The Story of Irish Whiskey

How Irish whiskey distilleries bounced back


In the 18th and 19th centuries, Irish whiskey was incredibly popular in Britain, with 1,200 distilleries existing in Ireland in 1779. Because many of them were unlicensed, the illicit distilleries forced the government to raise taxes on whiskey production. By 1822, only 20 distilleries were legal and the number of illegal distilleries had been reduced to 800.

In 1838, the number of distilleries was reduced yet again as a result of the Total Abstinence Movement, which created an increased competition between Irish distilleries and forced smaller distilleries to shut down. Among the most successful businesses to continue expanding were those of the families Jameson and Powers from Dublin.

In the early 1960s, the export of Irish whiskey was virtually non-existent, so the three remaining distilleries joined forces and became the Irish Distillers. This was made up of John Powers & Sons, John Jameson & Sons, and Cork Distillery. In 1975, the new company moved its production to a new distillery in Midleton, which is behind the old Midleton Distillery, and now houses the reception area and visitors center.

Irish whiskey comes in several forms. There is single malt, which is made from 100 percent malted barley distilled in a pot still, and grain whiskey, which is made from grains and distilled in a column still. Grain whiskey is light and more neutral in flavor than single malt, and it is never bottled as single grain. Instead, it is used to blend with single malt to produce a lighter blended whiskey.

Pot still whiskey is unique to Irish whiskey. The designation "pure pot still" refers to whiskey that is made of 100 percent barley, mixed malted and unmalted, and distilled in a pot still. The unmalted barley is what gives the traditional pure pot still whiskey a spicy and uniquely Irish quality. Like single malt, pure pot still is sold as is or blended with a grain whiskey. Redbreast, Green Spot, and some premium Jameson brands are pure pot still whiskies.

— Sara Kay, The Spir.it


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