What Makes Irish Whiskey….. Irish?

What makes Irish Whiskey different from Bourbon? With St. Patrick’s day just right around the corner, I thought I would take a few minutes to explore what makes whiskey Irish and how it came to be. 

Early History

It is said that Irish whiskey was one of the earliest distilled drinks in Europe. It is believed that around 1000 AD  the earliest forms of whiskey may have been developed by Irish Monks who brought the techniques of distilling perfumes from Europe back home to Ireland. They  then modified it to make a drinkable spirit or what we call today, Whiskey. Their whiskey would have been a lot different than what we think of whiskey today. They would have used more of a neutral grain spirit that would have been unaged and flavored with things like herbs, mint, or anise. Whiskey of today would come a long much later. 

Records show that in 1608, Sir Thomas Phillis was issued a license to distill whiskey from King James I. Not only would that make him the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland but the oldest in the world. Through that license, Old Bushmills Distillery lays claim to being the oldest surviving grant of license to distill in the world. It is unclear if Bushmills Distillery descents from any distillery operated my Sir Thomas Phillips or through location. 

What Makes It Irish?

First, all Irish Whiskey must be distilled and aged in …….Scotland……. Just kidding! It must be aged in either the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland. Irish whiskey must be made from a yeast fermented mash of malted barley, plus other cereal grains. It must be distilled at no higher than 94.8% ABV. It has to be aged in wooden cask no bigger than 185 gallons and aged for at least three years. If the cask contains a blended spirit, the label must identify that. Irish whiskey also must be botted no lower than 40% ABV. Last, most Irish whiskeys are triple distilled, although its not an “official” rule, most are.

Types of Irish Whiskey

There are four main types of Irish Whiskey, single malt, single pot still, single grain, and blended Irish whiskey.

Single Malt Irish Whiskey … is distilled from malted barley at a single distillery using a traditional pot still. It’s aged in an oak barrel for at least three years. Single Malts are usually rich and complex with notes of honey, fruit, and spice.

Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey … is distilled from a mix of unmalted and malted barley at a single distillery using a copper pot still. It is aged in an oak barrel for at least three years. Single post still whiskey is usually complex with a more bold spicy profile mixed with earthy and cereal notes.

Single Grain Irish Whiskey … is distilled from a mix of malted and unmalted barley, as well as other grains such as wheat or corn, single grain Irish whiskey is distilled at a single distillery in column stills for a more refined finish. It’s aged in an oak barrel for at least three years. Single Grain Irish Whiskeys are known for their light flavors of vanilla, caramel, and oak that helps make it an ideal choice for those for a milder and more easy whiskey to drink.

Blended Irish Whiskey … is a mix of two or more types of irish whiskey. Most times it is often easy to drink, well balanced, and easy to use in cocktails.

5 Fun Facts about Irish Whiskey

  • In the 1980s there were only two distilleries in Ireland, Midleton Distillery in the south and Bushmills in the north. Today, there are over 40… That’s growth!
  • Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, was said to have praised Irish whiskey as the finest of all drinks.
  • The word whiskey originated from the Irish language, evolving from ‘uisce beatha,’ meaning ‘water of life,’ 
  • John Jameson, the founder of Jameson Irish Whiskey was actually a Scottish sheriff clerk. He was born in Alloa, Scotland, in 1740.
  • The spelling of ‘whiskey’ in Ireland includes an ‘e’. This is how you distinguish Irish from Scotch whisky.

Are you an Irish Whiskey fan? What is your favorite and least favorite. Let me know in the comments below. You know I love conversation and will reply to you. As always, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to read this. As they say, “May your glass be ever full, May the roof over your head be always strong, And may you be in heaven Half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” Until the next Whiskey Wednesday, if you’re going to enjoy a little smoke & oak just remember, “Life’s too short, enjoy the good stuff…” and do it responsibly!

Charles Ruth

Charles Ruth

I am the husband of an amazing woman who shares my love for cigars and the father to 3 wonderful kids. I am the president of the Tri-Star Herf Crew. A social cigar club based in Tennessee with family all around the country. I grew up in Kentucky where I fell in love with the taste and history of Bourbon and American whiskey. I applied for the review position at CP when it first started and was reviewer number 4. I love sharing my love, thoughts, feeling, and knowledge of cigars and Bourbon with all our readers.