Despite its proximity to Scotland, Ireland has very different whiskey traditions, very different products and even a different spelling. Irish whiskey is a unique experience that no fine spirits aficionado should ignore. Here is a short guide to this region and its famous whiskey.
A Long History
Irish whiskey has a long history on the island. The first documentation of whiskey distilling comes from the sixth century, when travelling monks began creating the spirits. By the 16th century, whiskey distilling was common and even enjoyed by monarchs such as Elizabeth I. In 1661, the Irish government imposed its very first whiskey task of four pence per gallon. They uncharitably began this tax on Christmas Day.
The taxes were raised faster than wages over centuries. By the end of the eighteenth century, most stills in Ireland were illegally producing ‘poteen’, or illegal whiskey. However, several distillers managed to scrape up the capital to open legal operations.
Today, the issue with taxes remains, along with other market factors that seem to conspire to drive Irish whiskey off the market. This combined with market conditions has reduced the number of Irish whiskey distilleries from tens of thousands to just three major ones: Bushmill, Cooley, and Midleton. Luckily, these are all very prolific distilleries with a variety of products for Irish whiskey lovers to sample.
A Unique Process
One of the things that sets Irish Whiskey apart from others is that it is usually triple distilled—that is, it is distilled three times. This process begins with sprouted barley that is dried and then ground. This is responsible for the lack of peaty flavor; few Irish whiskies use peated malt at any time in production. The whisky ferments before undergoing the triple distillation that results in a smooth, clean flavor that is typical of the genre. The whiskey is then pure enough to take on the tastes from the wooden barrels in which it ages.
The majority of Irish whiskeys are blends. Lower end blends are the most popular (as with almost any spirit) but a large number of smooth, matured single malts and blends are responsible for the nation’s reputation in the whiskey world. Irish whiskey remains very popular in foreign markets, especially the United States which boasts a large ethnically Irish population. The whiskey has made a name for itself throughout the world. Irish blends are masterfully created and tend to be the best blends on the market.
High Quality Blends
The ideal and typical Irish whiskey is smooth and has a medium texture. The taste and nose lack peat but make up for it in complexity. Irish whiskies are more likely to take on the tastes and flavors of their casks, which can make for some delicious tastes. Even a low quality Irish blended whisky tends to be palatable and pleasant. It continues to be made in age old methods with traditional tools, which means that an Irish whiskey drinker just might be enjoying the same flavors and smells as the first Queen Elizabeth. Now that’s what we call a history lesson!