TED Case Studies
Number 727, 2004
by Seamus P. O'Connor
IRISH WHISKEY
“Uisce Beatha Eireannach”
Identification
Legal Clusters
Geographic Clusters
Trade Clusters
Other Clusters

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Identification

The Issue

The Irish have always enjoyed two things: their drink and a good controversy. Irish Whiskey is a subject that incorporates these two issues. This case study will address Irish whiskey and its status as a geographic indication. At issue is the official labeling of a product based on its origin in a specific region and its production following specific rules. Geographic indicators have drawn controversy over the years bringing into question the necessity of their existence. The Irish have protected Irish whiskey through agreements with the EU. In accordance to the protection no other country or region can produce "Irish" whiskey.

Description

"Uisce Beatha" means "water of life" in the Irish language. When the Normans invaded, back in the 12th Century, they could not pronounce the words so they used "fuisce"--which over the years has evolved into the word whiskey. It is believed that by the time the Normans invaded, the Irish had been making whiskey for almost seven centuries. Ask any Irishman and he'll tell you that the Irish invented whiskey among other other things. The legends of St. Patrick attest to the Chrisitans bringing the art of distilling grain to Ireland. Due to the lack of written records no one knows for sure whether it was the Irish or the Scots who first made whiskey, so the debate still lives on.

Over time Irish whiskey became very prevalent throughout Ireland and the British Empire, in fact, throughout the 1800's there were over 2000 distilleries in Ireland. At the end of the Nineteenth century Ireland had about 90 percent of the global export market on whiskey. But, it soon was hit hard by a series of events including US Prohibition, English trade embargoes (because of the Irish independence movement), a global depression and World War Two. Begining in 1916 when the Irish war for independence strenthened the Britished issued a trade embargo which greatly curtailed exportation. Scotchy whisky, which was much cheaper because of a different means of production (a continuous distilling process), also put a serious damper on Irish sales. Simultaneously, in the United States the market was closed due to Prohibition between 1920 and 1933.

When WWII occurred Ireland was a neutral country. Because of its neutrality US soldiers were not allowed there when stationed in the UK and many began to acquire a taste for Scotch whisky at that time. Following the war when markets opened back up, Irish distillers had lost a lot of their market share and many customers to Scotch whisky.

By the 1960's only a handful of distilleries remained. Jameson, Power, and Cork distilleries in southern Ireland merged together forming the Irish Distillers Group.They began distilling near the Cork plant in southern Ireland. Bushmill's, a whiskey distiller located in Northern Ireland, with its claims of being "the oldest distillery in the world," joined the group in the 1972 dispelling the green (Ireland) and orange (Northern) rivalry--at that time all of Ireland's famed whiskeys were made at one of two distilleries, the Jameson distillery in Midleton near Cork in the south and the Bushmills distillery in County Antrim in the north. A really ironic fact is that the Irish Distillers Group is now a subsidiary of the French Pernod Ricard group.

Legislation was passed soon after to protect the production of Irish whiskey. The Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 states that—the spirits have to be distilled in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland and that the spirits have been matured in wooden casks in a warehouse in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland for a period of no less than 3 years. Although steps were taken to protect Irish whiskey, its production and sales remained stagnant. But, in 1987, a development took place in the world of Irish whiskey. A newly formed company, called Cooley Distillery, bought an alcohol plant and installed two distilleries. Though undercapitatlized at first, Cooley's has done a tremendous favor to the rejuvination of Irish whiskey's popularity, by increasing competition and available brands.

Today things look to be brightening up for Irish Whiskey. Though a relatively small player, with just two companies distilling and global sales of around 30 million bottles last year, it has shown double-digit growth nearly every year for the last decade, a time when global whiskey sales have been largely static.

How it is Made

Three ingredients are needed to make whiskey: barely, water and peat

  1. Barley is harvested and then dried inside a kiln. (Scotch whiskey is made by drying the barley over an open peat fire thus Scotch has a smokey flavor.) This difference in the malting process for both spirits is a major cause of their different flavors.
  2. After the barley is toasted it is "mashed," that is ground into "grist," a coarse flour. It is then mixed with water. The mixing causes the starches in the grist to become sugars; this liquid is called "wort." (This process is the same for both Irish whiskey and Scotch.)
  3. Yeast is added to the wort mixture and the sugar begins to ferment. Forty-eight hours later the liquid becomes "wash." (This is also the same for both Irish whiskey and Scotch.)
  4. The whiskey is then triple distilled, meaning that the alcohol and water are separated. Distilling is done by boiling the wash (alcohol/water) mixture. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water thus it steams off; at this point the alcohol content goes up from about 8.5 percent to 80 percent.(The shape of the stills contributes to the taste and character of the whiskey. Generally, Irish stills are larger than Scotish ones. Another, difference is that Scotch is only distilled twice in contrast to the triple distillling of Irish.)
  5. The distilled liquid then matures in casks, for at least three years in accordance with Irish law.

Take a virtual tour of the Jameson Distillery, the Bushmills Distillery, or the Middleton Distillery via www.whiskeytours.ie

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Author and Date

Seamus Padraic O'Connor May 2004

 
AN IRISH TOAST:
"May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven
half an hour before the devil knows you're dead."

