Whiskey Essentials: Irish Whiskey

Whiskey Essentials: Irish Whiskey

Recall from our previous discussion that whiskey comes from one of five places:

  • Scotch Whisky, made in Scotland.
  • Bourbon, America's whiskey
  • Irish Whiskey
  • Canadian Whiskey
  • Japanese Whisky

In previous posts, we discussed  Scotch whisky and bourbon. This week we will take a look at the fascinating world of Irish whiskey.

Irish whiskey was one of the oldest distilled beverages in Europe; the first known record dates back to the 12th century. We think Irish monks brought the technology for distilling perfumes to Ireland from southern Europe around 1000 AD. The Irish evolved this technique to create a drinkable spirit, the precursor of present-day Irish whiskey. The spirits produced during this period would have been very different from what we know as whiskey today. It would not have been aged and would have been flavored with aromatic herbs including mint, thyme, or anise. Irish Mist, a whiskey liqueur launched in 1963, is said to be based on a recipe from this period.

Producing Irish whiskey evolved from local production into a national industry in 1608, when Northern Ireland’s Old Bushmills Distillery became the world’s first licensed Whiskey distillery.

Scotland developed the column still in 1831 making it possible for them to produce whiskey faster and more easily which allowed them to overtake Ireland in whiskey production. Despite this, Irish Whiskey, made from a mix of malted and unmalted barley in a pot still, continued to grow in popularity. By the beginning of the 20th century, it was the most popular Whiskey type in the United States

The Irish whiskey industry was hurt by prohibition in the United States and the Irish War of Independence which cut off access to its major markets, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Jameson Distillery Midleton Ireland

With whiskey production on the decline, only a few distilleries remained open. In 1966  the umbrella Irish Distillers Group was formed by merging a few of the remaining distilleries. Ten years later, the New Midleton Distillery opened in Cork, where much of Irish Whiskey is now made.

The Irish Distiller Group was bought by the French distiller Pernod Ricard, home of many well-known brands such as Absolut, Ballantine's, Chivas, Lillet, and Pernot as well as Jameson's Irish whiskey. Under the new ownership sales of Irish whiskey soared. In 2015, seven million cases of Irish whiskey were exported, an increase of one million over 2014 sales. In 2022 export sales surpassed one billion dollars for the first time and the double-digit year-over-year growth is expected to continue in part because of increasing global demand for premium, higher-priced Irish whiskey as consumers drink less, but higher-quality alcohol.

Across Ireland, new independent distilleries are opening including Dublin's Teeling factory, the first distillery to open in Dublin in over 125 years.

Photo by Julia Kicova

What cocktails can we make with an Irish Whiskey you ask? Here are a couple of less well-known cocktails as well as an old favorite:

The Brainstorm Cocktail


  • 2 oz, 60 ml Irish whiskey
  • 1/4 oz, 7 ml Dry vermouth
  • 1/4 oz, 7 ml Benedictine
  • Orange peel for garnish

Place all liquid ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir for 30 seconds or until well chilled. Pour into a chilled Nick & Nora glass and add garnish.

Photo by to Chas Turansky

Hearn Cocktail


  • 1 1/2 oz, 45 ml Irish whiskey
  • 1 1/2 oz, 45 ml Sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz, 30 ml Green Chartreuse
  • 4 dashes Orinoco bitters
  • 2 dashes Dram Citrus bitters
  • Absinthe for rinsing the glass
  • lemon twist for garnish

Rinse a chilled coupe glass with the Absinthe. Place all remaining ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir for 30 seconds or until well chilled. Pour into the chilled coupe glass and garnish with an orange twist.

No list of Irish Whiskey cocktails would be complete without the Irish Coffee cocktail. Make it decaf for a delicious after-dinner drink.

Photo by Sarah Power

Irish Coffee


  • 1 ½ oz, 45 ml Irish whiskey
  • 1/4 oz, 7 ml Demerara syrup,  use more or less depending on how sweet you like it
  • 6 oz, 175 ml Freshly brewed hot coffee
  • Whipped cream to top

Pour the whiskey and syrup into a heat-safe mug. Add the coffee and stir. Adjust sweetness as needed. Float the whipped cream on top.

Note: make sure the coffee is very hot as the cream will cool it down.

Sláinte! (Cheers! in Irish)



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