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Frequently Asked Questions About Irish Whiskey

Irish Whiskey vs Scotch Whisky

Both whiskeys are the oldest in the history of dark distilled spirits. It is still a debate which first began production. The spelling of both whiskeys seems to be the most obvious difference between the two. While Irish comes with an “e,” the Scots always spell it “whisky.”

In production, both whiskeys have similar customary practices which characterize the style.

  • Both are generally fermented, and while malt barley is often used for Scotch, Irish whiskey largely uses unmalted barley.

  • Scotch is mostly distilled twice, while Irish whiskey is typically distilled thrice.

  • Both use single malt and blended whiskeys, but Scotch is more famous than Irish for this use.

  • Scotch is peaty and smoky, while Irish whiskey is known for its smoothness.

  • The catch is, there are triple distilled non-peated Scotch whiskeys as there are double-distilled peated Irish whiskeys.

Information About Irish Whiskey

What is Irish Whiskey?

Irish whiskey is one of the most popular and oldest styles of whiskey. It is often triple-distilled, and produced from unmalted barley blended with grain whiskey. There are also single malted versions as well. The Irish whiskey is a world’s favorite that has become very popular in the UK and US because of its exceptional smoothness. It is made in Ireland, and has some very notable brands with great cocktail versions as well.

Irish whiskey prides in having its own flavor, rules, and special heritage. Two things that set the spirit apart from other whiskies are:

  • It must constitute three ingredients only: yeast, grain, and water.

  • Distilling and maturation must take place only on the island of Ireland.

Ireland has the perfect temperate climate and natural countryside where the natural ingredients are grown. The island accounts for the golden-barley for making the whiskey as well as the pure water. Since 1782, Irish whiskey has been distilled by The Teelings in a distillery ran by Walter Teeling on Marrowbone Lane in Dublin. Much of the history is covered in the next section.

History of Irish Whiskey

According to legends, distilling was introduced to Ireland by the Irish missionary monks in the early 1500s. By 1608, Bushmills Distillery was opened and became Ireland’s first whiskey distillery. From there, the distillation of whiskey in the island began expanding rapidly.

The growth progressed until the early 1900s Prohibition, combined with the Irish War for Independence. These disrupted greatly the production of whiskey in Ireland to a fault. Even the Brits whew not longer drinking ‘Irish drams’.

After the turbulence, not many distillers survived having gone out of business for a long time. Among those who made it out and were able to be back in business were Powers, Jameson, Paddy Irish Whiskey, Bushmills, and Tullamore Dew.

During the 1930s to 1960s, the Irish whiskey plunged into the bleakest era of its existence, as the world seemingly forgot all about this once choicest spirit, shifting all of its attention to famous and trendy whiskies of Scotland. This led to the dwindling of the number of Irish distilleries to just 5.

The following centuries saw the return of Irish whiskies, primarily due to their consistency and high quality. At a time, the spirit became the most popular even in Scotland, its greatest rivalry.

In 1975, a new state-of-the-art distillery was opened at Midleton. This was formerly a single malt production company (which was at Bushmills) which now moved from Dublin to Midleton, leaving the total number of distilleries in Ireland to just 2.

This period saw the rise of Jameson Irish whiskey, which became the flagship brand for all of Ireland. It was made from a single pot still and grain whiskeys and was different from the Scotch blend both in taste and smell.

Sonn, Jameson had a rival, Cooley, a distillery founded by John Teeling in 1987. John purchased Ceimici Teo, a potato alcohol company, and converted it to a whiskey distillery.

Irish whiskey continued to grow in popularity from the 1990s to the 2000s. Much attention was being shifted back to it that in 2005, Diageo purchased Bushmills. Today Jameson leads the way with increasing sales from about half a million cases to over 4 million. It is ranked as one of the top 20 world’s best-selling whiskey brands.

How Irish Whiskey is Made

The rules for the production of Irish whiskey dates back to 1880. As earlier stated, two major components must be present as stated in the Irish Whiskey Act of 1950 before a spirit can be regarded as an Irish whiskey.

First, it has to be solely produced in Ireland from a mash of cereal and malt grains. Secondly, Irish whiskey can only be distilled in pot stills in Ireland from cereal grains grown in Ireland.

Irish whiskey’s major ingredient is primarily unmalted barley. There are of course some distillers that use malted barley. By law, all Irish whiskeys have a minimum of three years aging in barrels. There are no strict rules as to whether the barrels have to be new or used. Most aging is done in barrels that have once housed bourbon, rum, or sherry. Blended whiskeys that include grain whiskeys after barrelling are the majority of whiskey aged this way. Typically, Irish whiskey is bottled at 40% alcohol by volume with 80 proof, slightly higher, with some getting up to 120 proof.

The Making of Irish Whiskey

  • Use unmalted or malted barley.

  • Use closed kilns to dry up the malt, exposing it to only hot air, not smoke.

  • The process of fermentation can include the addition of enzymes to make ready the starches for conversion to alcohol.

  • Use copper pot stills to distill three times. Use continuous column stills for some, especially grain whiskeys.

