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What Makes Irish Whiskey Different? (2024 Updated)

What Makes Irish Whiskey Different

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Lydia Martin

If you’ve already enjoyed drinking Irish whiskey neat or with an Irish coffee, you may have wondered what makes Irish whiskey different from other whiskies.

While Japanese whiskey and Tennessee whiskey are popular, there’s something unique this Irish spirit can offer.  

What’s Unique About Irish Whiskey?

Red Spot Irish Whiskey

The main difference between Irish whiskey and other types of whiskeys is the distillation process. While other whiskeys are distilled twice, Irish whiskey is distilled three times. It gives Irish whiskey a smoother taste than other types of whiskeys. 

According to the current Irish Whiskey Association, a pot still whiskey should have a minimum of 30% unmalted or malted barley with the balance accordingly made up from the other form. You can also use cereal grains like wheat, rye, and oats of up to 5%.

Factors That Make Irish Whiskey Different

Factors That Make Irish Whiskey Different


It is generally spelled “whiskey”—with an e—in the United States and Ireland [1]. However, the word whiskey is spelled without an e in Scotland and Canada. It had more to do with marketing than linguistic distinctions, according to The Glutton’s Glossary by John Ayto. 

Production Process

Base Materials

Irish whiskey is made from malted barley. Other unmalted grains can be included, which results in four different types of whiskeys. Pot stills are also needed to distill Malt and Pot Still Irish whiskey. A column still is needed to distill grain whiskey. 

In addition, water is also crucial for whiskey production.

Malting & Fermentation

Irish Whiskey Mash Bill

Malting is when enzymes in the grain convert the starch into sugar. Before, the grain is steeped in the water to allow it to germinate partially. Once the starch has transformed into sugar, the germination has to stop. 

On the other hand, fermentation is when the wort meets yeast. The yeast produces alcohol from the sugar. This process takes place in washbacks and can last from 48 to 96 hours.

Washing & Distillation

The distillation methods are the pot still distillation and copper pot still or column still distillation. The distilling process starts by filling the wash into the wash still. It is then heated to a certain temperature to allow the lighter alcohol to evaporate and rise to the neck of the pot still. 

It is then cooled down and gathered in spirit receivers. The process is repeated three times to get Irish whisky.


Irish Whiskey Maturation Process

The Irish whiskey is matured using ex-bourbon barrels from the U.S for three years minimum. The American oak makes the whisky incredibly smooth. The maturation process makes the spirit darker and smoother. 

Related Post: Our Top English Whisky Brands

Rich History

The first whiskey distillery allowed in the British Isles was Bushmills in Northern Ireland. It happened in 1608, before moving to Scotland. Whiskey gained popularity in the late 1700s giving birth to many distilleries. However, distilleries have to close in Ireland because of the Irish Civil War. 

In 1990, the Old Midleton Distillery in County Cork, the Cooley Distillery in County Louth, and the Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim were the only whisky distilleries remaining in Ireland. 

The Midleton Distillery we know now is from the merger between three distilleries- John Jameson, the Cork Distilleries Group, and Powers in 1975. John proceeded with the union to create a huge plant in Midleton, Ireland.

You may also want to check out our top-rated Indian whiskey brands here.

Types of Irish Whiskeys

Types of Irish Whiskeys

Pot-Still Irish Whiskey

The mash comprises a minimum of 30% malted and 30% unmalted barley to be a Pot Still and 5% of other cereal grains (may be added). The added grains must be distilled in pot stills, too. If it’s termed “Single Pot Whiskey,” it comes from only one distillery. 

While thinking about this type, some brands that come to mind are Green Spot and Glendalough. But what’s the best Irish whiskey for the money?

Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Sexton Irish Whiskey

The term “single malt” refers to the fact that only one type of grain – malted barley – is used to produce the spirit rather than a mixture of different grains. It also means that the whiskey came from a single distillery, unlike blended whiskies produced by mixing various batches from different distilleries.

One of the most popular single malts is the 14 Year Old Tullamore Dew Single Malt.

Blended Irish Whiskey

The blended Irish whiskey is made from a variety of whiskeys. It is also typically made from blended malt and blended grain whiskeys. An example is Powers Gold Label whiskey. But what’s the best Irish Whiskey to drink straight?

Grain Irish Whiskey

Grain Irish Whiskey

This is a whiskey produced from no more than 30% unmalted barley combined with other unmalted cereals like corn, barley, and wheat, for it to be called a grain whiskey or straight whiskey. It’s distilled in column stills.

If the grain whiskey bottle is marked as a single grain, it comes from only one distillery.

How Is It Different From Scotch Whisky?

Irish whiskey is different from Scotch whisky because of the peat used to dry the grains. Scotch whisky distilleries usually use peat to dry the malted barley, while Irish distilleries don’t. The peat gives the Scotch whisky a smoky aroma.

Scotch whisky is made from malted grain, while Irish whiskey is from malted and unmalted barley. Scotch has a double distillation process, while Irish whiskey is triple-distilled and is matured in oak barrels for at least three years.

In terms of taste, Scotch whiskies have a fuller and heavier taste. Irish whiskeys have a smoother flavor with hints of vanilla.

Read: Most Expensive Irish Whiskeys

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What makes Irish whiskey different from bourbon?

The difference between Irish whiskey and bourbon is the origin and the grain used. Irish whiskey is distilled in Ireland and Scotland using malted barley. Bourbon is distilled in the United States from at least 51% corn aged in new, charred oak barrels. 

Does Irish whiskey taste different?

