The Whiskeys of Ireland by Peter Mulryan
O’Brien Press, Dublin. 2016. £14.99 Hbk. 192 pp.
In addition to having a thriving craft brewery scene and the ubiquitous Guinness, Ireland also has a national spirit, whiskey (spelt with an “e”) which has a heritage that rivals Scotch whisky. Whiskeys of Ireland uncovers this in a well written and illustrated book by Irish writer and broadcaster, Peter Mulryan.
The book traces the development of Irish whiskey from its mythical past as uisce beatha, “water of life”, to its role today as one of the world’s leading spirits with sales of over $4.2 billion a year. The book chronicles the uneasy relationship between distillers and the Irish tax regime which drove most distilleries underground during the 17th century. We learn how poitín or poteen became the name given to illegally distilled spirits and how poteen became a type of spirit that was legitimately sold from 1971 -2015 without a legal definition of what constituted poteen.
The 19th century saw the rise of the Big Four whiskey producers; John Jameson, William Jameson, John Power and George Roe. The whiskey industry grew rapidly during this period thanks to the coming of railways in Ireland which enabled whiskey to be easily transported around Ireland and exported. The late 1800’s were a golden period with Dublin Whiskey being seen in the UK as the ultimate premium spirit. However, over-production, the First World War, Irish Civil War and Prohibition in the USA brought the industry to ruins by the 1930s.
The post war period brought about the amalgamation of Powers, Jamesons and Cork Distilleries. The book also has an interesting aside into how Irish Coffee became a really popular drink in San Francisco in the 1960’s and its consumption accounted for most Irish Whiskey exports during this period. The latter part of the book is devoted to the rebirth of the whiskey industry thanks mainly to its popularity in the USA and the emergence of a new generation of craft distillers. The book also has useful short chapters on whiskey making, blending and tasting.
This book would make a great present for a whisky/whiskey drinker as it is something you can keep referring to as you become more interested in the subject. Although the main focus of the book is Irish Whiskey it would equally appeal to a Scotch drinker or someone with an interest in premium spirits. It has many good illustrations and is reasonable priced for a hardback publication. The Whiskeys Of Ireland is much less that the price of a good bottle of whiskey but provides many hours of pleasurable and informative reading.