All About Irish Whiskey
Published: February 22, 2023
As sure as night follows day, it’s 9 o’clock somewhere in the world and an obliging bartender has just raised his hand to a wooden shelf, lifting a sturdy bottle down in one swift but precise movement. As the bottle is opened, a familiar smell fills the air and all around cast an approving nod as they await the vital moment. Ice or no ice? An eternal question, to be sure, and one that is sure to light the fuse on a fiery pub debate should you ever feel mischievous under the dim light of a Dublin watering-hole.
‘Water of Life’
Irish whiskey, not to be confused with its Scottish cousin ‘whisky’ (make this mistake in Ireland at your peril), first made its documented appearance around the 12th century. Derived from the Irish ‘uisce beatha’ (or ‘water of life’), historians have had a rough time trying to precisely detail its origins. However, it’s widely believed that we have Irish monks to thank for this golden treasure, who likely brought the process of distilling perfume to Ireland after travelling through Europe.
Over the coming centuries, it seems that we Irish developed quite the taste for the stuff and by the late 1600’s it was just about everywhere. So much so that an act was passed in the English Parliament declaring it illegal for anyone other than ‘the peers, gentlemen and freemen or larger towns’ to distil spirits.
Oldest Distillery in the World?
One such gentleman was Sir Thomas Philips, who was granted a license in 1608 and led to the eventual creation of the Old Bushmills Distillery. While the connection between Sir Thomas and the Old Bushmills Distillery of today is somewhat murky, it’s a good story and one that Bushmills uses to lay claim to being the oldest surviving grant of license to distil in the world!
Today, Bushmills can most definitely lay claim to being one of the most popular whiskeys in the world with around 10 million bottles sold every year and famously appearing in films such as Jackie Brown, Independence Day and The Verdict, plus countless TV shows.
Dublin had 12 Distilleries in 1800!
Dublin had the five largest licensed distilleries in Ireland which included John Jameson, William Jameson, John Powers and George Roe by the early 1800’s.
Known to many as ‘the Big Four’, these distilleries came to produce some of the most iconic Irish whiskeys that are still popular today such as Jameson, Powers, Redbreast and many more.
How rare is this whiskey?
Perhaps the most significant development in Irish whiskey in recent years occurred in the late 1960’s when the Cork Distilleries Company, John Jameson & Son and John Power & Son merged to create the newly formed ‘Irish Distillers’. A powerhouse of Irish whiskey, they launched the now world-famous (amongst whiskey lovers, I admit) Midleton Very Rare in 1984 and it has remained one of the most illustrious whiskey brands in existence. Producing less than 2,500 cases a year, Midleton Very Rare is considered by many to be some of the finest (and most expensive) Irish whiskey that money can buy. If there’s a whiskey fan in your life and you want to show them the good stuff, then you know what to look for. Just be careful, you might only want to buy a glass!
But all this talk of whiskey is just that isn’t it? Talk.
We could spend ages teaching you about the different types of Irish whiskey. About malt, pot-still, grain and blended. We could even get a black board and show you the intricate details of the distillation process so you understand precisely why that magnificent glass of amber tastes the way it does.
But where’s the fun in that?
Experience the tastes of Ireland with us
Whiskey isn’t something to read about online or study in dusty books. It should be experienced, held firmly in your hand and its aromas deeply inhaled with every passing breath. It belongs in dimly lit pubs, served by bartenders with knowledge and expertise that will transport you to another world. A world of smells, tastes, history and culture.
Luckily for you, our fair city of Dublin has exactly what you’re after. If you want to dive in deep and experience every aspect of Irish whiskey – from its history and distillation right up to a wide ranging tasting experience – then the Irish Whiskey Museum on Grafton Street is definitely the place for you.
Or perhaps you want to see Irish whiskey as we see it – as it lives and breathes in the pubs that surround us. If that’s your thing, then why not check out our Pub Tour? We’ll take you round some of the finest pubs in the city, showing you where the locals go for a pint and a whiskey, walking in the footsteps of Irish literary giants like Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien and Brendan Behan. We’ll experience typically four pubs, different in their ambience and offerings, over the course of four hours. It’s personalised for you, so if you don’t drink whiskey or really just want someone charming to have a chat with and explore Ireland’s famous pub heritage, the tour will leave you more than satisfied.
You’ll hear stories and music that you’ll never forget but most importantly of all…
You’ll learn that there’s no finer glass of whiskey than Irish whiskey.
Read about why our Pub Tour is the ideal way experience Dublin’s best pubs, no matter what you’re drinking!
Sign up to our Newsletter
For advice from our expert guides on planning your trip to Dublin.