Irish Whatskey?? - A Guide to Irish Whiskey. Explore the history, classification and drink recipes of Ireland's national spirit.
What is Irish Whiskey?The word whiskey is an English derivative of the Gaelic ‘uisce beatha’, which translates as ‘water of life’.
Irish Whiskey is the original precursor to Scotch Whisky, and as such there can be many similarities drawn between the two styles.
Likewise, there are distinctive differences that distinguish Irish Whiskey as a category in its own right; worthy of the praise and accolades it receives.
The differences arise in the production processes.
Firstly, Irish Whiskey dries its malted barley component inside kilns, and not over a peat fire as Scottish Whisky distillers practice.
The result is that Irish Whiskey notably lacks the distinctive smokiness and earthy notes of Scotch Whiskies. In its place, Irish Whiskey retains the flavour of the barley and so the spirit is imbued with a fragrance and roundness that is quintessential to Irish Whiskey flavour profiles.
Further to the malt story, the second point of difference between Scotch and Irish Whiskey is the Irish incorporation of both malted and unmalted barley in the pot still. Whereas the Scots use only malted barley, the Irish vary the proportions of each to form the basis of what constitutes a brand’s distinctive flavour.
The third differentiating factor is that Irish Whiskey is distilled three times, whereas Scotch Whisky (with few exceptions) is distilled twice only. This allows the Irish Whiskey advocates to lay claim to a purer, more refined whiskey when compared to Scotch.
The final variation is the different focus on blending. Where the Scotch Whisky distiller is concentrating effort on the art of blending a number of mature whiskies together in the ideal proportions, the Irish Whiskey distiller primarily places the success of the whiskey’s character upon the original distillates, and not the subsequent blending.
Thus in Irish Whiskey terms, blending is referred to as ‘vatting’, with the intention of placing emphasis on the importance of quality ingredients and processes from the outset.
Irish Whiskey’s PastDespite centuries of disagreement between Ireland and Scotland, it has been convincingly proven and begrudgingly accepted that whiskey was first brought to Europe by the Irish.
Believed to have been brought to Europe through Irish missionary monks, the oldest record of whiskey distillation in Ireland can be traced back to the 6th Century, where there are records of monastic distilleries producing whiskey for remedial purposes.
Eventually, distilling know-how spread beyond the Church and was adopted by opportunistic and entrepreneurial Irishmen who founded distilleries of their own.
Bushmills is the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, with a record of attaining licence dating back to 1608.
The popularity of Irish Whiskey rose exponentially over the centuries and in 1779 an astonishing 1200 distilleries existed on Ireland – most of them unlicensed.
The evidently illicit nature of the whiskey industry prompted the government to initiate a series of taxes and duties in an effort to regulate production. In 1822 only 20 legal distilleries existed and the number of illegal distilleries had been reduced to about 800.
Further to this, the number of legal distilleries was further reduced by the Total Abstinence Movement in the 1830’s, which created an environment of increased competition between distilleries, according growth to the larger companies at the detriment of the smaller distilleries, many of whom had no choice by to shut down.
The Jameson family from Dublin was one of the few distillers who managed to remain successful and continued to expand their business.
Despite the tumultuous nature of the Irish Whiskey industry at the time, by 1900 Irish Whiskey was the leading strong spirit in Britain, and a prime export product, with large quantities being sent to the West Indies and US markets.
The overseas success of Irish Whiskey faltered with the advent of US Prohibition. When the laws were eventually repealed, the Irish distillers couldn’t supply the massive demand of the US whiskey market. Scotch Blended Whisky filled the gap by utilising its merit of continuous distillation and the Irish Whiskey industry all but fell to pieces.
Irish Whiskey’s PresentToday Scotland maintains approximately 90 working distilleries, whereas Ireland has only four.
A series of economic difficulties in past century have seen a great number of mergers and closures take place. Now all distilleries are run by Pernod-Ricard and Diageo, apart from Tullamore Dew, The Irishman, and a few other independent whiskey brands.
Despite the gradual decline of the industry, what has persevered is the pride, passion and vigour with which Irish Whiskey producers and admirers approach their Irish Whiskey experiences.
With such dedication and honour invested in traditional processes, it is no surprise that Irish Whiskey consumption is beginning to annually outgrow other established spirit category growth worldwide!
Cultural ConsumptionAlthough distillers produce Irish Whiskey with the intention of it being savoured neat with no additions, Irish cultural traditions have devised many and varied ways over the centuries to derive the greatest possible level of enjoyment from this unique, loveable and versatile spirit.
The classic application of Irish Whiskey is the ‘Irish Coffee’:
Ingredients:One measure (35mL) Jameson Irish Whiskey
6 ounces (3/4 Cup) of hot, freshly brewed coffee
1tsp brown sugar
Method:Combine Jameson Irish Whiskey, coffee and sugar.
Gently place whipped cream on top with a warm spoon.
Alternatively, a tried and true cold remedy is the classic ‘Hot Toddy’:
Ingredients:80mL (1/3 Cup) Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey
60mL (1/4 Cup) fresh lemon juice
1.5 tbsp. honey
2 x cinnamon sticks
250mL (1cup) boiling water
Method:Place Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey, lemon juice, honey, cinnamon and cloves in a heatproof jug.
Add the boiling water and stir until honey dissolves.
Pour into serving glasses with lemon rind.
Whether in a coffee, a Hot Toddy, food recipes or in a delectable Irish Cream such as Baileys, Irish Whiskey is a true crowd pleaser, having had over 1500 years to perfect itself!