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Irish Whiskey - a small guide

So I went over my feeds on feedly, which are obviously quite beverage heavy - and an article off Bevvy caught my eyes: Best Irish Whiskey under $50.

Well - there hasn’t been any news for me (well - it is an average selection - though with mentionably a deserved first place: Red Breast 12 years old) - however in the descriptions, several issues (read: mistakes) caught my attention.

I don’t want to call out here - however I thought, it would make sense, to repeat the respective categories of Irish whiskey and explain a bit!?

So here we are - the “ultimate” Irish Whiskey Style Guide:

Irish Blended Whiskey

Irish blended whiskey is almost the same as Scotch blended whisky - with 2 differences: a) there is an ‘e’ in the whiskey, and b) one more category of whiskey is allowed in the BLEND:
  • Irish Grain Whiskey
  • Irish (Single) Malt Whiskey
  • Irish Pot Still Whiskey
  • (and as non whiskey only water is also allowed)
While Irish Blended Whiskey hasn’t been the original (authentic?) Irish whiskey, it is now the biggest category - if you think about big brands (independently if cheap or expensive) - they are mostly Irish blends: Jameson, Tullamore Dew, Black Bush, Midleton - all blends.
You need a further explanation of the components? I got your cover - just read on - I will explain every one of them. Why is the “single” in brackets? Well, in a blend, the producers are using different malt whiskeys - and as they are using barrels, each and every of these malts are single malts (because each barrel comes from one single distillery) - but obviously they neither “stay” single, nor malts (as you are blending them in a blend, DUH.

Irish Single Malt Whiskey

Irish single malts are following exactly the same laws as Scotch single malts - but have a bit of a different character. The law states that:
  • The whiskey can only be distilled in a copper pot still (minimum 2 times - in Ireland they are often distilled 3 times)
  • The wash (basically the “beer", out of which the whiskey is distilled) has to be made out of 100% malted barley.
  • The spirit has then to be aged for at least 3 years in oak barrels to be rightfully called whiskey.
  • Only one distillery can supply the barrels and it has to be in Ireland (...)
Often Irish pot stills are far bigger than Scottish stills. The malt is also rarely peated, that means, Irish whiskey rarely features smoky notes. Last but not least (as already mentioned) a lot of malts are distilled thrice, which make a malt slightly lighter. But the last point, isn’t anymore that representative.
I am not the biggest fan of most Irish Single Malt Whiskeys. Some are good, but the normal ones aren’t that great (IMHO - especially the big brand). But you cannot argue about taste - can you?

Irish Blended Malt Whiskey

Again - this whiskey is equivalent to their Scottish cousin. It is quite easy to understand - Irish Blended Malt is the “missing link” between Irish Single Malt and Irish Blended Whiskey - it is a blended whiskey, however the components can only be made out of Irish Single Malt Whiskey (barrels) - and water. There is nothing more to it.

Irish Grain Whiskey

Grain whiskey is basically the vodka of the whisk(e)y market. This is what applies for grain whiskey:
  • Has to be made in a Coffey Still (continuous distillation) - in Ireland (duh)
  • Can be made out of any grain - however in Ireland it is made often with corn and little barley malt (to convert the starch of the corn to sugar).
  • Has to be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years - to be rightfully called whiskey
  • If it is a “Single” Grain Whiskey, the whiskey has to come from one specific distillery and cannot be blended with another grain whiskey.

Irish Pot Still Whiskey

This is probably the most iconoclastic Irish whiskey around. This is the authentic Irish way, and if you ask me, the Irish should push far more for this category (I believe, that uniqueness sells). Following the major points of Irish Pot Still:
  • Has to be distilled twice in 100% in a copper pot still (in Ireland, duh)
  • The wash has to be made 100% from barley - however needs to contain malted and unmalted barley.
  • The spirit has to be aged a minimum of 3 years to be rightfully called whiskey.
  • If it is a Irish “Single” Pot Still Whiskey, the barrels can only come from one distillery.
Basically Irish Pot Still Whiskey and Irish Single Malts are very similar - the only difference is, that also unmalted barley is used. However the differences in character are quite significant. Obviously pot still distillation is expensive and barley is also far more expensive as cheaper grains like corn - but the resulting whiskeys are very unique and I really like them. While most Irish malt whiskeys seem to be just malts from another country, which tries to hijack the malt trend, Irish pot still whiskeys are truly unique.

For the pricing of Irish whiskey - I really don’t understand, why brands like Jameson, are sold at a premium (at least in Dubai). For the same price of a normal Irish blend you can have already a deluxe  Scotch - or a pretty good rum, etc. However I have no problem to shell out far more money for Pot Still Whiskey - I love Red Breast, which is one of the greatest (and not that expensive) - but I love to try also other brands (which are currently not available in Dubai). 

That’s about it. It isn’t really difficult, you just need to know, the respective basics.

Do you have any questions... please comment below.


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