The style of whiskey known today as single pot still appeared sometime in the 18th century as a response by Irish distillers to an increasingly punitive tax on malt. By cutting their mash bill with unmalted barley the distillers could pay less tax, and what is now known as single pot still whiskey was born.
Irish pot still whiskey enjoyed an unrivalled reputation throughout the 19th century, but the 20th century was less kind to the Irish distilling industry, which had failed to adopt the new continuous still invented by Aeneas Coffey and could only sit and watch as blended Scotch whisky enjoyed an incredible surge of popularity.
Subsequently the Irish distilling industry buckled under the pressure of a combination of adverse factors including changes to the law allowing merchants to bottle whisky in bond (without paying tax until the goods were released for sale), plus prohibition in America, civil war and a disastrous trade dispute with the UK. By the time the 1950s arrived, dozens of distilleries had closed and Scotch had taken over as the world's favourite aged spirit.
In 1966, the three remaining southern Irish distillers - Powers, Jameson and the Cork Distilling Company - merged to form Irish Distillers Ltd. A decade later they took the decision to close all three of their current distilleries (Powers' John's Lane distillery, Jameson's Bow St distillery and CDC's Midleton distillery) and consolidate the entirety of their distilling operations at a new facility across the road from the old Midleton distillery in Cork.
The new Midleton distillery was supplied with continuous stills as well as traditional pot stills, and the resulting grain whiskey (Ireland's first of the type) was mixed with the pot still whiskey to produce southern Ireland's first modern blends. It was decided that the marketing of the new whiskies should be focused on Jameson; the rest is history.
But the single pot still tradition in Ireland did not die out, thanks to two brands created by local merchants who had originally bought whiskey direct from the distillery in the early part of the twentieth century: Redbreast (originally owned by Gilbey's) and Green Spot (the only surviving member of a series of whiskies made for Dublin merchant Mitchell & Sons).
Interest in 'pure pot still' whiskey (as it was still known) has grown rapidly in the last ten years, and in 2011 Irish Distillers updated the packaging and distribution for Redbreast and Green Spot and, more significantly, added three new single pot still whiskies to their portfolio: Powers John's Lane, Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy and Redbreast Cask Strength. More additions to the single pot still family are expected every year for the foreseeable future.
A treasure trove of detailed information on the history of single pot still whiskey is available on the Irish Distillers website singlepotstill.com.