Legal Clusters

Discourse and Status: Agreement and Complete

Irish whiskey is a protected geographical indication within the EU and other countries such as Canada and the United States. Laws recognize that there are specific requirements and regulations for the production of Irish whiskey. In Ireland the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 states that—the spirits have to be distilled in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland and that the spirits have been matured in wooden casks in a warehouse in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland for a period of no less than 3 years.

Forum and Scope: EU and Regional

Decision Breadth: 15 Members of EU

Legal Standing: Treaty

Irish National legislation protecting spirits:


• Irish Whiskey Act, 1980 (No. 33 of 1980)
• European Communities (Definition, Description
and Presentation of Spirit Drinks) Regulations, 1995
(S.I. No. 300 of 1995)
• European Communities (Definition, Description and
Presentation of Spirit Drinks) (Amendment)
Regulations, 1996 (S.I. No. 60 of 1996)
• European Communities (Definition, Description
and Presentation of Spirit Drinks) (Amendment)
Regulations, 1998 (S.I. No. 7 of 1998)

Likewise, the EU has made a series of agreements begining on May 29, 1989 identifying and protecting geographical indications including Irish Whiskey—“Uisce Beatha Eireannach”.
Council Regulation (EEC) 1576/89 (OJ L160, p1, 12/06/89) of 29 May 1989 laying down general rules on the definition, description and presentation of spirit drinks.
Commission Regulation (EEC) 1014/90 (OJ L105, p9, 25/04/90) of 24 April 1990 laying down detailed implementing rules on the definition, description and presentation of spirit drinks.
Commission Regulation (EEC) No 2009/92 (OJ L203, p10, 21/07/1992) of 20 July 1992 determining Community analysis methods for ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin used in the preparation of spirit drinks, aromatized wines, aromatized wine- based drinks and aromatized wineproduct cocktails.
Commission Regulation (EC) 1267/94 (OJ L138, p7, 2/06/94) of 1 June 1994 applying the agreements between the European Union and third countries on the mutual recognition of certain spirit drinks.

 

AN IRISH PROVERB:
"It is sweet to drink but bitter to pay for."

Geographic Clusters

Geographic Locations

Geographic Domain: Europe

Geographic Site: Ireland and Northern Ireland

Type of Habitat: Temperate

 

AN IRISH PROVERB:
God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from conquering the world!

 

Trade Clusters

Type of Measure: Intellectual Property

Direct v. Indirect Impacts: Direct

Trade Product Identification:

In accordance with regulations, the spirits have to be distilled in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland and that the spirits have been matured in wooden casks in a warehouse in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland for a period of no less than 3 years.

Economic Data

Today things look to be brightening up for Irish Whiskey. Though a relatively small player, with just two companies distilling and global sales of around 30 million bottles last year, it has shown double-digit growth nearly every year for the last decade, a time when global whisky sales have been largely static.

 

Impact of Trade Restriction: High

Industry Sector: Food

Exporters: Ireland and UK

Importers: Many

 
AN IRISH TOAST:
May God give you good luck and put a good man in your way, and if he is not good, may the wedding whiskey be drunk at his wake. Sláinte!

 

Other Factors

Culture: Yes

When many people think of the Irish they think of the stereotypical Irishman drinking at a pub (public house). But, Irish pubs are places for more than just a drink. The pub plays a large social role in Irish life. It provides people a place to meet, to eat, to drink, to hear music and to relax. According to Ireland for Dummies pubs have a long cultural history: "Going back to the Middle Ages, Irish pubs began as places for merchants and travelers to replenish themselves with a drink. Later, when the strong arm of Britain was upon Ireland, these watering holes flourished even though they'd been declared illegal, serving as a wonderful escape from the colonial tyranny. Later, in Victorian times, pubs went from being drab and dark to being beautifully decorated, and many of the older establishments still bear their original counters and elaborate windows."

Likewise, the role of the pub has evolved over the years. In years past, pubs in small towns also played the role of grocery store--even today some pubs carry on the tradition. Pubs have also played a major role in the history of Ireland. Often times pubs were the setting of meetings held by revolutionaries as they fought for Irish freedom. Also, pubs have been the inspiration for many Irish writers both as a place for them to escape to and for inclusions as settings in their stories.

Trans-Boundary Issues: No

Rights: Yes

Relevant Literature:

http://www.allaboutirish.com/library/foodbev/whiskey.shtm March 21, 2004
http://www.emeraldtiger.com/general/irishvscots.htm March 21, 2004
http://www.harpers-wine.com/featuresitem.cfm?FeatureID=98 March 24, 2004
http://cocktails.about.com/library/weekly/aa031299.htm March 24, 2004
http://www.dummies.com/WileyCDA/DummiesArticle/id-823.html April 3, 2004
http://www.corsinet.com/trivia/irish_toasts.html April 10, 2004
http://www.corsinet.com/trivia/irish_proverbs.html April 10, 2004
http://www.luquette.org/inspire/irish_blessings.htm April 10, 2004
http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/2Kitch/aUisce.html April 10, 2004
http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news98_e/pu_e.htm April 11, 2004
http://www.washingtonian.com/dining/whiskies.html April 11, 2004
http://www.emeraldtiger.com/general/whiskeys.htm April 12, 2004
http://www.classicwhiskey.com/ April 16, 2004
http://www.tullamoredew.com/special.htm April 20, 2004