In the Spirit: Luck of the Irish

March 17th, known to most as St. Patrick’s Day. Originally a Catholic holiday in honor of Saint Patrick, an Irish saint, on the anniversary of his death. But when we think of St. Patrick’s Day today, we think of green shamrocks, little leprechauns, and heavy drinking, the real reason we get excited for this otherwise mundane day.

The term “whiskey” originates from an Irish Gaelic term meaning “water of life”.  Irish whiskey is one of the first recorded distilled beverages in Europe, dating back to 1405, almost 90 years before Scotch whiskeys. While the origins of the beverage are debated, the most common lore states that the first whiskey distilled was done so by Irish Monks, who learned how to distill perfumes while traveling the Mediterranean. I guess they got thirsty on the boat ride home. The first licensed distillery in the world was the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland, and today Irish whiskey is the largest growing spirit in the world. I suppose you can say we have the Irish Monks to thank for the whiskey industry we all love so much today.

Despite being the world’s oldest whiskey distillery, Bushmills is still one of the most recognizable names in Irish whiskey. Located next to the River Bush, this triple distilled whiskey has been passed down for generations since 1608. Made with 100% malted barley in copper stills, Bushmills is the only distillery in Ireland that makes, matures, and bottles their whiskey on site at the same location they did for the last 400 years.

Perhaps the most distinctive Irish whiskey today is Jameson. Founded by John Jameson in 1780, distillation took place on Bow Street in Dublin. In 1805 John passed the family business down to his son John Jr, cultivating the business and in turn passing it down to his son John III in 1851, deeming the company John Jameson and Sons. In 1805 Jameson was the largest whiskey producing distillery in the world and today is still the third largest producer. In 1976 the Jameson distillery outgrew its Bow Street location, moving to Midlton, just outside of Cork in the Southern part of the country, where it is till located to this day as part of the Irish Distillers Group.

All great things start in the basement of a mad genius, right? Well, Redbreast is no different. Originally as an import/export business, W&A Gilbey was founded in a London basement in 1857. Eventually branching out into Dublin, Gilbey started blending and selling their own distinctive label of spirit in 1866. However, it wasn’t until 1887 after forming an alliance with Jameson and Sons, that Gilbey really got on the map. It was from this alliance that the Redbreast Whiskey was born. Jameson and Sons provided the whiskey and Gilbey provided the Sherry Casks for aging, birthing what we know today as Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey. First mentioned in 1912, named after the Chairman of the Gilbey company who was an avid bird watcher, Redbreast was described as their most famous brand yet.  By the 1920s it was held at such a high esteem that they dubbed it “The Priest’s Bottle”, because only the wealthy clergyman could afford such a spirit.  Gilbey said goodbye to Redbreast in 1985, handing the label over to the Irish Distillers Group. Today, Redbreast is distilled in the Midlton Distillery just outside of Cork with Jameson and the rest of the Irish Distillers Group brands.

So, this St. Patrick’s Day, no matter what your poison of choice is, raise a glass and may the luck of the Irish be with you!

theculturetrip.com/europe/ireland/articles/a-brief-history-of-irish-whiskey

britannica.com/topic/Saint-Patricks-Day

bushmills.com/distillery

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jameson_Irish_Whiskey

– Krista Bacchiocchi, F&B Manager in Prime 44 West at The Greenbrier. Hashtag #123. March 2020

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