By Devin Button
With Saint Patrick’s Day falling in the month of March and being well known for a time of relaxation and drinking. Why not take a second to dive into the history of Irish whiskey, and look even deeper into the history of some of the Whiskeys’ biggest contributors.
Irish whiskey was one of the earliest distilled drinks in Europe, arising around the 12th century. It is believed that Irish monks brought the technique of distilling perfumes back to Ireland from their travels to the Mediterranean countries around 1000 AD. The Irish then modified this technique to obtain a drinkable spirit. Although termed “whiskey”, the spirit produced during this period would have differed from what we currently recognize as whiskey. The whiskey produced in historical times would not have been aged and was often flavored with aromatic herbs such as mint, thyme or anise. Irish Mist, a whiskey liqueur launched in 1963, is purportedly based on such a recipe. Although known to have occurred for hundreds of years, records of whiskey production in Ireland can be difficult to come by, particularly in the earlier years when production was unregulated. Even in later years, as production was frequently illicit, official records bear a little reflection of reality. In addition, as many Irish records were traditionally oral rather than written, details on early production are likely lost. The oldest known written record of whiskey comes from Ireland in 1405 in the Annals of Clonmacnoise, where it was written that the head of a clan died after “taking a surfeit of aqua vitae” at Christmas. Its first known mention in Scotland dates from 1494. However, it is known that by 1556 whiskey was widespread, as an Act passed by the English Parliament declared whiskey to be “a drink nothing profitable to be drunken daily and used is now universally through the realm of Ireland”. This Act also made it technically illegal for anyone other than “the peers, gentlemen, and freemen of larger towns” to distill spirits without a license from the Lord Deputy. However, as Crown control did not extend far beyond the Pale, a fortified area around Dublin, this had little effect.
In 1780, John Jameson established a way of making Irish whiskey that we’ve been proudly sticking to ever since. As you can imagine, producing a blended Irish whiskey that has been enjoyed for over two centuries, takes a lot. But don’t worry, we’ve distilled over 200 years of courage, craft and a collective appreciation for taste, into one short account. So here’s the secret behind our signature smoothness – our process and our people. “Sine Metu”; Following this family motto ever since has allowed us to produce whiskey through two world wars, an Irish civil war, and even American prohibition. It’s also helped us discover new possibilities, new people and new ways of producing whiskey. The Jameson family motto means so much to us, that we proudly display it on the front of every bottle. Which is a handy way to ensure we never stray from it.
The Dead Rabbits were a notorious Irish immigrant street gang whose sworn enemies were the nativist anti-immigrant Bowery Boys. Their antagonism came to a head in a notorious riot that raged for days in 1857. Up to a thousand gang members were involved before the order was finally restored. The leader of the Dead Rabbits was John Morrissey, a notorious figure who would later go on to become a Democratic congressman and senator. Darryl McNally is the Master Distiller for The Dublin Liberties Whiskey Company and one of Ireland’s leading experts on Irish whiskey. As Master Distiller of The Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey, Darryl is responsible for all aspects of production, from selecting the grains to be used to create each whiskey, to carefully blending and distilling the liquid to achieve whiskeys of the highest quality possible. His skill and passion for whiskey-making are evident from the care and effort he puts into the process and from the success of the DLD brands, which are amongst the fastest-growing Irish Whiskies in the world today. Daryl has over 20 years in the Irish whiskey industry. He started as an apprentice at Ireland’s oldest distillery where he worked for 17 years, achieving his goal of becoming Master Distiller in 2007. In addition to distilling and blending, Darryl’s extensive experience across all aspects of Irish whiskey includes packaging, supply chain management, and bottling.
In the long run like every beverage, it all comes down to one’s personal taste. Taking that opinion than looking deeper into where that drink comes from gives a greater understanding, and better respect to the drink and your taste for it. Irish whiskey has been around forever and will continue to stock the shelves of your local fine wines and good spirits stores for years to come. What do you think? What’s your favorite drink to enjoy on a relaxing spring afternoon, or late-night gathering with friends? Comment down below, and have your opinions heard!