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The country of Ireland is divided into two parts: Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the independent Republic of Ireland in the south. Despite the climate there is some wine making, mainly in the South of Ireland. There is even one winery producing organic red and rosé wines. Thomas Walk Vineyard is family owned and commited to sustainable/organic viticulture and wine making since 25 years.
The main contribution to the booze world out of both parts of Ireland is “Usquebaugh,” or “uisce beatha,” both meaning “water of life” and later anglicized to “Whiskey.” Here it is spelled with the ‘e’ whereas in Scotland it is without. Whiskey distillation began in Ireland around 1000 AD when monks, who had learned the technique in their travels to the Middle East, began the practice from malted barley or oats at home. This brew was eventually sold at market, and became a popular beverage throughout the land. Legal distilling licenses were granted in the early 1600s, but with them, hefty liquor taxes. Many distillers took to making illegal whiskey, avoiding the excise men by any means necessary, often with underground stills. By the mid 1700s, more than 75% of the distilleries in Ireland were operating illegally. In 1784, Bushmills became the first officially registered commercial distillery.
In 1831, the big divide between Irish and Scottish malted barley spirit came into effect: the invention of the Coffey (a.k.a. continuous, patent, or column) still. Scotland embraced this new method of distillation, which makes it easier to blend batches, and is said to produce a readily smoother spirit, while Ireland mostly clung to using the pot still. In 1850, a new tax on malted barely was enacted, causing many distillers to change recipes and combine malted and unmalted grains. By this time, an abstinence movement was also in effect, which put many small distilleries out of business. But by the end of the century, Irish whiskey became a popular global export, especially since the Phylloxera blight killed the Cognac and Armagnac markets for many years.
Several factors at the turn of the 20th century further reduced the number of distilleries in Ireland. Scottish blended whisky was becoming a major rival in the global marketplace. Ireland was in the midst of political turmoil, which resulted in the War of Independence between 1919 - 1921 and ended with the dividing of the country. Another side effect of the political clash was a trade war between the Republic and Great Britain. And now we’re right in time for the American Prohibition, which killed much of its export market. Most of the smaller distilleries shuttered for good, while the Irish “Big Four” remained operational: John Jameson and Son, John Powers and Sons, and Cork Distilleries Co. in the Republic, and Bushmills in the north. In 1975, the three in the Republic consolidated into one company, the Irish Distillers Corp. operating at Old Midleton Distillery in Cork, eventually also absorbing Bushmills. Today, this conglomerate is now responsible for over 100 whiskey brands, including Paddy’s and Midleton. The Cooley Distillery was founded in 1987 and controls brands such as Connemara, Tyrconnell, Kilbeggan, Inishowen, and Tullamore.
All Irish Whiskey is distilled three times, which many consider to produce a smoother, lighter distillate than twice-distilled whiskies. Some methods use a combination of pot and column stills. Peat is rarely added to Irish whiskey, and is labeled as such if so. Irish whiskey must be aged a minimum three years in wood before release. Styles:
*Single Malt Irish Whiskey is produced from 100% malted barley, using a pot still, from a single distillery. Knappogue Castle, Connemara, and Clontarf among others are examples.
*Grain whiskey uses corn, wheat, rye, and/or barley and is distilled in a column still. Greenore is an example.
*Blended whiskey is the dominant style for Irish Whiskey, accounting for the vast majority of production. This is a blend of malted and unmalted barley, sometimes with other grains. These are produced in both column and pot stills, from a combination of batches and single malts from different distilleries. Jameson, Powers, Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, and Paddy’s, among many, many others, are examples of Irish Blended Whiskey.
*Pure Pot Still Whiskey is produced from matled and unmalted barley, produced only in a pot still by a single distillery. Redbreast and Green Spot are examples of these.
*Potcheen (Poitín) is the Irish equivalent of White Dog or Moonshine, produced in a pot still and released unaged. For many years, this type of whiskey was illegal in the marketplace, but brands, such as Bunratty, have gained acceptance recently.
In addition to whiskey, Ireland is famous for liqueurs such as Irish Mist, a blend of Irish Whiskey, honey, and spices, and Irish Cream, a blend of Irish Whiskey, heavy cream, and other ingredients including coffee, vanilla, and sometimes chocolate.
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