Just how Irish is Irish whiskey these days?

Posted: March 14, 2014

 B  UZZ: Hey Marnie, I need to stock up on Irish whiskey for St. Patrick's Day. Which brand is authentic?

Marnie: They all are, Buzz. If it's labeled "Irish whiskey," it must be made in Ireland.

Buzz: An Irish buddy told me not to be caught dead drinking the wrong one. I sure don't want to offend anyone. But I forget which is which.

Marnie: Oh, I see. For decades, two Irish whiskey brands dominated from opposite ends of Ireland. Irish-Americans often signaled their political allegiances in the conflict over Northern Ireland by their brand of choice.

Buzz: I'd hate to ruin my drinking by mixing it with politics.

Marnie: Drinking Jameson, the international market leader, advertised support for a united, independent Ireland because it came from County Cork, in the south. Bushmills, its closest rival, was made near the northeastern tip, so for many it represented Northern Ireland and British rule. But this was purely symbolic, since both were made by the same company until quite recently. There are a lot more options now, too, though many are made by the same companies.

Buzz: So, whichever side you supported you were actually supporting the other side, too? I'm confused. They let the same company make different brands?

Marnie: Sure. Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Tullamore Dew and Redbreast are all made at the same Midleton distillery in County Cork. Spirits are big business and are dominated by a few huge conglomerates that buy up brands and often consolidate production to manage costs.

Buzz: OK, break it down for me.

Marnie: Irish Distillers, the owners of Jameson, bought Bushmills, in 1972, forming what was essentially an Irish whiskey monopoly. The French company Pernod-Ricard took it over in 1988 and now markets Jameson alongside its other brands, like Absolut, Malibu and Kahlua. In 2005, they split off Bushmills, selling it to the UK-based multinational Diageo, makers of Tanqueray, Guinness, Smirnoff and Captain Morgan.

Buzz: Whoa - how can Irish whiskey be "multinational"? That's just wrong.

Marnie: You're not alone in thinking that, Buzz. A great hue and cry went up when the last independent Irish distillery, makers of Kilbeggan, Connemara and Michael Collins, was sold to the American bourbon giant Beam, in 2011. A whole slew of small Irish distillers have set up shop since, but few of them have products on the market yet.

Buzz: Well, when they show up on the shelves, let me know and I'll drink to that.

(See graphic of Irish whiskies here.)


Marnie Old is a local sommelier and

wine author known for practical

advice with real-world relevance.

Her newest book, Wine: A Tasting

Course, is an illustrated crash

course for the wine curious. Marnie

also advises clients in the beverage

and restaurant trades. Check her

out at MarnieOld.com or follow her

on Twitter at @MarnieOld. Buzz's

musings are interpreted by DailyNews Assistant Managing

Editor Gar Joseph.

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