Purple Palate Blog

Irish Whiskey-A turning of the tide.

Currently I am studying WSET4, and the notes, and history of Irish Whiskey is one of a vibrant and strong industry, well supported and loved, then a massive crash all but deleting the industry.

To give you an idea, a very brief overview of the history of Irish Whiskey.

1200s Irish monks bring the distillation process (including tincturing, and steeping) to Ireland.

1405 Recipes were handed down orally, rather then written. so first written in 1405 with the death of a landed man from a “surfeit of Acqua Vitae” , with the Latin “Acqua Vitae” in Gallic being “uisce beatha”, angelicised to “Whiskey”.

1608 Thomas Phillips of Bushmills receives royal warrant from King James I, to produce whiskey

1661 Taxation for whiskey introduced…voluntarily (Laughs out loud).

1761 Taxation becomes mandatory.  Legal Producers produce Whiskey, while illegal Producers make Poitin (small pot).

18th century massive growth and call for Irish Whiskey, due to population growth and parochialism (displacing imported spirits). 1770 Whiskey accounted for 25% of excise, 1790 it accounted for 66% (that’s pretty huge).

With the growth Quantity over Quality became very prevalent in the industry, so an Act written in 1759 prohibiting distillers from using any ingredient other than malt, grain, potatoes or sugar in the production of whiskey, and specifically prohibiting several ingredients, was enacted in 1776.

Whiskey distilleries went from 1228 to 246 (with many going underground).

1823 Realising the problems caused by illicit distilleries, the duties were cut by half, and published an Excise Act, making distilling more viable and attractive, with only paying tax on whiskey once sold.  Before 1823 there were 32 licenced distillers and in the 1835 to 93.

The Coffey still invented 1832 (but that will be a separate post)

1919 A confluence of several factors, Irish war of independence , Civil war, British Trade war and US Prohibition devastated the industry with sale dwindling to 2 in the 1970s.  Bushmills and New Middleton Distillery (an amalgam of John Jameson, Powers, and Cork Distillers).

With production of 400000-500000 case in the 1970s from 12000000 case in 1900s.

Opening of the Cooley Distillery 1987, Pernod Ricard buying Irish Distillers 1988, saw the start of the resurgence.

Now, like the fabled Phoenix, it is rising from it’s own ashes to rebuild both it’s reputation and innovation.

From a smooth, easy drinking, triple distilled, blending whiskey, to a myriad of styles, barrel finishes, single grain, single malts, age statements and even lightly peated styles.

With Killbeggan (reopening 2010 after closing 1954), Teelings, and Glendalough distilleries opening and production at 4.4 million cases on 2015, and projected sales of 12 million in 2020, the industry is vibrant and an area to explore.

With Legislation on Irish Whiskey being:

Irish whiskey is a protected European Geographical Indication (GI) under Regulation (EC) No 110/2008. As of 29 January 2016, production, labelling and marketing of Irish whiskey must be verified by the Irish revenue authorities as conforming with the Department of Agriculture’s 2014 technical file for Irish whiskey.[Key requirements include specifications that:

  • Irish whiskey must be distilled on the island of Ireland (comprising the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) from a mash of malted cereals with or without whole grains of other cereals and which has been:
    • saccharified by the diastase of malt contained therein, with or without other natural enzymes;
    • fermented by the action of yeast;
    • distilled at an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% ABV in such a way that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the materials used;
    • subject to the maturation of the final distillate for at least three years in wooden casks, such as oak, not exceeding 700L capacity
  • The distillate, to which only water and plain caramel colouring may be added (E150a), retains its colour, aroma and taste derived from the production process referred to above
  • Irish whiskey is to have a minimum alcoholic by volume content of 40%
  • Individual technical specifications for the three varieties of Irish whiskey, “single pot still”, “single malt”, “single grain”, and “blended” whiskey (a mix of these two or more of these varieties) are also outlined in the technical file.The use of the term “single” in the aforementioned varieties being permissible only if the whiskey is totally distilled on the site of a single distillery.
  • Maturation only takes place on the island of Ireland

My Favorites are Teelings Small batch, and Glendalough 13yr for straight, while you can’t discount Poitin as a great cocktail base.

“And they shall arise from the Ashes from their downfall, stronger and more stalwart than ever before”


Andrew Jones



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