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


Still traveling but wanted to thank you for planning a marvelous trip.  It is truly a trip of a lifetime.


Susan Lachtman


The IBMT Bar Mitzvah tour was fantastic! It was the perfect blend of family time and peer group time, of sites with religious/historic significance and just plain fun. The guide was personable and informative, and even the bus driver was great. All the details were attended to and you didn’t have to concern yourself with or worry about a thing. It was a true vacation. We would highly recommend it to anyone. If you are going to Eilat, Petra is a must!

We went on a church group to the Holyland with IBMT Tours and had a great trip, everything was planned for us perfectly. There was over 123 people in four different bus groups and things went smoothly, I thought it was going to be hectic with that many people in the group but IBMT did a wonderful job and made sure the buses did not go convoy, every bus had its own time table and itinerary for the day, our guide Dani was so knowledgeable and loving. We love you IBMT and we will recommend you guys. Thanks for everything you have done for us.

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 at the INBAL to the closing dinner at the CANAAN restaurant in Tel Aviv one and all loved them.

It was a busy tour made even more so by my husband who was determined the grandchildren see “everything”.  Fortunately for us, we had the best guide when Ornan (from IBMT) gave us GADI.  All of the groups loved their guides but Gadi was  special.  He was able to reach the kids (ages 7-13) as well as the adults.  His knowledge, willingness to adjust the schedule, and good nature gave him a soft spot in all of our hearts.  He filled in at Yad Vashem when the guide droned on a bit too much for some of us.  He searched out a cemetery where a father, grandfather and great grandfather was buried and proceeded to enlighten us on the rituals and customs of a military cemetery.  He adjusted our times to include those little extras.  When weather precluded the camels, we visited Qumran.  After the Bar Mitzvahs, some wanted to walk down Masada - again, no problem. 

We loved everything.  Friday night dinner with an Israeli family (coincidentally the husband was from Toronto), meeting the soldiers on the kibbutz, the Druze lunch, sampling different foods at the shuk, the bullet factory and on and on.  Although the weather was precarious in December, it didn’t stop us and we were able to celebrate Chanukah in Israel...menorahs  everywhere, sufganiyot of every kind, celebrations in the street galore.

Would we recommend this tour...without a moments hesitation.  We had a family trip of a lifetime.  Thank you also to our bus driver Louie, whom we all loved and who got us around safely. 

“Gadi” - what else can we say ... g double o - d, j-o-b. Good job, good job.  V-e-r-y-n-i-c-e, very nice, very nice.💕



I cannot imagine a better, more organized, more perfect experience! IBMT went above and beyond all expectations!

Loved the trip! The itinerary was fantastic and really kept us moving. We were able to see and do so much. Best of all was our tour guide Natalie. She was very kind, patient and extremely knowledgeable on every aspect of Israel.

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