Water of life
“Whiskey” is an Anglicization of the Gaelic uisce beatha, meaning “water of life.”
From perfume to liquor
Knowledge of distillation was brought to Ireland around the 1100s by monks who had travelled throughout the Mediterranean, where the process was originally used to make perfume. Obviously the monks had more use for liquor than perfume in Ireland’s chilly climate, as they quickly modified the process and began distilling liquor—the first record of Irish whiskey dates to 1404.
The very first
An Irish whiskey distillery, Bushmills, is the oldest licensed distillery in the world. It was established in 1608 when King James I granted a distillation licence to Bushmills founder Sir Thomas Phillips. However, many other distilleries existed around this time, but licences were expensive and most distillers simply ignored the law and sold their whiskey illegally.
No peat here
Irish whiskey is not made using peat, so it is much brighter and smoother than Scottish whisky. Peat is an accumulation of organic matter in bogs and marshes; dried blocks of it have been used for fuel throughout Britain for centuries. Peat fires release a very thick, oily smoke and are used by many Scotch whiskies to dry the barley in the malting process, imbuing a pungent smokiness often described as similar to leather or bacon fat. Irish whisky, in comparison, is much cleaner and lighter.
Keep the “e”
Irish and American whiskies spell “whiskey” with an “e.” All other types of whiskies (Canadian, Scottish, etc) spell it without the “e” as “whisky.”
Revitalizing a stagnant industry
The Irish whiskey industry has recently been expanding after nearly going extinct in the 20th century due to a series of social, economic and political setbacks, including anti-alcohol crusades in the 19th century, the British trade embargo following the War of Independence and then Prohibition in the United States. Quality plummeted as Ireland’s few remaining distilleries merged into one company in order to survive, until the fully-independent Cooley Distillery opened in 1987 and introduced some much-needed competition to the industry. Ireland currently has 10 distilleries in operation.V