the fame of each.

Bushmills Whiskey, of the famous Old Bushmills Distillery, is a famous triple distilled malt whiskey coming from Ireland’s oldest distillery and one of the oldest in the world! The land on which the distillery still stands to this day was first granted a permit for distilling way back in 1608 by King James I!

Incredibly, the distillery is still open and operating today. You can visit and tour the grounds to get the proper sights, sounds and smells of a real-life working distillery.

You can also be sure that every bottle of Bushmills, no matter where you see it in the world, has come from this one famous spot in Ireland. Crazy!

Jamesons, or if you’re using its official name, John Jameson and Son Irish Whiskey, was first founded in 1780 by John Jameson, a Scotsman, in Dublin. 

Some prefer Bushmills whilst others prefer Jameson but it’s fair to say that both are equal in terms of holding the most famous Irish whiskey crown. 

The Future of Irish Whiskey

From humble beginnings Irish whiskey became one of the country’s greatest exports in the fledgling modern world. During a 19th century peak, when Dublin was the centre of all things Irish whiskey, the country produced 10 million gallons of whiskey per year and had over 30 working distilleries up and down the country!

Unfortunately that incredible growth couldn’t be maintained. Throughout much of the 20th century popularity and demand for the drink diminished and at one point the country produced less than 500,000 gallons a year. A far cry from the glory days! 

This nadir lead to countless closures and by the 1980s Ireland had just 3 working distilleries left.

Thankfully a resurgence, from 1990 onwards, driven by worldwide interest has resulted in another boom and constant year on year growth of 15-20%! Nowadays the Emerald Isle has 18 licensed distilleries and 16 more due to open in the near future!

The future of Irish whiskey is bright and we certainly think that’s a good excuse for a drink!

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