Irish Whiskey

Words by Simon Difford

Irish Whiskey image 1

As the name suggest, Irish whiskey (‘fuisce’ or ‘uisce beatha’ in Irish) must be made and aged on the island of Ireland. Although within the category there are some notable exceptions, Irish whiskey tends to be triple distilled, unpeated and easy drinking.

History / origins

There is evidence that whiskey distilling and drinking in Ireland was widespread by the 16th century, however is believed that distillation was practiced much earlier, possibly the 14th century.

Early Irish whiskey was drunk unaged and flavoured with herbs - rather like gin today.

One Christmas present the Irish whiskey industry will never forget is the imposition of taxation on whiskey that began on Christmas day in 1661. A tax of four pence was applied to every gallon distilled. Over the preceding years the industry continued to expand, much of it through illegitimate stills. By the end of the 18th century there were around 2000 stills in operation.

The fortunes of Irish whiskey were given an unexpected boost in 1872 when the Phylloxera Vastatrix louse decimated vines in the Cognac region of France. Whiskey exports rose as the stocks of cognac diminished. Unfortunately for the Irish whiskey industry four different events served to put a check on the spirits' rapid growth.

The first was the beginning of the temperance movement in Ireland, started by Father Mathew, a Capuchin Friar in the 1838. Within six years his movement was directly responsible for the closure of over a third of Irelands drinking outlets.

The second was the development of blended whisky in Scotland. Ironically blended Scotch whisky came about partly thanks to an Irish exciseman, Aeneas Coffey, who invented a more efficient continuous still able to produce cheaper grain spirit, but with a different flavour produced by the existing pot stills. Irish distillers rejected the development, not wanting to sacrifice the distinctive flavour of their whiskies. So Coffey went to Scotland where experiments mixing pot still malt whisky and grain whisky produced in his still resulted in the development of blended whisky. Scotch blends proceeded to dent the sales of their Irish counterpart.

The third misfortune was American Prohibition (1920 - 1933) which effectively cut all sales to this previously lucrative market.

The fourth and final spanner in the works was the 1916 Irish war of Independence which resulted in the partition of the country and a civil war which ran between 1919 and 1921. Trade embargos imposed by the British prevented exports to the Empire including Canada, South Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand.

In 1966, the three remaining Irish distillers in the Republic that had survived (Jameson, Powers and Cork Distillers) joined forces to form the Irish Distillers Company. These allies were further bolstered during the 1970's when Irish Distillers acquired, Bushmills the last distiller in Ulster. However, this united force failed to meet expectations and take-over loomed. Two companies vied for the prize, GC&C Brands (jointly owned by two Irish firms, Gilbey's of Ireland and Cantrell & Cochrane) and the French group Pernod-Ricard. The French won the prize and Pernod Ricard put its worldwide marketing efforts chiefly between two brands, Jameson and Bushmills (the latter first moving to Diageo in June 2005 and then Casa Cuervo in December 2014).

One independent Irish distillery emerged to challenge the dominance of the Irish Distillers Group, named Cooley Distillery near Dundalk. Established by John Teeling in 1987 and subsequently purchased by what is now Beam Suntory in 2011.

While the brands that benefitted from Irish Distiller's period of almost unchallenged promotion still dominate the world market, Cooley has in recent years been joined by a plethora of other producers with gleaming new distilleries springing up across Ireland in a race to gain share of what is now the fastest-growing whiskey category.

Styles of Irish whiskey and production

Please see our in-depth report of production processes at the New Midleton Distillery or this explanation of single pot still Irish whiskey

ency 41 image

Irish whiskey Distilleries

Alltech Distillery (est. 2012)
Belfast Distillery Company (under construction)
Blackwater Distillery (est. 2015)
Burren Irish Whiskey (under construction)
Cooley Distillery (est. 1987)
Dingle Distillery (est. 2012)
Dublin Whiskey Company (under construction)
Echlinville Distillery (est. 2013)
Glendalough Distillery (est. 2013)
Great Northern Distillery (under construction)
Kilbeggan Distillery (est. 2007)
Niche Drinks Company (under construction)
New Midleton Distillery (est. 1975)
Old Bushmills Distillery (est. 1784)
Slane Castle Distillery (under construction)
Teeling Distillery (est. 2015)
Tullamore Distillery (est. 2014)
Walsh Whiskey Distillery (under construction)
West Cork Distillers (est. 2008)

ency 86 image

Sort by:
Inish Turk Beg Maiden Voyage image

Inish Turk Beg Maiden Voyage

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 44

Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy image

Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 46

Jameson Rarest 2007 Vintage Reserve image

Jameson Rarest 2007 Vintage Reserve

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 46

Midleton Master Distillers’ Selection image

Midleton Master Distillers’ Selection

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 46

Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix image

Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 55

Green Spot image

Green Spot

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Redbreast 12 Year Old image

Redbreast 12 Year Old

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Jameson Black Barrel image

Jameson Black Barrel

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Jameson 12 Year Old Special Reserve image

Jameson 12 Year Old Special Reserve

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Jameson 18 Year Old Limited Reserve image

Jameson 18 Year Old Limited Reserve

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Midleton Very Rare 2014 image

Midleton Very Rare 2014

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Redbreast 21 Year Old image

Redbreast 21 Year Old

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 46

Redbreast Mano a Lamh image

Redbreast Mano a Lamh

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 46

Green Spot Château Léoville Barton image

Green Spot Château Léoville Barton

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 46

Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999 image

Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 59.9

Jameson The Cooper's Croze image

Jameson The Cooper's Croze

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 43

Bushmills Original image

Bushmills Original

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Powers John's Lane image

Powers John's Lane

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 46

Jameson Distillery Reserve image

Jameson Distillery Reserve

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Jameson Gold Reserve image

Jameson Gold Reserve

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Kilbeggan (no age statement) Irish Whiskey image

Kilbeggan (no age statement) Irish Whiskey

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

The Irishman 12 year old image

The Irishman 12 year old

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 43

Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey image

Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Greenore 8 Year Old Single Grain image

Greenore 8 Year Old Single Grain

Category: Spirits
Sub category: Whisk(e)y
alc./vol: 40

Showing results per page