Irish whiskey, long in sales decline, has of late recovered and is on its way to prominence again. Just as well! It happens to be a flavourful, smooth, and clean distillate, with a fine pedigree.
Ireland once produced more whiskey than Scotland and was world famous. At the time there were several hundred distillers in this lush green, small country, but many operated illegally, producing a potent liquid called poitin (a ka Irish moonshine). Today, there are legal, large distilleries.
The demise of Irish whiskey happened due to several circumstances – the invention of the Coffey still (ironically by an Irishman, who worked as liquor inspector for Scots); limitations of barley to distillers during the WWI, and followed by huge sales in the U S A after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.
The Coffey still is continuous, more efficient, and far less expensive than traditional copper batch stills that Irish distillers insisted on using after the former became available. Scottish whisky barons Buchanan of Black and White fame and Dewar Brothers quickly adapted the Coffey still. When Andrew Usher invented blending of single malt with grain whiskies by mid-1850’s costs tumbled and Scotch whisky made great inroads in the lucrative American market. Of course, Scottish distillers understood early on that marketing must be an on-going sales strategy, and followed through with substantial capital.
There are three types of Irish whiskey:
Pot still whiskey – the original and traditional method of production in copper stills. Grains of both unmalted and malted barley, oats, wheat and rye.
Nowadays, barley predominates and there is always more unmalted than malted barley in the mix. Only the core of each run is used for aging and both tail and fore shots are redistilled to achieve superior purity.
Irish malt whiskey – created from malted barley following the techniques of pot still whiskey production.
Irish whiskey – blend of pot still and Coffey still distillates, the latter of which consists mostly of corn that provides a sweetish tinge to the final product.
Irish distillers always knew that strong advertising and a well-conceived, long range marketing strategy was needed to increase sales but lacked the capital. Pernod-Ricard, the powerful French distilling and distribution conglomerate, provided the necessary capital for urgently needed barrels and new distilleries. In addition, extensive marketing plans were initiated to reverse sagging sales.
When Ireland joined the EU and prosperity retuned sales picked up. The millions of Irish who had emigrated to the eastern coast of the U S A supported sales, and retuned home on visits. This in turn prompted tourism to flourish The Irish government was quick to recognize the importance of tourism and advertised heavily in continental European countries stressing the availability of English courses.
The show Riverdance, wildly popular in North America, made Ireland a prime tourist destination. Whiskey played an important role, along with beer in the stays of tourists who also continued to consume them after their return home.
Today, Old Bushmills Distillery, founded in 1608 at Bushmills in the county of Antrim, Irish Distillers Midleton, and Cooley Distillery near Dundalk supply all the Irish whiskey. Old Bushmills and Midleton distilleries belong to the Irish Distillers Group now owned by Pernod-Ricard.
Cooley Distillery, owned by John Teeling, started in 1980’s.
Irish whiskey is spelled with and “e” which distinguishes it from the Scotch whisky. Canadian whisky is spelled like Scotch, and American whiskey like Irish.
Generally, Irish whiskey is smoother and without the omnipresent “peat” aroma of Scotch. All Irish whiskies are triple distilled, making them purer than those double distilled.
The aging in the damp climate of the Emerald Isle seems to provide a better environment for deeply flavoured liquors.
The following Irish whiskies are highly recommended.
Readbreast 12 year old
Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey
Jameson 1780 12 year
Old Bushmills Malt 16 year old
Bushmills Black Bush
Connemara Pure Pot Still
Busmills Malt 10 year old