St. Patrick’s Day Secrets of Irish Whiskey

Its sales are through the roof, and there are many ways to drink Irish whiskey this St. Patrick’s Day.

Scotch fans brace yourself: 2015 was the sixth year in a row that Irish whiskey outsold single malt in the United States. And last year, the gap between the two spirits was more than a million cases!

But before you starting crying into your Macallan, you should take some solace in the fact that Irish whiskey has been outpacing most of the booze industry—its sales are up an astronomical 641 percent from 2002 to 2015, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

So, to prepare you for St. Patrick’s Day parties (and this new whiskey world order), here’s what you need to know about the liquor.

The Home of Distillation

If Irish whiskey’s recent growth wasn’t hard enough to swallow for Scotch drinkers, it turns out that distillation was most likely…um…brought to Scotland from Ireland by monks.

“An idea like this couldn’t be kept bottled up, and usquebaugh [the original Gaelic name for whiskey] soon crossed the narrow sea to Scotland,” wrote Lew Bryson in his excellent book Tasting Whiskey.

Keep in mind at the time the spirit was a bit different than it is now. According to Bryson, “Irish whiskey was being made from malted barley and flavored with spices and fruits.”

A Distilling Boom

Irish whiskey torrid sales figures are even more impressive given that up until recently there were just three distilleries on the whole island, which produced all the different brands.

In the last few years, there’s been a spirited building boom with a number of projects in the works. In 2014, Tullamore D.E.W. opened a $50 million facility in, of course, Tullamore, which is in the middle of the country.

Smaller companies have also set up shop, including the Teeling Whiskey Company, whose €10 distillery is the first one to be built in Dublin in at least 125 years and is housed in an old brewery.

Religious Drinking

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As any old-school bartender will tell you, it’s best not to mix religious discussions and drinking. But when it comes to Irish whiskey, Americans are obsessed with forcing the two together.

There is a persistent and pervasive idea that Catholics should only drink Jameson, since it’s made in the south of the island and Protestants should only drink Bushmills, since it’s made in the north.

The truth: Nobody in Ireland goes by this rule or understands why Americans insist upon its validity. And to set the record straight, whiskey maker John Jameson was Protestant and Scottish.

The Right Way to Drink It

Don’t let the know-it-all shamrock bedecked barfly tell you how to enjoy your whiskey. (Just like you wouldn’t let him decide how well your steak should be cooked in a restaurant, don’t listen to him when it comes to imbibing liquor.)

After all, Irish whiskey—like bourbon and rye—is extremely versatile and works in a range of different cocktails and, of course, can be sipped neat if that’s your pleasure.