In our today’s world, many producers of Irish whiskey do not follow these production rules. They go ahead and introduce peat and other grains. Performing experiments with different types of wood casks.

What Does Irish Whiskey Taste Like?

Generally, Irish whiskey can be described as having a light and fruity taste with significant cereal grain notes. Aging also plays a major role in taste. It imparts the taste profile with caramel and oakiness.

Irish Whiskey Flavors

Speaking of Irish whiskey’s flavors, it has hints of pepper, spice, fruity notes, and aromatic oils. It can also feel heavy, smooth, light, sharp, or oily, depending on the number of years of aging and the style of production

Types of Irish Whiskey

There are several forms of Irish whiskey. The style adopted is based on the type of grain used to produce the spirit and the method of distillation. Traditionally, Irish whiskey is made in pot stills and they fall into two major categories.

Single Malt Irish Whiskey

This category of whiskeys is made wholly from malted barley that is distilled in a pot still in a single distillery. This style is also very common with Scotch whiskey and maybe triple or double-distilled.

Single Pot Irish Whiskey

This can be malted or unmalted barley distilled in a pot still. This type was formerly referred to as “pure pot still” and is very unique to Ireland. It is distilled in a single distillery and is different from single malt Irish whiskey due to the addition of unmalted raw grain in the mash. The older bottles of this type of Irish whiskey used the name “pure pot still” or “Irish pot still whiskey.” Till the coming of blends in the 20th century, the single pot whiskeys were the most widely used style of Irish whiskeys.

Grain Irish Whiskey

This Irish whiskey is made from continuous distillation in a Coffey or column still, rather than in a pot still. It is particularly a light style produced from wheat or corn or a variety of grains, and it rarely exists on its own. Most grain whiskeys are used to make blended whiskeys by mixing rich pot still products with column still products.

Blended Irish Whiskey

This is a mixture of any of the styles explained above. Whether you combine single malt whiskey with grain whiskey or with single-pot still whiskey, they are all referred to as blended whiskey. In Ireland and Scotland today, blended whiskeys have become the most adopted style in making whiskeys.


Also known as ‘poitin’ or ‘poteen’, this Irish moonshine does not fall under the category of Irish whiskeys because it fails to meet the aging requirement as spelled out in the Irish Whiskey Act. It is similar to American white dogs, and they both spend little or no time at all in the aging barrel.

How To Drink Irish Whiskey

Neat Or On The Rocks

Irish whiskey can be served depending on the personal preference of the drinker. The drink is smooth and has a superior drinkability style making it a perfect drink for almost every occasion. While many people love it neat, others enjoy it better on the rocks. Irish whiskey makes a perfect food companion, especially when prepared with traditional Irish recipes.

Over Ice and Water

Adding water and ice to your Irish whiskey is also a great way of drinking. The water opens up the nose of a whiskey, offering the drinker assorted subtle aromas and flavors to pick up.

Exploring The Taste

As you take your first sip, allow the liquid to flow around in your mouth, lingering around the palate before releasing it into your throat. Your nose will pick up many of the aromas with the inclusion of new flavors. After gulping down the liquid which could be intensive or light, short or long, malt, dry or sweet. Generally, the older the whiskey is, the better and longer, and more complex the finish.

About Temperature

Irish whiskey is usually drunk at room temperature, as this is the best way the whiskey breathes out the aromas. Do not breathe in quickly or too much when nosing so as not to let the alcohol affect your nose.

A Word For First Time Drinkers

It is advised you go neat for the first time in order to get the full taste, smell, and color of the whiskey.

Shots and shooters find Irish whiskey a very handy choice. It also makes a good cocktail as well as a brilliant coffee. There is actually no telling of the awesomeness of a bottle of Irish whiskey in your bar - the possibilities are endless.

Food Pair

It is common to have Irish whiskey with cheese and chocolate. Cured meats and beef are also great choices.

Irish Whiskey Cocktail Recipes

The ability for Irish whiskey to mix perfectly gives the drink a stream of endless opportunities. Though it can hold its own in almost all whiskey cocktails, a lot of shooter recipes and cocktails call for it. Some of which are:

  • Irish Coffee

  • Jameson and Ginger (also known as Irish Buck)

  • Irish Slammer

  • Massey Cocktail

  • Pickleback Shot

Popular Irish Whiskey Brands

Due to the Prohibition, international wars, and a lot of other factors, the once-booming whiskey distilleries of Ireland were forced to close down. When they came back up, only two distilleries were able to survive, Bushmills in the north and Midleton in the south. Later, Cooley opened and the three distilleries were the only licensed producers of Irish whiskey in the country.

Since the surge from the early 2000s, more new distilleries have been opened, and a variety of new and exciting brands have sprung up.

Some of the Irish whiskey’s notable brands are:

  • Bushmills Irish Whiskey (malt and blended Irish whiskeys)

  • Jameson Irish Whiskey (at Middleton)

  • Connemara (Cooley whiskey with peat)

  • Redbreast Irish Whiskey

  • Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey

  • Kilbeggan

  • Green Spot

  • Tyrconnell

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