Irish Whiskey: All You Need To Know
The Irish whiskey is the softest and most velvety of all whiskeys, thanks to the triple distillation with which it is produced, making the taste of this distillate incredibly clean. The Irish one is a distillate where the flavor of cereals is put in the foreground. The spices of the barrels are there, of course, but not as much as the velvety caress of flowers and herbs.
But not only that, even at the legislative level, Irish whiskey is much more permissive, so much that acronyms such as single malt or blended are not mandatory but optional classifications. If a distillery wants to make a product of a specific type, let’s call it premium, it does so and writes it on the label.
Classification of Irish whiskey
The possibilities are single malt, the classic whiskey made by a single distillery with malted barley.
The Single pot is undoubtedly the most interesting, the Irish version of Scotch single malt. In practice, it is a single malt made with both malt and unmalted barley, a practice that adds an original touch to the finished product.
This technique adds a certain spiciness, a more pungent and sportier profile to what usually is a very popular whiskey.
The single grain is a distillate produced from a mash composed of a single grain, wheat, corn, or oats.
And then, we end up with the blended Irish whiskey, which is a blend of the aforementioned types.
What is essential for the law, called The Irish Whiskey Act and enacted in 1980, is that there is malt in the grain wort to be distilled in the mash.
And also that the final distillate is aged for three years in wooden barrels and that this distillate has a minimum alcohol content of 40%.
Then whether the mash is 100% malt like a Scotch single malt or a blend with 51% corn, rye, wheat, or oats doesn’t matter, there are no rules on grain quantity and proportions, but the reason is a lot. Simple.
What interests Irish distilleries is pleasantness, finesse, and drinkability, all characteristics that lead to outstanding results with three distillations and long and well-studied aging in wood.
You will hardly find a bad or poorly made Irish whiskey. The average quality is commendable, but everything is left to the discretion of the distilleries, which, according to their needs or the market, study blends, products, and solutions.
From a certain point of view, this leaves a lot of freedom of action to the distilleries, which can range in search of ever new spirits. On the other hand, the consumer must rely only on what the label declares.
What is so special about it? First of all, its taste is always velvety. There are no sour or roaring whiskeys. Of course, you can feel the salt: the marine component is present, you can hear the hay of the pastures, cornucopias of flowers.
Then the spices, the wood, the balsamic tones, the vanilla, and the herbs of the hills. Heather and honey, cereals. Tasting a roundup of Irish whiskeys is a beautiful experience. You will feel all the flavors of a green and great country, where everything is delicately designed. But above all, you won’t find many Irish whiskeys with peat. It is not in the culture of their production very simply. It is not a fact of availability since Ireland is also chock full of peat, just dig…
What is really surprising about Irish distilleries is their courage and desire to experiment with particular, whimsical, and always new bottlings. Sometimes they succeed well. Other times they are too risky.
But just think of the Jameson or Teeling range of bottles, and you will find a product to your liking. In the Scotch landscape (and shore), you will not see this exuberance. Sure, there are bottlings for festivals, but only once a year. The only Scottish distillery that comes close to bravado is the Bruichladdich, but there aren’t many creative geniuses like Jim Mcewan in the world.
History of Irish whiskey
Everyone now agrees that the birth of the uisce beatha (uisge beatha is the Scottish Gaelic term) is attributed to the contacts that the monks had with the Arabs, inventors of the first still. Indeed the inventor is Geber. In the eighth century, this is well established. And then the rest was done by the Benedictine monks, the saviors of European culture, those who tilled fields, created great wines, traced the borders of the best French crus.
But the first also to experiment with distilling healing elixirs. And coincidentally, St. Columban, the monk who converted the Celts of Ireland, was a Benedictine. So we can’t talk about a single inventor. It was a slow process. Egyptians distilled perfumes, cooling the vapors of cooking on the fire, but the thirst of the Irish transformed these experiments into aqua vitae, the water of life.
In Irish historiography, the word aqua vite is found for the first time in a document called “Annals of Clonmacnoise” dated 1405. Where tragically, the water of life is fatal for the village chief, a certain Richard Magrannell Chieftain, who dies after having gulped down a mug of aqua vitae during the Christmas celebrations. Imagine the jokes about this aqua vitae that becomes aqua mortis in one fell swoop.
Aeneas Coffey, who went down in history as the inventor of the column still, was a blessing and a cross of Irish whiskey. Producing with this continuous still was more efficient, faster, and more practical: you could distill any cereal and the result was both clean and very alcoholic, but also silent.
It was good alcohol to get drunk. But in the meantime, the Scots were making more affordable and intriguing products with blended; in 1968, Glenfiddich made the first single malt, while the Irish remained anchored to continuous still.
The Scottish distilleries conquered the world and became economic powers, so much so that in 1900 they began to buy Irish distilleries to close and dismantle them.
And it was only by a whisker that the Scots did not swallow them up, but then they realized that they had to come together to fight the invasion, and thus, two great protagonists were born: the Old Bushmills and the Midleton distillery. Only in 1987 was a new distillery opened, after 100 years of calm: the Coole distillery. Today there are 25, and others are about to open their doors.
How is Irish made?
The preparation is similar to Scotch, so if you want to study the production process in detail, click this link and read calmly.
To summarize very quickly: the cereals are ground into thin flour, water and yeast are added, so this mixture ferments and becomes a kind of beer. When the fermentation is complete, the liquid is all fermented, and then it is moved to distillation.
The liquid is heated, the alcohol begins to evaporate before the water and separates, rising into a coil, where it is cooled, condenses returning to the liquid state. And this is the first distillation.
The second one proceeds to a gustatory and aromatic selection, with the master distiller choosing when to cut heads and tails, thus giving more or less flavor and “purity.”
Finding the right balance is difficult, but the more it is distilled, the purer the alcohol becomes, tasteless and delicate.
The peculiarity, in fact, of Irish whiskey is the third distillation, where the concentration increases and obviously, the quantities are lower. The waste is recycled and added to the new beer to be distilled.