The History of Beer and Whiskey in Ireland

Published on March 01, 2017 by IBMT

They say that “Irish whiskey is like its people: strong, bold, packs a punch, and yet sometimes sweet” (Keith Malone). But what is so special about Irish whiskey? How did whiskey and beer come to be trademarks of Irish culture?

The history of whiskey in Ireland dates back to 1000 AD, when Irish monks returned to Ireland from Mediterranean countries with the new practice of distilling perfumes to make liquor. Whiskey, meaning water of life, was one of the first drinks to be distilled in Europe, beginning in the 12th century. Whiskey is only considered Irish whiskey if comes from Ireland, has gone through a distillation process to 94.8 or below percent alcohol, and has been aged for a minimum of 3 years in barrels made from wood. That being said, at the time of its first debut in Ireland, the whiskey was not aged in barrels and was often flavoured with fragrant herbs.

The first known record of whiskey production comes from Ireland in 1405. However, in 1608, licensed distillation took off, which paved the way for the Old Bushmills Distillery, a distillery in Northern Ireland, to thrive. Today, it’s the oldest licensed distillation factory globally. However, whiskey production took a major decline in the region when the Crown introduced a tax on all whiskey production in 1661. Luckily, by the 18th century, demand for whiskey grew substantially because of population growth and boredom with imported spirits. Whiskey made a return to the market, now able to profit despite taxes, due to increased demand.

Beer has a similar legend in Ireland. The fertile soil, soft rain, and cool breeze in Ireland made it the ideal spot for producing barley, one of beer’s major ingredients. Irish monks, expert herbalists that they are, produced ale without hops, and flavoured it using herbs, calling it “liquid bread”. Irish beer was red and produced by women called “alewives”, and began being commercialized and sold in Ireland in the 18th century. A man named Arthur Guinness bought a small brewery in Ireland, and thus took off the legend Guinness Beer.

With the success of beer, Ireland also placed taxes on malted barley. Thus, brewers began using roasted barley in their beer, giving it a bitter taste that gave way to the famous beer called Irish Dry Stout. The dryness makes the drinker hungry, and thus differs from other beers that leave you feeling stuffed. In time, Guinness Beer and other international breweries bought out the remaining national Irish ones, limiting the diversity of beer in Ireland and the diversity of Irish styles. Soon enough, however, in the 1980s, Irish craft beers began to take off in Northern Ireland, opening the field for new beers once again.

Ireland is full of rich history, diverse culture, and most importantly, good whiskey and beer. What better place to go if you are looking for a vacation full of history and architecture, Gaelic culture, and beautiful scenery? Join IBMT Tours on a journey through Ireland, finishing your day with a cold glass of Guinness Beer. IBMT does all the vacation planning for you. If you have additional questions or would like to sign up for a trip, you can contact us by phone at (905) 764-9200 or send us an email

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We just returned from Israel on an IBMT Bar Mitzvah Tour for our three grandsons.  We had enough family members to warrant our own bus.  After checking out many tour companies we went with IBMT and all of us were glad we did.  The hotels were fabulous and the rooms allotted even more so.  From the INBAL in Jerusalem, KFAR BLUM in the Galilee, the SHERATON in Tel Aviv, to the ROYAL BEACH in Eilat we couldn’t have asked for more.  Our meals were equally excellent.  Beginning with a welcome reception ...

Mrs. Hiala & Dr. Charles Balaban, Toronto

We recently returned from a IBMT Tour for our son’s Bar Mitzvah and we all agree that it was the best vacation that we have taken to date.  The tour was well organized and the staff were friendly and very knowledgeable.  The events that they include in the tour include everything “must see” in Israel and activities that will make you laugh, cry, and everything in between.  The tour allows for activities for all ages and accommodates anyone who wants to do more or less than they have planned.  It is ...

Michael Rodney, Toronto, Canada

To Ornan and  IBMT Tours staff,

We just got back from tour with IBMT for our Bat Mitzvah Tour in Israel.

We are so glad we have chosen the right company for our tour as I can’t express my words of how wonderful this tour company was, starting before we left, the personal service they showed here back home and later the service in Israel with our great tour guide Natalie who was so informative on every place we went and what we saw. It was so wonderful to listen to a ...

Chana Pulvermacher, Brooklyn, NY - 2017

Dear Sheryl,

The visit to Israel was better than advertised. All of us had an awesome and inspiring vacation or as I call it, an education. Danny is one of the nicest and smartest men I have had the pleasure of meeting. He made the trip so special and I cannot imagine any other person showing us Israel but Danny.

Hotels were great but for Eilat, but no big deal. Food in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv restaurants were delicious. Sheila in Tel Aviv was extraordinary. Dinners at hotels just “so so”. Loved Mitzpe ...

Craig Savage,


Thank you very much for the IBMT Bat Mitzvah tour we just completed.  We had a fabulous time & there were lots of special little parts from the tour that contributed to that.  The different experiences for dinner were very special, and I liked the variety of different types of sites/attractions.  Our tour guide Natalie was excellent, and I heard good things from the other group about their guide Liat.

Thanks again

Adam Waese, OSHAWA, ONT

9 Days Holyland Tour

Sara / Ornan,

I had a fabulous time on this tour and highly recommend it to anyone interested.  We had an especially knowledgeable guide with us Doron Hoffman who as a history major added so much more information and had a great demeanor.  I was part of an international group and made some new friends.   




Janie Carpenter, US Embassy Moscow

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