The recipes had been lost to the world for the best part of a century and are being brought back to life by leading whiskey historian Fionnan O’Connor, at the Boann Distillery in Co Meath.
The exact origins of whiskey are widely debated, but it's largely believed that whiskey was in fact invented by the Irish. The name 'whiskey' or 'whisky' comes from the Gaelic expression - Uisce Beatha which means the Water of Life. It is thought to be one of the oldest distilled drinks in the world and legend has it that it was Irish monks who brought it into being. Legend has it that they picked up the skills of distilling from learning how to produce perfume while on trips to the Mediterranean during the 11th century.
Irish whiskey (made from a mix of malted and unmalted barley in a pot) soon grew in popularity across the globe during the 16th, 17th,18th and 19th centuries. What started out as past time with Irish monks soon evolved into an industry in 1608, when Northern Ireland’s Old Bushmills Distillery became the world’s first licensed whiskey distillery. At one point there were just shy of 100 licensed distilleries in Ireland by the end of the 1800s (add on a couple of zeros to that number if we were to include the illegal stills). The popularity and reputation that Irish Whiskey forged in this time are still one that is very much prominent today.
Since then, the original distillers such as Bushmills, Jameson and Teelings - to name but a few - continue to produce classic blends. But we have also seen the Irish Whiskey scene modernised by the launch of new distilleries such as Roe and Coe, Powerscourt and The Quiet Man. And while the world of Irish Whiskey continues to revolutionise, a local historian has unearthed a collection of long-lost Irish Whiskey recipes that are now in production at County Meath’s Boann Distillery.
The recipes were discovered by leading whiskey historian Fionnan O’Connor whilst he was writing a thesis on the lost distilling process. During in his research, he stumbled upon a collection of mashbills (a collection of ingredients) that had been lost to the world for the best part of a century. Since his discovery, O'Connor has collaborated with Boann Distillery in County Meath to bring the long-lost whiskey to life through pot stills and 144 casks will soon be available to the public. Speaking about what inspired O'Connor to produce his findings, the whiskey enthusiast said:
The bulk of these mashbills haven’t been tasted in over 70 years, it would be a shame if all that history and those flavours were lost. This project has been about making up for lost time.
The production of these centuries-old recipes has re-introduced the art of creating whiskey using malted barley, barley, oats, wheat and rye. The whiskey is then transferred into 200-250 litre bourbon, rum, NEOC (French red wine barrels), and sherry casks where it is matured for at least five years in specialist warehousing.
"Every mashbill tastes different, depending on whether there’s more barley, less malt, more wheat, less rye," said Boann Distillery managing director, Pat Cooney.
This project will culminate in the coming months when 30 leading figures from the Irish distillery industry gather for a sensory analysis tasting of the recently discovered mashbills. Further to this, Boann Distillery is producing samples of each different mashbill that will be accessible to the public. Those interested will have to book the cask of their choosing after tasting by paying a deposit. Enquiries can be made at [email protected] See boanndistillery.ie for more information.