The distillation of whiskey began around the 12thcentury in Ireland. Uisce beatha was a translation of the Latin term for alcohol, meaning aqua vitaeor water of life. Although, the exact date and location of the first whiskey production is not known– we can be sure that the first barrels were very different from what we now call whiskey. Distilling flourished in Ireland as an everyday part of the rural economy but distilleries were unregulated and no written records were kept. Most of the traditional knowledge from this period has therefore been lost.
About 1500, the English passed an Act banning drinking and production of whiskey for most Irish people. This law was mostly ignored since the English control didn’t reach beyond The Pale, the fortified area around Dublin. The first license was given in 1608 after England had taken control over Ireland, although most distilleries continued operating illegally. Later a tax on whiskey production was introduced and people started calling the legally produced spirit “Parliament Whiskey”.
Because of the growth in population in the 18thcentury, the demand for whiskey grew rapidly and some distillers started caring more about the quantity of their whiskey than the quality. Thus the Parliament made any whiskey ingredient other than malt, grain, potatoes or sugar illegal.
In 1779, a big tax reform changed the landscape of whiskey production again. Instead of taxing the reported output, which was manipulated by the distillers most of the time, the crown started taxing the potential output – making broad assumptions and generalisations on the output and penalising distilleries, especially the smaller ones.
Some distilleries closed but many just moved underground, continuing to work while paying no taxes. Six years later, a tax on malt was introduced and the “pure pot still” was born. This is an Irish form of whiskey where unmalted barley is mixed with malted barley. This way the Irish distillers could evade these new malt taxes.
Through the tax reform of 1779 the number of legal distilleries had gone from 1228 to 246 by 1790. Most of these were in bigger cities while illegal distilleries were mostly in rural areas. While the tax was lucrative for the crown, most of the whiskey demand was met by the illegal distilleries. In some counties, there were up to 800 illegal operations.
When another tax reform came through in 1823, the number of legal distilleries had come down to 32. Though this new reform made legal production more attractive, 1835 already showed the peak of the century: 93 distilleries.
Irish Whiskey had become the most popular spirit in the world, selling to an international market through the British Empire. Pure pot still whiskey distilled in Dublin was especially in demand.
In 1832 the Coffey Still was introduced which made a continuous output of spirit possible, but it compromised on the taste associated with traditional methods. It was welcomed by the Scottish and English but despised in Ireland. Until the early 1900s, even distillers said spirit produced using the Coffey Still should not be called whiskey.
With the introduction of cheaper American corn due to the Great Famine in 1846, the decline of Irish Whiskey production began. The taste changed, the times were harder. The War of Independence and Trade War cut off Ireland from Britain, which had the biggest market for Irish Whiskey and made the business of whiskey even harder. Cheaper and more widely available Scotch soon took its place.
The modern resurgence of Irish Whiskey began in the 1980s and today, interest in whiskeys and whiskey production is at an all time high, crossing all ages and gender. Today, the market for Irish Whiskey is one of the fastest growing in the world.
Grace O’Malley Whiskey is part of this tradition and new energy of Irish Whiskey. An old name paired with an old tradition to bring new flavours to life: Grace O’Malley Whiskey is travelling across the world – perfect for the Pirate Queen of Ireland.
Our whiskey is sourced from the Great Northern Distillery in Dundalk – home of the great hero Cú Chulainn. Dundalk also has a history of brewing and distilling, ideal for keeping traditions alive with Grace O’ Malley Whiskey. Aged in good old oak casks for the perfect smooth and light Irish flavour – whiskey worthy of a queen!
What better way to tell her story than with a glass of true Irish Whiskey? Raise your glass – Sláinte!