Return to Blog Posted: 1/30/2018 7:48:57 AM
You might think that Irish monks sat around all day making up lyrics to chamber music, but back a thousand years ago or so, they were busy learning distilling techniques for which we are all very grateful today. They studied the process to enhance fragrances and improve medical treatments while they were busy on a pilgrimage through Europe and some Mediterranean territories.
Over time, the Irish had an overabundance of grain after the harvest, so to avoid tossing it out or spoiling (because you just can eat so much grain), these industrious folks distilled the grain into “Uisce Beatha” or “Usquabach,” which is Gaelic for “the Waterford Life.”
What does that mean to people who speak modern English, you ask? Well, today we call it Whiskey…or Whisky. Either way, yum, but only one is technically correct.
Irish Whiskey is in the middle of its rebirth, which is convenient because we’re getting toward St. Patty’s Day, a time seemingly made for consuming the rebirthed spirit from the Emerald Isle. The beverage has come back into fashion in the United States after decades of declines in sales, coolness and popularity. Irish whiskey was once the #1 type of whiskey (whisky?) sold globally, at about 12 million cases by the end of the 19th Century. But then sales began to plummet, thanks to a couple little factors that we all remember, like World Wars I and II, Prohibition, the Great Depression…you get the picture.
After World War II ended, Scotch whisky sales in the United States, like those of their spiritual cousins like Canadian and American whiskeys of other kinds, grew dramatically. Meanwhile, the poor Irish cousin whiskeys saw sales go stagnant at around 500,000 cases per year in the 1970s. Sometimes, sales were even lower. Ouch. In the 1890s, over thirty distilleries existed. Last year, there were only sixteen. But there are more than ten in the planning stages.
In a few years, Irish whiskey sales should again boast 12 million annual case sales and as many as twenty-five or more distilleries. That would mean that more than 125 years will have passed since the liquor’s heydays. This means that the Irish better get to work if they want to catch their Scottish brethren. The Scots have been busy, with close to 120 operating distilleries that produce annual case sales of around 90 million!
So why are Irish whiskeys shedding insignificance for the spotlight?
Jameson Irish Whiskey has taken the place of brands like Jagermeister, Tuaca, Rumple Minze and Goldschlager as the nightcap drink of choice with bartenders.
Millennials have displayed a distinct lack of loyalty to one brand or category, but triple distilled Irish whiskey produces a lighter spirit that is more appealing and approachable for young Millennials. Conversely, older Millennials consumed flavored whiskies before moving onto full-bodied Irish, Scotch, Bourbon, Rye and other whiskies. Mixology has demonstrated that Irish whiskey means more than Irish Coffee. It’s used in drinks and cocktails, like Irish whiskey and Ginger, Irish whiskey Manhattan, and the Irish whiskey Old Fashioned. All of them prove that a lighter whiskey can show well in classic cocktails.
So what is Irish whiskey?
To clarify on the earlier whiskey/whisky conundrum, the Irish spell it “whiskey,” while Scots use the traditional spelling, “whisky.” As for the process, Irish whiskey is distilled 3 times and Scotch whisky is distilled twice. You’d think that would settle it. However, the only distilled spirit agreement between them is that the English had nothing to do with it.
Remember: All Irish Whiskey is Whiskey, but not all Whiskey is Irish Whiskey.
The real deal will meet the following standards:
- The exclusive country of origin is Ireland.
- Irish whiskey is considered the world’s first whiskey, traceable to over 1000 years ago.
- In 1608, King James I granted the first license to Sir Thomas Phillips to distill whiskey. He promptly established Bushmill’s.
- Made from fermented mash of malted and un-malted barley, corn, rye, and other grains.
- Types include Single Pot Still, Single Malt, Single Grain and Blended.
- Germinated grains are not dried over peat fires, as drying takes place in closed kilns, eliminating the smoke influence Scotch whisky picks up. Connemara is the only Irish whiskey to dry their malt with peat.
- Triple distilled, 3+ years old in used casks previously used for aging Bourbon, Sherry, Rum etc.
Sláinte- to your health!