Turns out there is more to Irish whiskey than just Jameson! Legal requirements for liquors can be a little difficult and dense… but bear with me, and by the end, you’ll understand what really goes into making an Irish Whiskey.
Although the word ‘whiskey’ (or whisky) comes from the Gaelic phrase uisce beatha, meaning water of life, it’s not as simple as water. There are a lot of regulations and guidelines that goes into making Irish whiskey. It is commonly mistaken with Scotch, however they typically have very different flavor profiles. For Irish whiskey Peat is rarely used in the malting process, so they usually have a smoother finish as opposed to the smoky, earthy overtones common to some heavily peated Scotches. This can, of course, vary by producer.
What can’t vary? These guidelines. Irish whiskey must be:
- distilled on the island of Ireland from a mash of malted cereals. There may or may not include whole grains of other cereals.
- saccharified by the diastase of malt, with or without other natural enzymes- In more simple terms, “saccharified by the diastase of malt” means that the starch in the grain is turned to sugar by the action of enzymes from the malt in the mash
- fermented by the action of yeast
- distilled at less than 94.8% alcohol by volume (ABV,) and bottled with a minimum of 40% ABV
- aged for at least three years in wooden casks, not exceeding 700 liters (185 gal)capacity. The maturation may only take place on the island of Ireland.
- if there is an age statement, it must refer to the age of the youngest whiskey used
- water and caramel coloring may be added, but only so long as it doesn’t drastically change its color, aroma or taste
Styles of Irish Whiskey:
Irish whiskey comes in several forms, with the name of the style depending on the type of grain used and the distillation process. Traditionally, Irish whiskey was produced in pot stills, but can also be made in coffey stills.
A single malt Irish Whiskey is made entirely from malted barley distilled in a pot still. The entire process must happen in a single distillery. These may be double or triple distilled. Most high end whiskey producers have a an aged single malt whiskey on the market, including Bushmills: aged 10, 16 and 21 year. These whiskeys tend to be refined and smooth. This process is also associated with Single Malt Scotch whiskeys.
Single pot still whiskey is made from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley completely distilled in a pot still within a single distillery. This differs from single malt whiskey through the inclusion of raw, unmalted grain in the mash. This kind of whiskey is also known as “pure pot still” whiskey or “Irish pot still whiskey.” Single pot whiskeys were the most common style of Irish whiskey until the emergence of blended whiskeys.
Irish whiskey can also be distilled in a coffey still, rather than a pot still. This style of whiskey can be referred to as Grain Whiskey. This may be produced from a variety of grains. Lighter and more neutral in taste, this spirit is rarely found on its own, and the vast majority of grain whiskey is used to make blended whiskey
Blended whiskeys are the most common in both Irish and Scotch Whiskeys. A blended whiskey entails a mixture of any of the above styles. Regardless of whether the blended whiskey is made from combining grain whiskey with either single malt whiskey or with single pot still whiskey or both, it is labelled with the same terminology. Jameson, Bushmills, and Tullamore Dew are all examples of well known blended whiskeys. These whiskeys will not have too much variation in each yearly release, as they are blended to be consistent.
Do you have a favorite Irish Whiskey? You can let us know here (on our blog,) on Facebook or in the store. We are excited to hear from you! We also deliver locally, to Amagansett, East Hampton, Wainscott, Bridgehampton, Southampton, Watermill, Sag Harbor, and Montauk.
Pauline Fink, Staff