It’s just one little letter, but it makes a world of difference: the “e” that separates Irish whiskey from Scotch whisky. Both get their names from the original Gaelic uisce beatha (uisge beatha in scots Gaelic), literally meaning “the water of life”. Whiskey originated in Ireland, and differs from Scotch in that it is distilled three times (as opposed to two), giving it a delicious lightness. Scottish distilleries also use peat smoke to dry the barley, which adds a distinctive flavour. The differences don’t stop there, and aficionados will debate their preferences into the small hours, but one thing is indisputable: Irish whiskey is currently having an extraordinary renaissance.
Once the most popular spirit in the world, a combination of Prohibition in the USA, a trade war with Britain, and a rather bizarre decision by the government of the new Irish Free State to cap exports of whiskey, led to a sad decline. That is changing now, and visitors to Dublin can enjoy distillery tours, and sample their wares, while soaking up some intriguing tastes of the city’s history.
One such story relates how, in 1875, a fire engulfed Malone’s malt house in Dublin’s historic Liberties. 5,000 barrels of whiskey were stored there, and soon the streets were running with burning rivers of the spirit. Astonishingly enough no one was killed in the fire, but there were fatalities: many of the crowds that gathered to watch the fire discovered a huge thirst had come upon them (as the Irish would say). Using shoes, hats and any other vessels that came to hand, they started to scoop up the flowing liquid. Thirteen people died that night, not from fire or smoke inhalation, but from alcohol poisoning…
Today’s distillery tours are of more sober aspect, although the spirit is incredibly beguiling. Discover the magic of Whiskey with an “e” at The Jameson Distillery on Bow Street, Teeling’s in Newmarket and Pearse Lyons on James’s Street.
Of course Irish whiskey isn’t a purely Dublin phenomenon, which is why Bar No 23 at The Merrion has a carefully selected series of Whiskey Flights: each one including four different 15 ml drams. Discover the Irish Single Malt Flight, the Single Pot Still Flight and the Jameson Flight, with prices from €28.00.
For a very special treat, The Merrion recently welcomed the Head Distiller from the renowned Midleton Distillery in Co Cork, for a sold out Fireside Chat event in Bar No 23 on November 5th. Sampling Midleton whiskeys from twelve to thirty years old, matured in a range of cask types including Bourbon, Sherry, Malaga, Port and Irish Oak casks. If you would like to register your interest for upcoming events, please call 01 6030608 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pearse Lyons Distillery
Sláinte Mhaith (Cheers)!
p.s. A rather wonderful side effect of the new Irish whiskey distilleries is gin. Because it takes at least three years, usually more, for whiskey to mature, many of the distillers have been using their spare time to come up with some truly extraordinary new Irish gins.