For the better part of the last 200 years, whisky has been synonymous with the land of Scotland, with hundreds of distilleries producing some of the world’s best whiskies. But…. There is much more to whisky than just Scotland. In fact, the preconception that Scotland invented whisky itself is not true.
If you want to find the true Birthplace of whisky, cast your eye towards Ireland. Uiske Beathe (pronounced whishk-bea), or “the water of life”, has traced its roots to the Irish monks who began distilling in the area way back in the day.
Now the method they brought produced spirits for medication, not drinking, but with a bit of innovation (and possibly some wine induced fits of genius) came up with a very , very drinkable spirit.
From here it spread far and wide and eventually reached Scotland. Now this wasn’t anything close to modern whisky. It was colourless and probably tasted more like nail polish remover, than the liquid gold it is today.
The first recorded production in Ireland is in 1405 (as apposed to Scotland’s 1494), and even today the oldest running distillery is still in Ireland, The Bushmills distillery, established 1784 (although they claim they received a license under James I in 1608).
Fast forward to the twentieth century, Irish whisky became the most popular whisky in America, that is until the prohibition period of the 20’s took place. The Irish war for Independence didn’t make things better and by the 1960’s Irish whisky’s production capacity was a ghost of its past.
The 70’s saw New Middleton and Bushmills as the only two distilleries left. Today with Pernod Ricards acquisitions, and brands like Jamesons receiving international claim, Irish whisky is back with a projected production capacity of 12 Million cases by 2018.
Now the next point of questioning comes down to what makes Irish whisky different from Scotch.
- Irish whisky is triple distilled unlike it’s Scottish counterpart’s double distillation. This tends to produce a lighter and cleaner spirit, which has a higher ABV.
- The grain is rarely peated, now that means that the whisky is not very smoky, but there are exceptions to this such as Connemara peated Irish Malt.
- The use of Barley is not very hard and fast, with grain whisky being the major export from the land.
Let us now take a brief tour of some of Ireland’s best know brands namely The Old Bushmills and Jameson’s distilleries…
Our story begins with a lawyer named John Jameson, who had a son named John Jameson. One day, Messrs. Jameson and Jameson decided to buy a distillery in Bowstreet, Dublin, owned by Mrs. Jameson’s cousin – and while their creativity in naming their progeny could be questioned, the eventual rise of their legendary brand, could not.
During his early phase the distillery produced around 30,000 gallons annually and by the turn of the 19th century over a million gallons. In part this was due to the revolution of Patent still distillation, but despite a ban on export to the commonwealth and the Prohibition in the US, shrewd mergers and business acquisition saw Jamesons survive the ages.
Today it has been bought by Pernod Ricard (1988) and still continues its legacy under its many styles, ranging from eh Original, 12YO reserve, 18YO and Signature Reserve among many.
JAMESON Triple Distilled Irish Whisky 40% ABV
NOSE: deep amber, toasted wood, faint vanilla, sherry finish
PALATE: sweet, oaky, nutty
FINISH: incredibly smooth
CONCLUSION: Distinct to Scoth and a must try
- OLD BUSHMILLS
Placed in a land where Sir Robert Savage of Ards in 1276 gave his troops a drop of Aqua Vitae (water of life ) to go into battle, Old Bushmills stands as a testament to the history of whisky, not only in Scotland but to the world.
In 1608 Sir Thomas Philip was granted by King James I to distill whisky. The Old Bushmills distilling co. itself wasn’t established till 1784, the land itself changing ownership and shutting down, with brief periods of it being abandoned in 1822, The World War, Prohibition etc. made this perhaps the hardest distillery to maintain.
That didn’t stop Diagio from acquiring it for 200 Million pounds in 2005 though. Today it even has its face on some of Irelands Currency along with the scenery around it. And it has no doubt captivated the mind of many a whisky enthusiast, I being one.
Old Bushmills Original 40% ABV
NOSE: floral but with an oil like finish
PALATE: tangy with a bit of minerals, floral
FINISH: long and sweet, slight cardamom
CONCLUSION: A contrast to Jameson’s with a bit more complexity in character
Ireland may not get the recognition it deserves, but hopefully now it will with you, my dear reader.