Irish Whiskey is incredibly popular in the US, probably because of its rich history and the fact that a fair number of Americans have Irish ancestary
The distillation of Irish Whiskey has a long history, no one knows for sure when it first began, but some sources place it as early as the 6th Century when travelling monks on their return to Ireland brought with them the knowledge of distillation.
Certainly the distillation process in Ireland is many hundreds of years old.
Production of Whiskey was prevalent in the 16th century.
Elizabeth I was apparently quite fond of it, but missed the opportunity to raise extra revenue by placing a tax on distillation.
The opportunity was not lost forever as on Christmas day in 1661 the then Government introduced a tax of 4 pence on each and every gallon of Whiskey distilled.
By 1785 the tax on Irish Whiskey stood at one shilling an tupence the last straw for many was in 1815 when the tax was levied at a crippling six shillings.
It was this high tax which drove many to produce there goods illicitly and by the end of the 18th century it is thought that there were some 2000 stills in operation in Ireland.
Many of these producing "Poitien" or Poteen which is illicit whiskey.
Some of these distillers decided to distil legally and tried to raise the capital to set up larger distilleries, of these by far the most successful were the four big Dublin distillers. They were John Power, John Jameson, George Roe and William Jameson.
James Power was originally a coaching innkeeper of Thomas Street in Dublin,
It is perhaps unlikely that he could have known how successful his "New" business venture would come to be when in 1791 he founded a small Irish Whiskey distillery by converting the hostelry into a distillery.
By the turn of the century James was joined in the business by his son John.
Originally called James Powers & Son by 1809 the business had become a limited company under the name of John Power and Son with the father remaining in charge.
The business continued to grow successfully and in 1823 John Power "Boasted" of a 500 gallon still with an annual output of some 33,000 gallons of Whiskey per year!
This was the start of something big within another 10 years the company's output had increase by ten-fold.
Powers was the first Irish Whiskey company to sell their whiskey in miniature bottles called Baby Power's. Such was their influence with government that changes to the Law were actually made in order to facilitate this innovation.
The last member of the Board with the Power name was Sir Thomas Talbot Power who died in 1936, although ownership remained in the family through his sisters.
Powers remained a leading player in the industry until 1966 when they merged with the only two remaining distillers in the Irish republic, Cork Distillers Company and their long time rivals John Jameson & Son.
Together these three distilleries formed the Irish Distillers Group.
In 1989 the Pernod Ricard empire successfully bid against Gilbey's and Guinness-Cantrell-Cochran to become the new owners of the Irish Distillers Group which also includes Bushmills Distillery in the North of Ireland bought by the group in the 1970s.
On Pernod Ricards success the last four members of the old distilling families of Dublin and Cork resigned.
It is regarded by many as a sad fact that from a land that once boasted tens of hundreds of distilleries the demise of these establishments has plummeted to a level that now, only three legal distilleries remain in Ireland today. They are:
Of these distilleries Bushmills is part of the Pernod Ricard Group and Midleton are part of the Irish Distillers Group with Cooley Distillery the only source of independent Irish whiskey.
There are also two Distillery Museums located on the sites of former distilleries
The Jameson's old Bow Street Distillery in Dublin, and Locke's Distillery Museum in Kilbeggan Co. Westmeath.
Irish Whiskey apart from the spelling Whisk(e)y differs from Scotch Whisky in that normally Irish is distilled three times (but not always)
The malting process also differs between Irish & Scottish Whiskey as Irish Whiskey production uses sprouted barley, dried in a closed kiln, this is then mixed with unmalted barley before being ground into a grist.
This accounts for the smoothness of Irish whiskey and the "non-peaty" taste compared to Scotch.
One of the exceptions is a widely acclaimed gem called Connemara which is distilled by the Cooley Distillery. Although triple distilled it uses peated malt for its unique taste.
Despite there being only three major Irish distilleries,
there are still plenty examples of smooth Irish Whiskey varieties available, with the volume driven by Irish blended Whiskey.
Jameson, Paddy's and a number of UK Supermarket own brands dominate the volume produced, but the Irish Whiskey distilleries still produce an exciting range of aged matured malts and blends.
In early 2006 it looks as though Diageo will acquire the largest of the Irish Whiskey distilleries, Old Bushmills and this will certainly see the continuation of a great tradition of distilling plus investment in their Jameson brand.
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