Irish Whiskey was once one of the most popular spirits in the world and declined from thousands of distilleries down to just two by the late 1900s. Sales are once again skyrocketing on the back of Jameson's success, but things were pretty grim for a while.
I knew many of the causes of the decline in Irish whiskey, but learned a few more in conversation with Kilbeggan brand ambassador John Cashman. Here are reasons that he laid out.
1. The Irish Temperence Movement in the late 1830s that flared up again later in the century.
2. The invention of the continuous/column Coffey Still, patented in 1830. Irish distillers were hugely reluctant to adopt the column still (despite Coffey being an Irishman) that they thought diluted the flavor of their whiskey. Before the invention of the column still, Irish whiskey was far lighter in flavor than scotch whiskey, and more popular because of it. However, the scots adopted the column still for making blended whisky and saw great leaps in sales because of it.
5. World War II, which ran from 1939-1945. Ireland was neutral in the war. American soldiers developed a taste for scotch, rather than Irish, whiskey. So that continued afterward.
In 1966, Irish Distillers was formed to stave off the continuing slump of the category by merging three big producers together. In 1972, Bushmills also joined the group so that there was only one company and two distilleries making all Irish whiskey.
When I was in Ireland recently I heard that there were 16 distilleries operating, being built, or in the planning stages. It's the dawn of a new era.