A History of Irish Whiskey

There are many kinds of uisce beatha

Irish whiskey is famous worldwide and is known as the water of life
Irish whiskey is famous worldwide and is known as the water of life | Source

Uisce beatha

Irish whiskey is otherwise known as uisce beatha or water of life.The latin term for it is aqua vitae. Whiskey distillation has been practised in Ireland since the Middle ages.This "water of life" is reported to cure all ailments as well as restoring youth,energy and beauty to those who imbibe it. In earlier times,whiskey was used for medicinal purposes to invigorate those in low spirits. Indeed,it is often used for the same purpose nowadays.

In Elizabethan times,Irish whiskey had become well-known and much appreciated as records from these times refer to it . During this era it was a type of liqueur flavoured with ingredients including liquorice,herbs,raisins,aniseed and dates.An English writer Fynes Morgan wrote circa 1600 that uisce beatha was "the best drink of it's kind in the world".

He went on to say that it had laxative properties,reduced inflammation and is of great benefit to a weak stomach as well as being superior to it's English counterpart.

The lower classes in olden times had the choice of beer or cheap wine while the upper classes of the 16th century drank whiskey instead.

The Irish have a worldwide reputation for their liking of alcohol and this dates back to as early as 1580 when the English authorities highlighted the fact that the Irish abused drink.. Apparently,one-third of all houses in Ireland in 1650 were ale-houses or public houses and it was commented at the time that drunkenness was the only blight on this "Emerald Isle" a.k.a. Ireland.

Whiskey was produced non-commercially in Ireland for three hundred years.In the 1700s,the practice of producing whiskey commercially was commenced.Punch(whiskey with boiling water,cloves,lemon and sugar)became popular with the landlord classes,clergy,shopkeepers and farmers.

Irish whiskey was a most respectable drink and was kept in many houses for it's medicinal purposes and as a treat for good cheer.The Irish tradition of matchmaking always incuded the use of whiskey when agreement was reached on the dowry to confirm the negotiations about same.

Another Irish custom where whiskey was used was at the American wake during times of emigration.It was assumed that those going to America would not return so a "wake"(an Irish custom usually reserved for the dead)was held during which the whiskey often flowed freely.

Weddings and wakes were other occasions where it was the custom to drink whiskey.An illegal type of whiskey called "poteen"was distilled in Ireland up until recent times but it was risky to drink this due to it's variable alcohol content.Poteen was reputed to cause death and/or blindness if taken in large quantities if it had a high alcohol content

Whiskey distilleries in Ireland are still common but perhaps it is better for the Irish to produce whiskey rather than drink it due to a well-earned reputation world-wide for drunkenness.

Enjoy a drop of Irish whiskey when you can and "Cheers" if you do so or as the Irish say "Slainte"(pronounced Slancha)

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