There are many Irish Whiskey distilleries.
I worked the door in a bar when I was 18. I was a regular at their really slow Sunday jazz nights, so, they offered me a job— for the record if you ever want to get a job in the bar business, start with being a regular. I started getting behind the bar because one of the pretty boy bartenders couldn’t change a keg. I know what you are thinking, “ he was just saying that so he could teach you how,” no, if a keg blew on his shift, he’d leave it for the next shift. In later years, I’d work at places where that the social equivalent of smearing shit on the tap handles. Anyway, I’d change kegs for him and he’d pour me a shot to thank me. I know what you are thinking, “he poured you a shot because he wanted one too,” yes, you are correct, the bar industry has many degenerates. Consistent with the picture I’ve painted for you thus far, he’d pour two shots of Bushmills, cough like he’d just drank poison and say, “so good.” This was my first experience with Irish Whiskey. I believe it is representative of where most people begin and end with Irish Whiskey.
For young people, especially when I was young, Irish Whiskey was compelling because it was likely the first quality spirit, with flavor, that was appealing for a novice's palate. And I think I’ll strut out onto a limb, confident orangutan that I am, and say: there aren’t really any bad Irish Whiskies. Irish Whiskey has this in common with Bourbon Whiskey. The other Venn overlap between those two is that while there aren’t really any bad bottles, there are plenty of overpriced bottles. But that is a chart for a different day. Irish Whiskey was, when I was young, also easy for people to conquer— because that is what people do with information, they assimilate, regurgitate and use it to oppress people. You know what I mean, I’m sure you’ve overheard, “well, you’ve got Jameson and Bushmills, and you keep Bushmills on this end of the bar because it’s Catholic, blah blah and the black one is better blah blah,” bunch of hearsay drivel that might impress guests before google existed. If a drinker found themselves in San Fransisco, perhaps they’d discover a third Irish Whiskey, one that bartenders put in coffee: Tullamore Dew.
But that was about it. When I started tending bar, while there may have been dozens of Irish Whiskey expressions* and brands,** but there were only four actual distilleries.*** In the 19th century, there were dozens of Irish Whiskey distilleries that, with the turn of the 20th century, would begin to shutter, mostly because of war. War is an enemy of whiskey. Wars that hurt the Irish Whiskey industry include World War I, The War of Irish Independence, the ensuing Irish Civil War, the non-shooting Anglo-Irish Trade War, and in the middle of some of those was also American Prohibition— a war against logic and fun. The economic distress of war, loss of life, and an extremely curtailed market reduced the entire annual output of Irish Whiskey to less than 500,000 cases. In 2018, the New Midleton Distillery (current producer of Jameson) can make that much whiskey, by themselves, in less than a month. And that they have no problem selling all of that booze, is creating a great deal of enthusiasm for Irish Whiskey and making other entrepreneurs want their slice of the boxty.
There are at least twelve more distilleries up and running since I first started changing kegs, and I find that very exciting. I'm no more a fan of Irish Whiskey than I am of any other whisk(e)y but I am very happy to see those new distilleries and ensuing brands, distinguish themselves with new flavors, production methods, and wood treatments. Twenty years ago, the short explanation of Irish Whiskey would have been, "yeah, there are a few of them, and they are from Ireland." Today, you don't see a lot of explanations of the category because it's growing to fast for writers to take press trips to distilleries— BUT I WILL STILL TAKE THE TRIP.
Below is a map of Irish Whiskey distilleries that are currently open, distilling and selling whiskey (even if they are selling whiskey made elsewhere). This map will be out of date, like next week when, a) one of these distilleries closes because making money on whiskey is a very long game, or b) two more distilleries open, because, every multi-millionaire needs a distillery,**** or c) both of those things. p.s. I’ll write a thing about the different styles of Irish whiskey tomorrow, for real, I promise because I already did the art.
I get really fucking annoyed when writers use jargon and expect you to know what those terms mean. These are common whisk(e)y expressions that are good to know.
*expressions: a specific style or type of whisk(e)y released onto the market by a brand- the liquid in the bottle
example: Jameson Caskmates is an expression of Jameson Whiskey that has been finished in craft beer barrels.
**brand: a company that owns a trademark and/or name- the label on the bottle
example: Jameson is a brand of whiskey that is owned by Pernod Ricard and they sell the shit out of it.
***distillery: a facility that takes wine and/or beer and distills a more pure alcohol away from the beer or whiskey- makes the liquid in the bottle
example: Jameson is a brand of whiskey that is made at the New Midleton Distillery, a giant, fuck off distillery, owned by Pernod Ricard, that makes several brands of Irish Whiskey and several expressions of whiskey within those brands.
****You know the joke in our business? How do you make a million dollars in the booze business? Start with ten million. Makes people laugh/cry every time.