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What Makes Irish Whiskey Different? (2022 Updated)

Last Updated on June 15, 2022 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?

What's Unique About 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

Spelling

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

Malting & Fermentation

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.

Maturation

Maturation

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.

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

Single Malt 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

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Reference:

  1. https://www.britannica.com/story/whats-the-difference-between-whiskey-and-whisky-what-about-scotch-bourbon-and-rye

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