The History of Irish Whiskey Distilling

When we think of whiskey, we automatically think of Scotland. However, not many people realise that the first record of Irish whiskey dates back to 1405, around 90 years before the drink was first recorded in Scotland. Irish whiskey has a long history indeed and today is the fasting growing spirit in the world. Find out a little bit about the long and interesting history of Irish whiskey below.  

The origins of Irish whiskey 

It’s commonly thought that Irish missionary monks first discovered the skill of distillation whilst on their travels around the Mediterranean during the 11th century. When they arrived back to Ireland, they put their new skills to the test and began to distill alcohol. The first official record of Irish whiskey dates back to 1405, making it one of the earliest distilled drinks in Europe. 

Ireland’s first whiskey distilleries 

During the 1500s, Irish Whiskey was becoming increasingly popular. At this point, distilling was still a cottage industry and there were hundreds of home distilleries across the country. It wasn’t until 1608 the British Crown issued the first license to an Irish distillery in Antrim, Northern Ireland, making Irish whiskey a qualified legal member of world commerce. Old Bushmills Distillery became not just Ireland’s first licensed whiskey distillery, but the first one in the world.  

Old Bushmills Whiskey Distillery  

Old Bushmills is still operating to this very day and offers tours around the distillery. In 2019, Bushmill’s received planning permission to build a brand new £30 million distillery to help ‘meet increasing demand’ for its Irish whiskey. This brand is known for producing fruity single malts and blends, including the rich Black Bush.  

Not long after Old Bushmills, Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin was founded in 1780. Old Jameson was Ireland’s most famous distillery for almost 200 years until its closure in 1971.  It is now a visitor centre that offers guided tours and fantastic whiskey tastings sessions.  

The years of decline  

The Irish whiskey distilling industry took a bit of a hit during the late 1930s to the 1960s. During this period many distilleries closed and by the mid 1950s there was just five distilleries remaining. In the Republic of Ireland, remaining distilleries included Jameson, Powers and the Cork Distilleries Company. In order to survive, these distilleries merged and formed Irish Distillers Ltd in 1966. Bushmills in Northern Ireland joined Irish Distillers in 1972. 

Irish Whisky Today 

Nowadays, whiskey distilling in Ireland is thriving. In January 2020, it was reported that the number of active whiskey distillers in Ireland hit a 120-year high in 2019, with 32 running across the country. The Irish whiskey industry massively contributes to tourism too. According to Drinks Ireland, over one million people visited Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes in 2019. This is the first-time visitor numbers have exceeded the one-million mark.  
Experience in the best of Irish whiskey through our Whiskey Trail of Ireland tour. Whether your part of a group planning a trip to Ireland, or an individual looking for ways to make your trip to Ireland memorable and very special, we have something to suit every traveller. Contact us to find out Find out how we can customise this package for you. 

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