1. What group was most responsible for the promulgation of distilling throughout Europe in the Middle Ages? The religious class (Christian monks, priests, some nuns) along with the outcast Jews were responsible for dissemination of knowledge in the Dark and Middle Ages up until the Renaissance. As the only class of society that were literate, they were the first to transform the ancient and mystical properties of brewing from fermentation and apply it to distillation, learned from the invading Islamic caliphates from Northern Africa in the 8th and 9th centuries. They are considered to be the first alchemists, and in their quest to turn base materials into something more refined, they put fermented alcoholic beverages made from fruit or grains into crude stills, refined it, increased the alcohol volume and created "aqua vitae" - the "water of life". Everything from brandies, eau di vies, liqueurs and whiskies were developed as the result of their experimentation to develop more potent restoratives, unguents, poultices and medicines of their day.
2. By the end of the 20th Century, how many Irish distilleries were producing whiskey? By the 1980s, the thousands of farm distilleries throughout Ireland of the 17th and 18th centuries were reduced to 3: the long running Midleton distillery in Cork, home of Jameson's, Redbreast, Powers, Paddy, the world's largest pot still and is currently owned by Pernod-Ricard; Bushmills, in Antrim, Northern Ireland, now owned by Casa Cuervo (after a baffling sale by Diageo). It produces the eponymous Bushmills range. And the Cooley Distillery, the only "independent" distillery at the the time, opened in 1985 with private investment and headed by John Teeling, located in County Louth. Cooley was a contract distiller that produced a number of popular brands: Connemara, Kilbeggen, Tyrconnell and Greenore. In 2011, it was purchased by Beam International which was in turn purchased by Suntory Holdings in 2014. Currently, there are plans to have at least 25 distilleries up and running in Ireland by 2025.
3. What is Rita Taketsuru's real name? When whisky apprentice Masataka Taketsuru was sent from Japan by his employer Kitaro Iwai to Scotland to learn the secrets of Scotch whisky distilling, he was faced with the daunting prospect of finding lodging in a strange land. He was recommended to visit the house of a Mrs. Cowan, whose husband had recently died and had opened her Victorian mansion to boarders to stay solvent. The rest of the story is unclear as to when he and her daughter Jessie Roberta fell in love: was it when she opened the door when he initially applied for lodging; or as a result of him ingratiating himself to the family by teaching her young brother martial arts; or perhaps when he and Jessie Roberta, also called Rita, shared a toast and the duet of "Auld Lang Syne" one New Year's Eve. But Masataka and Rita Taketsuru returned married to Japan and began the long road to becoming the honored ancestors of Japanese whisky making.