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Blatant stereotype notwithstanding, it seems you can't get two Irishmen together without a bottle of whiskey making an appearance. The word originates from the Gaelic phrase uisce beatha, or "Water of Life." Aficionados of fine Irish whiskey each have their favorite brand - whether it's Black Bush, Jameson, Powers, Midleton Very Rare, or a lesser-known label - and regard it with a near-religious reverence.


The Angels' ShareAs whiskey ages in the cask, a portion of it evaporates heavenward and is forever lost. Distillers call the evaporated portion "the angels' share."

A Dram of History

In the sixth century A.D., Irish missionaries to the Middle East brought back with them an Arab technology for making perfume—using a metal still called an alembic. The monks introduced a crucial improvement to the perfume-making process; instead of flowers, they put surplus grain and water into their pot stills, then distilled the wash into whiskey. Moderately popular for the next millennium or so, whiskey enjoyed an explosion of popularity in Ireland in the 1600s, which endured even after the British monarchy began adding taxes to the price —and the popularity of fine whiskey persists to this day.

Which is Best: Irish or Scotch?

The longstanding and rather nasty debate between the Irish and the Scots as to Ultimate Whiskey Supremacy has never been settled once and for all. Each is supreme in its own way, but the two varieties do have their differences. (Note the spelling difference—whiskey vs. whisky—for starters.) Irish whiskey is preferred by those who value its consistent smoothness, while Scotch drinkers prefer its more smoky flavor. Scotch whisky acquires its characteristic smokiness from the peat-fueled fires that distillers use to dry the damp malt; on the other hand, Irish whiskey lacks a smoky flavor because Irish distillers dry the malt in a smoke-free kiln.

At one point in time, about a century ago, fine Irish was much more highly valued by the drinking public than a comparable Scotch (monetarily, at least). In what would become an early masterpiece of fraudulent product labeling, Scottish distillers freighted their whisky to Dublin, blending it with microscopic quantities of Irish. After relabeling the bottles "Irish Whiskey," they then shipped the whole load back to Scotland, where it fetched premium prices!

It's been said that God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from taking over the world. Time will tell if this turns out to be a successful strategy on God's part, but Irish whiskey is clearly a divine invention that's here to stay.