The Uncommon Life

Slainte! The Surprising Story of Irish Whiskey & St. Patrick’s Day

March 7, 2019

The Shamrock GlassCelebrating St. Patrick’s Day

You might not feel particularly lively the morning after a festive St. Patrick’s Day celebration, but that doesn’t stop many from partaking in the “water of life” in honor of Ireland. In other words, the rivers of Irish Whiskey will flow on March 17.

This golden-brown beverage has a rich history, so we thought we’d share a little more about Irish Whiskey.

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Uisce on the rocks, please.

Where did whiskey come from?

Actually, whiskey as we know it came to be in Ireland. In the 6th century monks used distilled grains as the base for medicines. They called it “Uisce Beatha,” in Goidelic, or “water of life,” thanks to its healing properties. (While some may argue that whiskey doesn’t have any healing properties, keep in mind that it is antiseptic and a pain killer.) Over time, the spirit became known as “whiskey,” a mispronunciation of “Uisce.”


Irish Spirit

Whiskey love spread across Europe over time. For example, to Scotland, where it developed in to Scotch. It’s said that Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed imbibing in the distilled drink, and Peter the Great once proclaimed, “of all the wines, the Irish spirit is the best.”

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I’ll drink (Irish Whiskey) to that!

Did Saint Patrick drink whiskey?

It’s said that St. Patrick was a traveler who crossed the Irish countryside. His mission, of course, was to convert the people of Ireland to Christianity. (That whole driving the snakes out thing? That’s a metaphor for getting rid of Pagans.)

One is prone to get parched on long journeys, and Patrick liked to wet his whistle with a little whiskey. Legend has it that while Patrick was on one of his missions he stopped at an inn for a drink, but got short-changed. What’s a missionary to do in this situation? Supposedly, Patrick told the innkeeper that there was a devil in the cellar feeding on dishonesty. The innkeeper took Patrick’s words to heart and let the spirits flow from then on. The next time St. Patrick visited the inn, he found the innkeeper filling each drink to the brim. He banished the cellar devil and proclaimed that everyone should have a drink of whiskey on his feast day.

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Sink like a (sham)rock…

What’s “the drowning of the shamrock?”

When St. Patrick banished the devil from the inn, he put a shamrock in his glass before raising it. It may have been customary at the time to add the lucky green leaf to a whisky shot, but today it usually only happens on March 17. Placing a shamrock in your last whiskey of the evening on St. Patrick’s Day night is known as “the drowning of the shamrock.” To complete the ritual, throw the shamrock over your left shoulder once you’ve downed the last drop of sweet brown booze.

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An Irish Proverb

What’s a great whiskey toast for St. Patrick’s Day?

We consulted the experts at the Teeling Whiskey Company to help us out with this one. Teeling’s New York Portfolio Manager, James McHale shared this story about his favorite toast:

“Like many people growing up in Ireland I studied our native language: Gaeilge. A common mistake people make is calling it Gaelic, which is not the correct term. There was a seanfhocal (Irish proverb) that my grandfather would say when he drank a glass of whiskey.

Bíonn blas ar an mbeagán.
(Bee-on bloss err on myah-gon)
Though a small amount, it’s tasty / Little things tend to be tasty

It is a perfect saying not alone for St. Patrick’s Day but anytime you are in good company and sipping on good whiskey.”


Healthy Competition

What kinds of whiskey are there?

Irish whiskey remains a favorite, and will certainly be enjoyed the world over on St. Paddy’s, but it’s competition has grown over time. Scotch whisky, and North American rivals like rye, bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and Canadian whisky now compete with the original.

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What is the best Irish Whiskey?

With 18 whiskey distilleries in operation in Ireland and several more on the way, it’s difficult to say which one is the best. However, the most expensive bottle, Nun’s Island Distillery Pure Pot Still Whiskey, will set you back a mere $140,000 and change.

Spell it how you want–just don’t spill it!

Is there an “e” in whisky?

Each variety of whiskey is unique, since the recipes are different. While we can’t help you distinguish the subtle taste differences between a Straight Bourbon and a single-malt Scotch, we can provide a little tip to help you determine wither it’s whiskey or whisky: Countries with an “e” in their name produce whiskey–like Ireland’s Whiskey. No “e” in the country means no “e” in the drink–like Scotch Whisky.

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Whiskey Business

What’s different about Irish Whiskey?

Since you won’t want to be caught drinking the wrong whiskey on St. Patrick’s Day, here are a few notes on what makes the original malt masterpiece truly Irish. First, just as Tennessee Whiskey must come from Tennessee and Scotch must come from Scotland, Irish Whiskey must be distilled in Ireland or Northern Ireland from native ingredients. Also, true Irish Whiskey comes from a yeast-fermented grain mash that is aged in an oak barrel for a minimum of 3 years. Different brands of Irish Whiskey do have their own subtle flavors, so you’ll have options when it comes time to toast to good health. Sláinte!

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 Sources: Little ShamrocksTullamore Dew, National GeographicWhiskey GuildReal Men Drink WhiskeyThe Kitchn






  • Reply Bitmann March 16, 2018 at 10:21 am

    Very interesting.

    I’m normally quite ‘snobbishly’ Scottish when it comes to whisky. Partly due to a bad experience with Jamesons and partly due to a love of Laphroaig.

    I usually ‘celebrate’ St Patrick’s day with plenty of Guinness (no silly hats) because I happen to like it but I am quite tempted to broaden my horizons and will definitely be sampling Bushmills 10 year old (or possibly a satin-smooth 21 year old!).

    Thanks for the info The Goods


  • Reply MarylandBill March 19, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    The basic Jamesons pretty much is only a mixing whiskey (IMNHO), but some of the higher end Jamesons are very drinkable.

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