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History of Irish Whiskey

By rareAdmin, Friday, 3rd February 2023 | 0 comments
Filed under: Bitesize Irish History.

Tullamore Dew Blended Irish Whiskey jug c.1980's. This sage green glazed porcelain jug, which is sadly now empty, features a ceramic and cork stopper and is accented with an orange ribbon in contrast to the top. The labeling on the jar indicates a capacity of 4/5 of a quart, whereas later versions have the volume specified in milliliters.

The words "Uisge Baugh" on one side translate to “the water of life,” which is the origin of the word “whiskey.” The "Dew" comes from the initials of Daniel E. Williams, manager of the distillery in the 1890's.

The History of Irish Whiskey. 

'Whiskey would make a rabbit spit at a dog' says the old proverb and this fiery spirit is perhaps the most uniquely Irish drink of them all. It was first distilled in Ireland well over a thousand years ago by monks who had come in contact with spirit making on missionary journeys through Europe. Unlike their counterparts on the continent, who used wine as a base, the Irish made their distillation from barley and thus invented 'uisgebeath' meaning 'water of life', a tribute to its medicinal qualities. Whiskey became the staple alcoholic beverage of the Irish countryside and remained so right up until the nineteenth century and no doubt its fiery qualities had much to do with the legendary wildness of Irish Fairs, where vast quantities of it would be consumed. Whiskey drinking also contributed to the savagery of the notorious faction fights which were such a notable feature of the period and which were partly responsible for giving the Irish their reputation as violent and pugnacious drinkers.

Pot stilled Irish whiskey is distinguished from its Scottish blended counterpart (spelt without the e) by being distilled three times after fermentation and not twice, as in Scotland. A couple of hundred years ago there were over a thousand legal distilleries operating in Ireland, as well as countless illegal stills producing poitin, an unsanctioned spirit made usually on a potato base (though sometimes barley would be used to produce a cruder form of whiskey). Since then, more rigourous government control, changed drinking habits and the setting up of more economic larger distilleries have reduced this number to the point where one great amalgamated company, the Irish Distillers Group (formed in 1966), controls the distribution of all the whiskeys and other spirits made in Ireland. It is under their trademark that you will find the great brands of Irish Whiskey which are so much a part of the Irish pub tradition. Whiskey, drunk straight or as a chaser to a pint of Guinness, has always been, by custom, considered the man's drink in Irish pubs and whilst there are fine Irish made gins and other spirits, they cannot compare in fame to the spirit distilled from barley.

The best known Irish whiskies are probably Powers, Paddy and Jameson. In more sectarian times it was said that you could tell a whiskey drinker's religion by his brand, the Catholics preferring Powers whilst the Protestants went for Jamesons. The oldest of the surviving distilleries is situated up near the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim and has been making whiskey continuously since 1608. Its product, the Old Bushmills brand, is particularly noteworthy and distinctive in flavour. These are changing times, of course and many new and varied drinks are being sampled in Ireland's pubs, but the combination of Irish whiskey and stout is still a potent and popular one and perhaps the most representative example of the traditional tastes of Ireland's drinkers.

In recent decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in Irish whiskey, and today it is one of the fastest growing categories of whiskey in the world. With the increase in demand, many new Irish whiskey brands have emerged, offering a variety of styles and flavour profiles to suit different tastes. The popularity of Irish whiskey is also driven by its rich history and cultural heritage, as well as its association with Ireland and Irish festivals such as St. Patrick's Day.