THE WATER OF LIFE
A BRIEF HISTORY OF IRISH WHISKEY FOR ST. PATRICK'S DAY
Say what you like about the church - there is one thing we have to thank them for, and that is their contribution to the field of alcoholic beverages. Irish whiskey is just one of those, finding its roots in the Acqua Vitae or Water of life brought to Ireland by monks who had been travelling the continent. Acqua Vitae became 'Uisce Beatha' in the country's native parlance, which in turn became the English word 'Whiskey'.
The 'whiskey' made at the time would have been very different to anything we recognise today. Distinctly unpalatable, it had to be made tolerable with herbs, spices and honey. If you're interested in having a taste of the original Irish whiskey, seek out a bottle of Irish Mist, a liqueur created in the 1960s, taking the ancient spiced spirits of Ireland as its inspiration.
The oldest licensed distillery in the world is in Ireland, belonging to Bushmills. The license for its construction was granted to Sir Thomas Phillips in 1608 by King James I, who built his business in County Antrim. Bushmills is still going strong today, though its current incarnation was established somewhat later in 1784.
Fast forward to the nineteenth century and Irish whiskey was in its heyday. It experienced demand five times that of its Scotch counterpart, and when the vineyards of France were devastated by the plague of phylloxera, replaced brandy as the drink of choice for the Continent.
However, this boom was not set to last. A combination of factors, including the loss of the Ameican market due to prohibition, trade disputes with England, and punitive taxes saw the Irish whiskey industry spiral into decline. While backstreet illicit distillers were undoubtably stilll in operation, the number of licensed distilleries on the island plummeted from thirty in the 1890s to an eventual three one hundred years later.
Today, though, the future looks bright for Irish whiskey. It has been the fastest growing spirit worldwide for two decades, with exports growing 15% year on year. The three distilleries in operation in the 1990s have increased in number to sixteen, with a further fourteen in the planning stages.
Irish whiskey's renaissance sees the range of styles available to the consumer more varied than ever before. There are traditional pot still expressions, smooth and rich to the palate; triple distilled blended whiskies, perfect for a cheeky Irish coffee, and more creative expressions, finished in a variety of barrels. Surely this is reason enough to convince you that Irish whiskey is for life, not just for St. Patrick's day!
To browse our range of Irish Whiskies, click here