For many whisky fans, particularly Scotch, Irish whiskey is often seen as the ‘other’ whisky – you know, the one where they spell whiskey with an ‘e’.
And while you do see more Scotch than Irish on our shelves, the Irish whiskey category is one you shouldn’t skip over. Teeling, for example, has gained a reputation for creating some of the best whiskies in the world – a point they proved when their 24 Years Old Vintage Reserve was crowned the World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2019.
Accolades aside, there are many reasons why any whisky lover should have more than one Irish whiskey in their cabinet. Here are just three of them.
1 Irish Whiskey Is Easy-Going, Thanks To Triple Distillation
Well, kind of. Ireland has a long association with triple distillation – much thanks to brands like Bushmills and Jameson, which emphasised its smooth, soft and mellow character as a way to differentiate it from Scotch.
It is not, however, a legal requirement that the spirit needs to be triple distilled to be called “Irish Whiskey”. Having said that, most Irish whiskeys are indeed triple distilled, resulting in a lighter flavour compared to Scotch. Bushmills 10 Year Old is a classic example of what triple distillation can do to a single malt; it has a light-bodied sweetness, complemented by green apples with aromas of banana and vanilla for an easy-going drink.
The process can lead to other interesting expressions, seen especially in the likes of Teeling Blackpitts, where the spirit from peated malt is triple distilled, reducing the harsh medicinal aromas and allowing the more barbecue smoke flavours to shine.
Buy Teeling Blackpitts here >>
2 Unmalted Barley: The Magic Ingredient in Single Pot Still Whiskey
Terms like Single Malt, Single Grain, and Blended Whiskies are familiar to most whisky fans, but Single Pot Still is unique to Irish whiskey. Compared to Single Malt, which is made from 100% malted barley, a Single Pot Still whiskey is made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley (and up to 5% other grains) which is then triple distilled in copper pot stills within a single distillery. The result is a dram that’s distinctively barley-forward, with plenty of grain cereal and biscuit notes that isn’t as present in a Scotch.
Funnily enough, the Single Pot style was not meant to create a signature flavour, but as a way to avoid paying more taxes. In 1785, a tax was introduced on the use of malted barley, which encouraged distillers to mix in unmalted barley with malted barley in their mash bill.
While the tax was later repealed, the style of using malted and unmalted barley remained popular in Ireland; so much so that when journalist Alfred Barnard famously toured the UK’s whiskey distilleries in the 1880s, almost all of the Irish distilleries were producing single pot still whiskey.
3 Irish Whiskey Is Adventurous and Unconventional
Irish distillers aren’t afraid of trying new things. This can be seen particularly in the casks used in maturing Irish whiskey, thanks to looser regulations that simply state that the casks must be wooden – and not necessarily oak, which is the only permitted type of wood casks used in making Scotch. This results in some wild and wonderful flavours you won’t find in Scotch.
Teeling, for one, has a Wonders of Wood series that uses virgin cherry wood to create a whiskey that’s full of floral notes, dried fruits and soft spices. Others, like Midleton’s Method and Madness use Japanese cedarwood and chestnut to age their whiskeys, while Bushmills previously released a whiskey finished in acacia wood to impart a spicy, vanilla flavour.
For now, these styles of whiskeys are more curiosities than they are the norm, but don’t be surprised if they become regular releases in the future.