The rapid ascension of Irish whiskey has become a bit of a phenomenon. Prior to 2016, Hibernian distillers had a paltry claim to the global whisky market as compared to its Scottish, and even Japanese counterparts.
A simple litmus test, if conducted two years ago, would prove this. Ask a group of people to name whisky brands, and rarely would an Irish label factor into the conversation, unless you were speaking to seasoned drinkers with a firm grasp on the whisky world.
Fast forward to the midpoint of 2016, and the situation is drastically different. A joint report by the International Wine and Spirits Research group showed a jump in Irish whiskey sales of 11.2 percent, rising from 7.8 million nine-litre cases sold that year, to 8.7 million. Reasons for the boost include an increase in export to the United States, while demand from emerging markets like Canada, Slovakia and Poland also ramped up. Brands like Jameson and Tullamore Dew are now at the tip of everyone’s tongues, whether it be whisky connoisseurs or amateur drinkers. Irish whiskey has also proven to be an accessible gateway for people to test the waters of whisky appreciation, due to its smoother, milder flavours when compared to Scotch. But, we’ll get more into that later.
In this guide, you’ll get a brief touchstone for what Irish whiskey is, why its upward trajectory isn’t slowing, and where to start if you’re a beginner.
A bit of history
Irish whiskey’s ascension is remarkable because the industry was driven to the brink of extinction in the late 19th and early 20th century. Despite being the most popular spirit in the world prior to that era, a combination of social, political and religious events combined to cripple this giant. Issues like the temperance movement, Prohibition, civil, trade and world wars, as well as a reluctance on the part of whiskey producers to adapt to changing market tastes saw 30 distilleries diminish to two by the 1970s.