Politics and alcohol don’t mix
In this election season we are all inundated with politics and a lot of it. Many of us try to avoid it and turn away from conversations related to politics. But try as we may, there is no getting around it. Politics are part of the culture that is not going away. Even with the negative connotations associated with politics, there are some positive elements that arise from political movements. The civil rights movements, movements for better working conditions, and movements related to cutting government largesse and a freer economy have all been positive.
But there are some areas where politics have been contentious and even when an issued seems settled, the negative effects still last.
Nothing illustrates this more than one of the loves of my life, Irish whiskey! A great article by Tim Mckirdy in Vinepair, indicated that 80% of the Irish Whiskey market is controlled by Jameson. https://vinepair.com/articles/irish-whiskey-future-beyond-jameson/.
Jameson is a great product and deserves a large fan base, but there is also a back story to Jameson’s domination in the United States market.
In the period of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a conflict that lasted about 30 years, what whiskey you drank made a statement about who you were. At that time the two big Irish whiskeys were Jameson and Bushmill. In America, Irish Catholics would not drink Bushmill, it was thought of as the Northern Ireland Protestant whiskey. Catholics stuck to Jameson. As the North was a hotbed during those times, many Irish people in America strictly held to this principle.
It is crazy but it did resonate. There was a movie in the late 80s called “State of Grace” with Sean Penn. I remember a scene where the Irish mob tries to force Bushmill on the bar owner and the bar owner while getting beaten indicated that my customers don’t drink Bushmill. Only Irish people got this reference!
Although the past informal boycott can’t 100% explain the difference in sales between Jameson and Bushmill, I think Bushmill’s brand was hurt by this as Bushmill became associated with being Anti-Catholic and a symbol for the ugliness of politics in Northern Ireland. Even though I don’t ever remember Bushmill making hard political stands supporting Unionist policies. (In Northern Ireland a Unionist is someone that strongly supports the Union of Northern Ireland with Great Britain and is against reunification with Ireland).
But thankfully times are changing the ugly politics in Northern Ireland. The Troubles are a thing of the ugly past, and although Northern Ireland is not perfect, it is getting better every day.
But even with the positive change, I still believe all these years later that Bushmill still lives with the past stigma. Every guest I have ever entertained has always brought over Jameson, never once did I receive Bushmill. Sometimes a reputation is the hardest thing to shake in life!
Interestingly enough, about 10 years ago I had a cousin who was a hardcore Irish Republican pour me Bushmill, and I paused in surprise and said I thought you don’t drink Bushmill. He answered it doesn’t matter anymore they are both foreign owned and I like the taste of it. (An Irish Republican is not someone who belongs to the United States Republican Party. An Irish Republican is a supporter of Northern Ireland reuniting with the Republic of Ireland)
As I drank the Bushmill and enjoyed, I thought I am glad the North is peaceful and we can drink whiskey based on taste and not based on politics!