Toast the Rise of Irish Whiskey this St Patrick’s Day!

Whose side are you on, Irish or Scotch?

For a good number of years now, the Irish whiskey industry has tried to claim the crown from Scotch. As we’ll see by the end of this short blog, there’s a specific and good reason why this may be the time of Irish whiskey. First a little interesting history.

Believe it or not, in the 19th century, some Scottish distilleries tried to pass off their Scotch as Irish whiskey. That was because Irish whiskey was considered a premium product. 

People forget that Irish whiskey dominated international sales for much of the 19th century. 60% of whiskey sold in the US was Irish, produced by 40 Irish distilleries. Incredibly, by the 1960s, Ireland was down to four distilleries. What happened?

Ireland distilleries got crushed between the pincer movement of prohibition in the 1920s and a trade war with the UK in the 1930s.

But Irish whisky came roaring back in the last part of the 20th century. Big distilleries like Bushmills successfully launched a luxury range of their whiskeys, putting Irish whiskey back on the map. But the real explosion has been in the last ten years.

In the last ten years, Ireland has gone from four distilleries in 2013 to an astonishing forty today. Many of these small distilleries have introduced major innovations in the whiskey industry.

Consider just Waterford which has introduced the idea of single-farm whiskey into the industry – the idea that the farm origins of barley have a major influence on flavour just like in wine.

Denis O’Flynn, director of Clonakilty distillery, says, it’s in a single pot still whiskey where Irish whiskey stands out. Pot still – a whiskey made of both malted and unmalted barley – creates a lighter, smoother, creamier flavour. Many prefer this type of whiskey, and the evidence is in.

In the last ten years, Irish whiskey sales have grown by a world-beating 140%. At that rate, Irish whiskey could overtake Scotch in the next ten years.

The excellence of these new distilleries has been recognised by the multi-national drink giants. Diageo, Pernod Ricard and William Grant & Sons have bought up many of these independent distilleries, giving them a route to the international market where they have been embraced.

So back to our question, is this the time of Irish whiskey?

‘Yes,’ says Bernard Walsh of Walsh Whiskey, creator of the award-winning Writer’s Tears and The Irishman, ‘Many whiskeys laid down in the last ten years are coming into their own now.’

And that’s the truth: the new distilleries have until now been releasing young whiskeys or blending older whiskeys from other distilleries.

But now their ten year old whiskeys are emerging from their sleep, and we will soon be enjoying pot still whiskeys matured for ten, twelve and fifteen years.

And yes, based on the performance of their young whiskeys, we, in Whisky Kingdom, believe that this more mature period is the moment of Irish whiskey.

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

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