An intro to Irish whiskey
As the name suggests, "Irish whiskey" must be made and aged on the island of Ireland. It is distilled from the fermented mash of malted cereals, with or without unmalted cereals. There are four classifications within Irish whiskey: "pot still Irish whiskey", "malt Irish whiskey", "grain Irish whiskey", and these first three can be combined to make "blended Irish whiskey".
In Irish Gaelic, whiskey is 'fuisce' or 'uisce beatha' and Éireannach means Irish person or anything Irish. So 'uisce beatha Éireannach' translates as Irish whiskey.
Irish whiskey (occasionally also spelt whisky without the 'e') has Geographical Indication specifying it as spirit drink originating from the island of Ireland. Consequently, products labelled "Irish whiskey" must confirm to the strict production and labelling parameters laid out in The Irish Whiskey Technical File successfully submitted to the European Commission in October 2014. This broadly states that Irish whiskey must:
- Be made from grain with fermentable sugars produced by the grains own natural enzymes or without other natural enzymes.
- That grain should be fermented by the action of yeast.
- Distilled to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% alc./vol. in such a way that the distillate's aroma and flavour is "derived from the materials used."
- The distillate is matured in wooden casks (not necessarily oak), not exceeding 700 litres capacity, for at least three years.
- The whiskey (maturated distillate) must retain aroma and taste, as well as colour from the above processes and caramel colouring may be added (to standardise colour). [This regulation prevents charcoal filtration to remove colour.]
- Must have a minimum alcoholic strength of 40% alc./vol.
Pot still Irish, malt Irish whiskey and grain Irish whiskey all have their own technical specifications [detailed on their own respective pages on this site] but the following production practices help distinguish Irish whiskey from other whisk(e)ys.
- Use of both malted and unmalted barley to make pot still Irish whiskey with the unmalted barley credited for giving the spirit its creamy mouthfeel.
- Use of copper pot stills (rather than column stills) to make Irish malt whiskey and Irish pot still whiskey to produce a "fuller flavoured spirit." (The shape and size of these copper pot stills varies tremendously and influences the character of whiskey made at different distilleries).
- Triple pot still distillation (as opposed to double distillation as is commonplace in Scottish and American whisk(e)y distilleries. This triple distillation produces a
lighter spirit which some Irish distillers market as being "smoother".
- Unlike American bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys which must be matured in charred new oak casks, Irish whiskey may be matured in wood other than oak and the casks used may have been previously used to store other alcoholic beverages such as bourbon madeira, sherry or port.