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Whiskey Talkin’ – the rise of a global spirit

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Broadcaster Mark Thompson has teamed up with historian Dr Fionnan O’Connor to discover the fascinating, and almost forgotten story of what was once the greatest whiskey industry in the world.

Irish whiskey is now enjoying a 21st century renaissance, with the fastest growing spirit sales in the world.

Once a global player, whose industrial success was almost forgotten, it is a drink with a chequered past.

Rogues and rebels, migration and moonshine, taxes and temperance – they’re all part of a fascinating story that’s shared between Ireland, Scotland and America.

Ulster and Northern Ireland are at the heart of this story – from the Kingdom of Dalriada and the poitin masters of Donegal, to Northern Ireland’s 21st century pioneers, currently resurrecting the brands and blends once counted among the most famous whiskeys in the world.

Though Belfast’s industrial golden age is more often associated with ship building and linen production, they reveal just how significant a role whiskey had in the growth of Belfast, where the industry once employed thousands – and generated millions.

In Whiskey Talkin’, shown on BBC Two Northern Ireland this Sunday, May 30, at 10pm, the forgotten links between Ulster’s whiskey makers, and our neighbour across the narrow sea are uncovered, revealing just how much Scotland’s whisky story owes to the north of Ireland, and looking back to a time when Irish whiskey exports outsold Scotch by three to one.

Graphic designer Mark’s fascination with branding and advertising opens a door on our industrial past, as he discovers just how much the story of whiskey connects with the history and heritage of the Ulster-Scots.

From a tiny craft distiller in the Mournes to the historic home of old Bushmills, Mark and Fionnan explore a broken history, meeting with the enthusiasts who are rediscovering forgotten recipes and re-creating some of the great spirits from Irish whiskey’s golden age.

n Whiskey Talkin’ is on BBC Two Northern Ireland, Sunday, May 30, at 10pm, and is a Northern Star Pictures Production, made with assistance from the Northern Ireland Screen Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.

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