FAQ: Irish Whiskey

FAQ: Irish Whiskey
What is the difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky?
Aside from the fact that the Irish use an e to spell whiskey and the Scottish don't (I won't bore you with the particulars, but this little spelling difference stems from the Gaelic translation of the word meaning "water of life"), there are a variety of other differences between these two spirits.
The primary difference between the two is that Irish whiskey is distilled three times, while scotch is only distilled a single time. This gives Irish whiskey a lighter flavor, while Scotch whisky is more robust. Generally, Scotch whisky also tends to be smokier and more powerful than Irish whiskey.
In contrast to Scotch whisky production, there are only a handful of operating Irish distilleries. Scotland has over 100 distilleries and Ireland has a meager 9. There are more distilleries in Vermont than in Ireland. Despite this, Irish whiskey has been the fastest growing spirit category worldwide every single year since 1990. There is one big reason for that, and it's simple: Irish whiskey is knock-your-socks-off good!


How is Irish whiskey made?

Like many spirits, Irish whiskey must be made according to a set of rules. These rules are as follows:

1.  The Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 requires that all whiskey labeled as Irish Whiskey be distilled and aged exclusively on the island of Ireland.
2.  The whiskey must be distilled to an alcohol by volume level of no more than 94.8% from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains and must be aged    for a minimum of three years in wood casks.
3.  If the spirits comprise a blend of two or more such distillates, the product must be labeled as a "blended" Irish whiskey.
Notably, there are no rules regarding what kinds of barrels are used for aging or for how long. Usually old Madeira or Bourbon barrels are used to achieve the flavor profile that is unique to Irish whiskey--quite smooth and succulent on the finish.
Irish whiskeys, like Redbreast and Green Spot, are "single pot still" whiskies. A single pot still whiskey is unique to Ireland's tiny group of distilleries. Unlike single malt scotch, which is made from malted barley, single pot still whiskey comes from a single distillery and is made using a combination of malted and unmalted barley. The unmalted component is what gives single pot whiskey a thicker texture and a spicier mid-palate. The malted barley component used to make Irish whiskey is dried in closed ovens, and is never exposed to smoke.
By the way, Redbreast and Greenspot are both great Irish whiskey producers, so if you haven't tried them I strongly encourage you to do so.
For more insight into how Irish whiskey is made, check out this short video:

When did Irish whiskey come about?

Contrary to popular belief, the Scotts were not the first to distill whisky in Europe. Ireland began to distill whiskey around the 12th century, when Irish monks who had been taught the process on their journeys through the Mediterranean began distilling whiskey in Ireland.
In the 1800s, single pot still whiskey was the most popular style of whiskey in the world, which became the bulk of Ireland's whiskey exports.
Another interesting tidbit to add to your spirits trivia arsenal is that the old Bushmills Distillery has laid claim to being the oldest distillery in the world, receiving heritage to a license from King James I in 1608 and opening in 1784.
I'll wrap it up with a quote from THE Late Night host Johnny Carson,"Happiness is having a rare steak, a bottle of whiskey, and a dog to eat the rare steak".


Eddie Almonte
Distilled Spirits Manager


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