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Top 10 little-known Irish whiskey facts

From the world’s most expensive bottling to the origin of the Irish coffee, we present a round-up of 10 obscure Irish whiskey facts ahead of St Patrick’s Day on Friday.

SB explores the origin of the Irish coffee

What started out as a religious day in homage to the patron saint of Ireland has become an international festival celebrating Irish tradition the world over – and a fundamental part of the culture is, of course, Irish whiskey.

The category as a whole is experiencing a real resurgence, with sales climbing 20% in 2016 alone. It has has been the fastest growing spirit in the world every year since 1990, and according to Irish food board Bord Bia, global exports of Irish whiskey are on track to double by 2020.

This is not the first time the category has experienced a boom – it was even the most popular spirit in Scotland for a period in the 1800s – but there’s more on that in the pages to come.

Pour yourself a tot of the hard stuff and educate yourself with our curious list.

Click through the following pages for our selection of little-known facts about Irish whiskey.

Have we missed anything out? Let us know in the comments below.

At one time Irish whiskey was the most popular spirit in the world. In 1779, there were 1,228 registered distilleries in Ireland – though this was slashed after an Act of Parliament was introduced to reform how the taxes payable on whiskey production were calculated. As a result, by 1790, this number had fallen to 246, and by 1821, there were just 32 licensed distilleries in operation.

Whiskey in Ireland does not necessarily have to be spelled with an ‘e’. While historically Irish distillers adopted the spelling as a point of distinction from the then low-quality Scotch whisky, both spellings are still allowed under the current legislation. Plenty of brands in the past have forgone the ‘e’, and up until the 1970s, both spellings were commonplace.

In 1823 Dublin was home to the five largest licensed distilleries in Ireland. At their peak, the distilleries in Dublin were the largest in the world, with a combined output of almost 10 million gallons per year.

The first Irish coffee was invented and named by Joe Sheridan, a head chef in Foynes, County Limerick. A group of American passengers disembarked from a Pan Am flying boat on a miserable winter evening in the 1940s, so Sheridan added whiskey to their coffee. When they asked if they were being served Brazilian coffee, Sheridan replied “no, Irish coffee”. Travel writer Stanton Delaplane took Irish coffee to the US after drinking it at Shannon Airport. He worked with bar owners at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco to find the method of floating the cream on top of the coffee, and (so the story goes) one night sampled the drink until he almost passed out.

Jameson’s Midleton Distillery first opened with a whopping 31,618-gallon pot still, which remains in situ within the historic distillery, and can be viewed as part of the tour at the Jameson Experience Midleton. The new stills at Midleton are currently the largest operational pot stills in the world.

In June 1875, rivers of burning whiskey flowed through the streets of Dublin like lava after a bonded whiskey warehouse in the Liberties caught fire. The Great Dublin Whiskey Fire took the lives of 13 people, and 1,900 barrels of whiskey, were lost to the blaze.

Seeking another type of spirit – one of the most haunted Irish whiskey distilleries is Kilbeggan. The site was paid a visit by Derek Acorah, from Living TV’s Most Haunted, who proffered a wealth of interesting tales from the distillery’s rich history. He claimed to have connected with Matthew McManus, the man who founded the Kilbeggan Distillery in 1757; his son John, who was executed in 1798; and Flo Eccles née Locke, the last in a 120 year line of Locke’s to manage Kilbeggan before it closed.

The founder of Jameson Irish Whiskey, John Jameson, was actually a Scottish sheriff clerk. He was born in Alloa in the Central Lowlands of Scotland back in 1740. He married Margaret Haig, a sister of the Haig brothers, in 1768, and the couple moved to Dublin where he established the Bow Street Distillery. Together, they raised a large family, four of whom followed their father into distilling in Ireland. In 1804 John Jameson II took over the reins at Bow Street, establishing the firm of John Jameson & Son.

The world’s most expensive bottle of Irish whiskey is a 25 Year Old Pure Pot Still Whiskey which dates back to the late 1800s. It is one of the last to be produced at Nun’s Island Distillery in Galway, which closed for good in 1913. If you’re feeling flash, Arkwrights Whisky and Wines store in Wiltshire is offering the bottle, on behalf of its owner, for £100,000.

A merger of John Power & Son, John Jameson & Son and the Cork Distillery Company; Irish Distillers was formed in 1966 in an attempt to reverse the decline in Irish whiskey sales. In 1972, Bushmills – the only other whiskey distillery in operation in Ireland – joined the group, and Irish Distillers became the sole producer of whiskey in Ireland for more than a decade. Now a subsidiary of French drinks group Pernod Ricard, Irish Distillers remains the largest distiller of Irish whiskey to this day.

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