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


05 Aug 2022

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


Susan Lachtman


Susan Lachtman, Israel

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!

Marcia, Eli and Max Lawrence, Chicago, IL

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. ...

Tony Holden, Phoenix Arizona

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

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

Peter Meslin, Boca Raton, Florida

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.

Stanick  , NJ - USA

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