The very word “whiskey” comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha (“water of life”). Irish monks visiting Mediterranean countries in the year 1,000 brought back techniques for distilling perfumes, and adjusted them to produce potables. The Old Bushmills Distillery received a license to distill from James I in 1608 (the distillery was established in 1784), making it the oldest whiskey distillery in the world.
In the early twentieth century, Irish whiskey was the most popular style in the United States, until Prohibition forced many distilleries out of business. In the 1960s, the handful of distilleries joined and rebranded themselves as the Irish Distillers, and by the 1970s only New Midleton and Bushmills were left. However, during the past twenty years Irish whiskey has been the fastest growing spirits category, and as of 2015 there were ten distilleries with more in the works.
There are many different styles and production techniques, so it’s very difficult to classify Irish whiskey. In general, most are distilled three times (rendering a smooth spirit) and not peated (which means they are not smoky like many Scotches.) Several laws laid out by the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 regulate production. It must be distilled and aged in either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, distilled to less than 94.8% from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains, aged at least three years in wooden casks, and labeled as “blended” if it’s a blend of two or more distillates. Within those regulations are several different styles.
Grain Whiskey is continuously distilled from unmalted grains, is light and rather neutral, and is usually part of a blend rather than being bottled by itself.
Blended Whiskey is made by combining continuous still and pot still whiskey.
Single Malt Whiskey is made in a pot still entirely from malted barley.
Single Post Still Whiskey is made from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley that’s completely distilled in a pot still. Older bottles may be labeled “pure pot still” or “Irish pot still” whiskey.
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