Irish Whiskey has been growing at a rate of nearly 20 percent annually in the United States and shows no sign of slowing down. Irish Whiskey is keeping pace with the likes of bourbon and scotch. New distilleries are mushrooming, established distilleries are expanding their product lines, bartenders are using Irish Whiskey to create new and classic cocktails, and consumers are enhancing their knowledge and trying new brands and expressions.
The first record of Irish Whiskey dates back to 1405, around 90 years before it was first recorded in Scotland. After a period of decline during the 20th century, Irish Whiskey is now the fastest growing spirit in the world. The Irish War of Independence and prohibition in the United States greatly impacted the Irish Whiskey industry, cutting off access to the two major markets of the UK and the US respectively. In 1966, John Jameson merged his business with Cork Distillers and John Powers, forming the umbrella Irish Distillers Group. Ten years later, the New Midleton Distillery opened in Cork, where much of Irish Whiskey is now made.
Irish Distillers was bought by the French distillers Pernod Ricard in 1988, and since then the popularity of Irish Whiskey has soared. Ireland exported more than 7 million cases of Whiskey in 2015, an increase of one million on the previous year. Market forecasts predict that number will grow to more than 10 million cases a year by 2019. New independent distilleries are also opening all across Ireland, include Dublin’s Teeling factory, the first distillery to open in the city in over 125 years.
The ‘best’ Irish Whiskey is produced the same way as Scotch. Single Malt Irish Whiskey is produced from only malted barley and is distilled on copper pot stills. Due to the introduction of taxes on malt, many distillers in Ireland started to replace some of the malt with other grains like corn, wheat and unmalted barley. This lead to the rise of grain Whiskey. Grain Whiskey is usually distilled on column stills, because they offer a cheaper and continuous production. Blended Irish Whiskey contains malt and grain Whiskey. The higher the malt ratio, the better the Whiskey. Compared to Scotland, Ireland has another type of Whiskey – Single Pot Still Whiskey. This Whiskey contains malt and grain Whiskey, but both have to be distilled on pot stills only.
Owing to the history of Ireland there are a lot of Blended Whiskeys and only few Single Malts. Best known are Jameson, Tullamore, and Bushmills. Single Pot Still Whiskeys are part of the production at the New Midleton distillery, where not only the famous Irish Blends Jameson, Power’s, and Paddy are produced.
Over the past year or two, new Irish Whiskey expressions have hit the market, with consumers showing great interest in trying new barrel finishes or grain blends. From the Midleton distillery in Cork, Jameson released Caskmates, a Whiskey finished in stout beer barrels, while Redbreast released Lustau Edition, which is finished in first-fill sherry butts. Tullamore D.E.W. released its new Cider Cask Finish expression for global travel retail and will continue to push its 14-year-old and 18-year-old expressions over the coming years.