How Irish Whiskey Poured its Way into America

Saint Patrick’s Day is known in America as the day where everybody is a little bit Irish. Irish whiskies and Irish creams are very prominent liquors today, but it hasn’t always been that way. 

Irish whiskey was first distilled back in 1405, but began regulation in the 1600s, when King Henry VIII was ruler and icons such as Shakespeare, Pocahontas, and Galileo Galilei lived. The oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world, Bushmills, was established in 1608. Unfortunately, not many operating distilleries date back that far due to the fact that King Henry VIII of England did everything in his power to control the Irish. Strict laws were placed upon distillers and eventually many found themselves suddenly partaking in illegal production and distribution, and not able to pay the fees for committing these offenses. The amount of operating distilleries dropped quickly; consequently the amount of Irish whiskey available did too. However, that did not stop the Irish from producing their prized liquor, it only forced them to create new distillation and distribution techniques.  

Since there were many rules keeping distilleries from flourishing, Irish “Moonshiners” created their own version of Irish whiskey, poitín. Poitín men distilled this whiskey up in the hills where they were less likely to be caught, although there was a designated task force whose sole objective was to find and seize those illegal stills. This whiskey illegally made its way throughout Ireland. Distillation sometimes resulted in conflicts with the law in which there were harsh consequences including deadly battles between bootleggers and law enforcement. It wasn’t until recently in 1997 that poitín became legalized after being classified illegal back in 1661. In Ireland today, one can sometimes still find poitín samples up for tasting in distilleries. 

Unfortunately, the English ruling over the Irish wasn’t the only thing that prevented them from legally selling their whiskey. Transporting whiskey during both World War I and the American Prohibition proved as daunting missions for the Irish. Merchant vessels were prime targets across the Atlantic ocean during World War I, causing many goods to vanish before hitting the Americas. When “Irish whiskey” did reach America, it was the poitín moonshine that bootleggers were producing, not the fine-tasting and triple distilled authentic Irish whiskey that was originally regulated by the English. Not only was that a difficult period, but during Prohibition sales virtually halted, and those who had sampled the “Irish whiskey,” poitín, were not interested in re-purchasing this whiskey post-Prohibition. Many were only exposed to poitín and assumed that all Irish whiskey would have a raw and similar taste profile. The Irish distillers were faced with many challenges as they attempted to get their product out globally. It wasn’t until 1988 when French distillers Pernod Ricard bought out an umbrella company composed of many different distilleries, called the Irish Distillers Group. Jameson was the first brand that became popularized in America. Since then sales have soared and Irish Whiskey is now the fastest growing spirit in the world! 

A few of our Irish favorites on sale at Chili Liquor! Prices subject to change. 

Redbreast 12yr $64.99/750ml 

Spicy with great body. Nuts and citrus (peel and juice) with hints of marzipan, dried fruits and a hint of Sherry. Long and creamy finish with custard and spice. 

Kilbeggan Single Pot Still $29.99/750ml 

Melon, candied peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, and honeysuckle aromas cascade into a palate made especially lush and creamy from the oats, with citrus peel, apricot, and roasted hazelnut flavors leading to a mellow, rounded finish, adeptly exhibiting a crisp articulation of pot still spiciness throughout. Ranked #8 in Whiskey Advocate’s Top 20 Whiskies of 2020. 

Bushmills 16 yr Single Malt $99.99/750ml 

Aged for about 15 years in a combination of Oloroso Sherry and bourbon-seasoned casks, and then finished for about 9 months in port wine pipes (large barrels unique to making port wine). This single malt shows its layers of flavor, juicy fruits, nuts and spice, as well as a hint of ruby redness.