What’s the Craic About Irish Whiskey History?

St. Patricks Day

It’s time to let the Irish whiskey pour heavy in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. With a little luck, we’ll be cheers-ing with our favorite Irish lads and lasses in honor of the history of Irish whiskey, which is much more than leprechauns and pots of gold.

A history lacking leprechauns

Irish whiskey dates back to 1405, making it one of Europe’s oldest distilled beverages. This is highly contested by neighboring country Scotland who believes that whiskey distilling began in the Scottish Highlands. The rest of Irish whiskey’s origin story is also muddled because it’s unclear who began the distilling process. Most experts consider the Irish monks responsible for perfecting the craft of the liquid nectar. Irish Monks learned to distill perfumes in the Mediterranean during the 11th century and later translated these skills to help them distill Irish whiskey.

Early rumors of a golden nectar began in 1170 when King Henry II invaded Ireland. He noted that many of the Irish drank aqua vitae, called usquebaugh by the locals, which was a predecessor for whiskey.

The first licensed whiskey distillery, called Old Bushmills Distillery, was opened in Northern Ireland in 1608. Yet, it wasn’t until the 1700s the whiskey industry exploded. The urban workers in London were coming off a gin craze during the 1720s and 1730s. The working class was seeking other distilled options that tasted better than their turpentine-incorporated predecessor. In enters Irish whiskey which was significantly higher in quality and flavor.

Downward spiral of the shamrock state

Irish distilleries were at the height of their production in 1887. During this time, more than 70 percent of the whiskey market was Irish whiskey. The largest importers of Irish whiskey were the United States and United Kingdom.

Production decreased during the Irish War of Independence and United States’ Prohibition Era. As mentioned, both were large players in the Irish export industry. Without their biggest buyers vying for the product, Irish whiskey distilleries began to suffer. During the 1980s, Irish whiskey accounted for less than 1 percent of all global whiskey sales. Numerous Irish distilleries closed during this period of decline.

Return of the luck o’ the Irish

At its all-time low, Irish distilleries were producing 400,000 to 500,000 cases per year. Production was at an all-time high during 1900 when more than 12 million cases were produced. Irish whiskey production began to rocket again in the 1980s after French distillers staked a claim in the Irish whiskey industry. Their presence built an international awareness and re-sparked interest.

Today, Ireland’s whiskey industry continues to thrive. In 2018, Ireland produced 10.7 million cases of Irish whiskey. Now considered the fastest growing whiskey industry, Irish whiskey production will easily surplus the projected production of 12 million cases in 2020.

Irish whiskey is currently top o’ the market and experiencing what experts are coining as the Whiskey Renaissance. Even with its tumultuous history, the luck of the Irish continues to prove that a four-leaf clover just might be what your industry needs in order to succeed. Sláinte!