History of Whiskey — Whiskey Tasting at Cullen’s Pub

The history of whiskey is surprisingly long and adventurous. Believe it or not, we can thank traveling monks for kicking it all off. 

Over 1000 years ago, distillation migrated from mainland Europe into Scotland and Ireland via monks. Because of their lack of vineyards and grapes, the Scottish and Irish monasteries decided to ferment grain mash, leading to the first distillations of modern whiskey. 

In the 1500s, King Henry VIII disbanded the monasteries, creating newly independent monks desperate for a new way to make a living. Distillation was it, introducing the production of whiskey to the general public. 

As the European colonists made their way to America, they brought with them the practice of distilling whiskey. However, the English Malt Tax of 1725 threatened whiskey production. The majority of Scottish distilleries reacted by heading underground and beginning production at night. This is how whiskey got its nickname, “moonshine.” 

Later, to help fund the debt from the Revolutionary War, a tax on domestically produced distilled spirits was imposed. This excise became known as the “Whiskey Tax.” Enter the Whiskey Rebellion! A united protest gathered speed but ultimately ended when militia forces met all resistance with violence. Luckily, Thomas Jefferson repealed the tax when he took office in 1801.

Things moved quickly from here.

As time passed, the process of distilling whiskey continued to improve. From “sour mash” to the Coffey still, manufacturers were able to produce whiskey more efficiently. In 1840, Bourbon was officially born. Then, in 1850, the first “blended whisky” came into production. In the 1920s, medicinal whiskey was popularized with the American Prohibition, when you needed a prescription to obtain whiskey through a licensed pharmacy. 

Don’t panic! Prohibition is over, and we have an excellent pub located right in our downtown, where the decor is immaculate and the bartenders know their stuff. Just the other day, I made my way down to Cullen’s Pub on First Street, and my oh my, was I impressed. Here’s a little look into what I tasted to warm up on a Friday night:

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I chose to taste three Irish Whiskeys. First up was Redbreast 12. Redbreast 12 is a pot still whiskey, meaning it is made by combining malted and unmalted barley distilled in copper pot stills. Redbreast 12, specifically, is matured in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. There is a complex aroma that is equally spicy and fruity, a silky smooth and balanced taste with distinct sherry and toasted notes, and a finish that leaves complex flavors lingering on the palate.

Next, I tasted Green Spot. My usual “go-to” whiskey, Green Spot is a Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey aged between seven and ten years. This whiskey is matured in a combination of new bourbon and refill bourbon casks as well as sherry casks. The aroma is immediately fresh and full of oils and spices with orchard fruits, barley, and toasted wood. In Green Spot, you can taste cloves and sweet, green apples.

The last whiskey I tasted easily became a favorite of mine. Teeling Single Batch Whiskey is unlike any Irish Whiskey I’ve tasted before. This whiskey has a sweet aroma full of vanilla, spice, and rum. Incredibly smooth and almost sparkly on your tongue, the taste is a perfect marriage of sweetness and spice. I’ll definitely be ordering Teeling Whiskey on my next trip to the pub.

Now that you know a bit more about where whiskey came from you can move on to some hands-on learning with a whiskey tasting at Cullen’s Pub!

Redbreast Whiskey bottle
Green Spot Whiskey bottle
Teeling Whiskey bottle

Photo and illustrations by Cooper Mickelson.