Irish whiskey, like the Irish people themselves, has a long history of travelling the world and enlivening the places it arrived. Irish people’s propensity for emigration, as well as being part of the British empire (not unconnected facts), meant that Irish whiskey flowed freely from the ports of Dublin, Cork and Belfast to satisfy demand across the globe.
It wasn’t just Irish immigrants who were calling for “a drop of the pure” at bars from Boston to Brisbane however. It was also a highly sought after and premium brand, such that Dublin distillers enshrined the “e” in Irish whiskey to differentiate it in export markets from the inferior Scotch of the 19th and early 20th century.
Global Production Leaders
That was also the time when Ireland reached its peak of production, 63 million gallons a year, which is around 400% more than the island produces today, including the George Roe Distillery which was the biggest in the world with 2 million gallons. Its main export markets were Australia, Canada and of course the USA.
In 1901, the George Roe, William Jameson and DWD distilleries even established a subsidiary in Sydney, in a bold marketing venture to capture the antipodean trade. DWD was an especially internationally lauded whiskey, producing a 15 year single pot still in a distinctive 3-sided bottle. In 1904 its tagline of “The Finest Whisky in The World” was acknowledged by Macy’s famous department store, as it included it in its very select shelf of fine whiskeys.
Unfortunately, its success in America came to an abrupt halt after the Volstead Act of 1919 ushered in the relatively brief but devastating era of Prohibition. Irish whiskey, seen as a premium drink, was naturally the focus of unscrupulous illegal manufacturers, with recipes for “Irish” whiskey containing creosote and varnish abounding. Along with a complete devastation of their main export market, Irish distillers had to suffer in silence as their reputations suffered similar ruination.
This was compounded by the granting of independence to the Republic of Ireland and the ensuing trade war during the 1930s with Britain which led to the closing of its other large foreign markets in Canada, Australia and the rest of the Commonwealth.
The turn of the century had also brought about another interesting voyage of Irish whiskey discovery, that of the SS Bushmills, a novel idea from the then owners of the Bushmills distillery to commission a special steam boat to carry their wares to the four corners of the world. Its maiden voyage saw it travel to New York City and Philadelphia, understandable destinations considering the “Irishness” of those cities. However, the plucky steamer was not finished there and carried on to cross the Pacific, calling at Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Okinawa, spreading the good word of Irish whiskey to the east coast of Asia. Upon its return voyage it carried rum and bourbon casks which led to greater experimentation with aging and marrying over the next few years in northern Ulster.
The fame and superiority of Irish whiskey has also been observed by several notable historical characters over the years. In 1698, during a visit to Western Europe, Tsar Peter the Great of Russia declared that “of all wines, Irish wine is best”. Which complemented Samuel Johnson’s view in his great dictionary, when describing whiskey, that “the Irish sort is particularly distinguished for its pleasant and mild flavour.” Not to mention the dozens of authors, actors and assorted artistes who relied on the great spirit to relieve them of the shackles on their creative endeavours down through the years.
At Irish Spirit we are continuing that great tradition of spreading the love of fine Irish whiskey around the world. If you’d like to recall some of the great Irish whiskeys of yore why not try some of the famous DWD once sold at Macy’s, an original Dublin pot still from Avery’s or get a taste for what the SS Bushmills was delivering to the curious in Okinawa.