Yes, Irish whiskey tastes different because of its triple distillation. It’s smoother and has a bit lighter flavor than other spirits. It has a fruity taste with hints of vanilla. The aging also imparts signature oak and caramel, making its flavor profile complex.

What is special about Irish Whiskey?

Irish whiskey is known for its smooth and approachable flavor profile, characterized by a triple distillation process and often a lack of peat influence.

The use of malted and unmalted barley, along with other grains, contributes to a distinctive flavor profile that is often described as light, fruity, and floral.

Irish whiskey is also aged in a variety of cask types, including ex-bourbon barrels and sherry casks, adding complexity and depth to the final product.

What’s the difference between regular whiskey and Irish whiskey?

The main differences between Irish whiskey and other types of whiskey, such as Scotch or American whiskey, lie in the production methods and flavor profiles.

Irish whiskey is typically triple-distilled, resulting in a smoother and lighter spirit compared to the double-distillation process used in Scotch whisky production.

Additionally, Irish whiskey often undergoes a combination of malted and unmalted barley in the mash bill, contributing to its unique flavor profile.

What makes Irish whiskey different from Scotch?

Irish whiskey differs from Scotch whisky in several ways:

Triple Distillation: Irish whiskey is often triple-distilled, while Scotch whisky typically undergoes double distillation, resulting in a smoother and lighter character for Irish whiskey.

Grain Selection: Irish whiskey often uses a combination of malted and unmalted barley, while Scotch whisky primarily uses malted barley. This difference in grain selection contributes to variations in flavor and texture.

Peat Influence: Peat is commonly used in the malting process for Scotch whisky, imparting smoky and earthy flavors. Irish whiskey, on the other hand, generally lacks peat influence, resulting in a cleaner and more delicate flavor profile.

What characterizes Irish whiskey?

Irish whiskey is characterized by its smoothness, lightness, and approachable flavor profile. It often features notes of fruit, floral, and honey, with a subtle sweetness and minimal peat influence.

The triple distillation process and use of a combination of malted and unmalted barley contribute to its distinctive character.

Why do people like Irish whiskey?

People enjoy Irish whiskey for its smooth and approachable flavor profile, which makes it easy to drink on its own or in cocktails. Its light and fruity character appeals to a wide range of palates, and its versatility makes it suitable for various occasions.

Why is it called Irish whiskey?

The term “Irish whiskey” refers to whiskey that is produced in Ireland. The name derives from the country of origin, and Irish whiskey has a long history dating back centuries. The Irish spelling of “whiskey” with an “e” distinguishes it from Scotch whisky, which is spelled without an “e.”

Is Irish whiskey stronger than Scotch?

The strength of Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky is typically measured by alcohol by volume (ABV), and there is no inherent difference in strength between the two.

Both Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky can have various ABV levels, commonly ranging from 40% to 50%. The perceived strength may depend on the specific brand, expression, and individual preferences rather than a fundamental difference between Irish and Scotch.

What are the 4 types of Irish whiskey?

Irish whiskey is categorized into four main types:

Single Malt: Made from 100% malted barley and distilled at a single distillery.

Single Pot Still: Produced from a mix of malted and unmalted barley and distilled in pot stills at a single distillery.

Single Grain: Distilled from malted barley and other grains at a single distillery.

Blended Irish Whiskey: A blend of different whiskey types, often combining single malt, single pot still, and single grain whiskies.

What whiskey is smoothest?

The perception of smoothness in whiskey is subjective and varies among individuals. Irish whiskey is often praised for its smooth and approachable character due to factors such as triple distillation, use of a variety of grains, and aging in different cask types.

However, preferences for smoothness can differ, and some Scotch whiskies, Bourbons, or other styles may also be regarded as exceptionally smooth based on personal taste.

Why is Scotch more expensive than Irish whiskey?

The price difference between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey can be influenced by various factors, including production costs, aging processes, and brand prestige.

Scotch whisky often has a diverse range of regions, each with distinct production methods and maturation conditions.

Additionally, some Scotch whiskies may be aged for longer periods, contributing to higher production costs. Brand reputation, limited editions, and scarcity can also influence the price, making some Scotch whiskies more expensive than their Irish counterparts.

Is Jack Daniel’s Irish whiskey?

No, Jack Daniel’s is not Irish whiskey; it is American Tennessee whiskey. Jack Daniel’s is produced in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and undergoes a specific charcoal filtering process known as the Lincoln County Process.

While both Irish whiskey and Tennessee whiskey undergo distillation and aging processes, they are distinct in terms of origin, production methods, and flavor profiles.

Why is Irish whiskey so smooth?

Irish whiskey is often considered smooth due to several factors in its production process. The triple distillation process contributes to a lighter and cleaner spirit, removing impurities and producing a smoother texture.

Additionally, the use of a variety of grains, including malted and unmalted barley, can enhance the complexity and smoothness of the final product.

The aging process in different cask types, such as ex-bourbon barrels, can further mellow the whiskey, contributing to its overall smooth and approachable character.

Final Verdict: What Makes Irish Whiskey Different

Ireland gave birth to whisky long before Guinness produced the first pint of stout and centuries before Americans added green food coloring to their beer. The Emerald Isle’s more potent potable name derives from the Gaelic meaning “water of life.” Whiskey had been the best spirit choice for St. Patrick’s Day alcohol consumption.

The spirit continued to be popular over the years and remained unique among other spirits. Irish whiskey is different from other whiskies because it’s triple distilled, which is the norm in Ireland but not in other countries. 

Also, they use malted barley instead of rye or wheat used in other countries. This makes it sweeter and smoother when it’s distilled.


  1. What’s the Difference Between Whiskey and Whisky? What About Scotch, Bourbon, and Rye?

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