Whiskey is a liquor that is made from the fermentation of different varieties of grain mash such as barley, rye, corn, wheat, buckwheat, etc. The flavor, appearance, and price depend significantly on the particular type of grain that is used in the production of this delicious alcoholic beverage.
The fermentation process, post-production, the kind of container it is stored in, the location as well as the amount of time spent in the aging process also contribute substantially to the price. And that is why it shouldn’t surprise you that the best Irish whiskey out there cost good money.
Irish whiskey has enjoyed double-digit – somewhat closer to triple-digit, in reality – growth over the last couple of years. In fact, the Irish whiskey industry sold more than 9.7 million cases throughout the world in 2017 alone, indicating that this category of whiskey is gathering a lot of momentum in sales with no signs of slowing down at all.
There as a time when Irish whiskey was the most popular spirit in the entire world but suffered a decline sometime in the 19th century. However, there are seven distilleries which are currently in operation on the island of Ireland.
Only four out of the seven distilleries have existed long enough to have some of their products sufficiently aged enough to be on the market today. One of the distilleries even predates 1975 and shows that Irish whiskey is making an impressive comeback today.
Since 1990, Irish whiskey has continued to receive the rating of being the fastest-growing alcoholic beverage in the world.
Brief History of Irish Whiskey
Whiskey is alleged to be an invention from the Republic of Ireland and predates Scotch by more than seven hundred years. It is not possible to accurately pinpoint the exact date the first whiskey was made and released to the public, but many historians agree that Irish monks were responsible for the production of the spirit, as far back as 500 AD.
It is believed that the Irish monks learned all they needed to know about distillation during their travels to the Far East where the spirit was used for making perfume. They were able to deduce that if they made use of a mash of water and barley, then allowing them to ferment with yeast.
Next, heating the mixture in a pot still, they would be able to isolate the alcohol, thereby producing a miracle drink. At the time, whiskey was named “Uisce Beatha,” the Water of Life. Other places called it aqua vitae.
Irish whiskey was loved for many years by notable figures like Queen Elizabeth I who shared hers with the knight, Sir Walter Raleigh. Even Tsar Peter, the Great of Russian, loved Irish whiskey so much that he declared it his favorite poison. By the end of the 19th century, more than 160 distilleries were in full operation in the Republic of Ireland.
But then, history dealt Ireland several blows which affected the production of Irish whiskey, thus pushing it into decline. The rest of the world needed something else to fill the void, and so turned to Bourbon and Scotch while the Irish people dug in and remained loyal to their heritage drink.
That tenacity is holding up today as the sales of Irish whiskey continue to break records across the world.
Interesting Facts about Irish Distilleries that Are in Operation Today
- The Echlinville Distillery produces Dunvilles. It is the first Northern Irish distillery to acquire a distilling license in almost 125 years.
- Old Bushmills is the oldest, accredited distillery in the world since it was established in 1784. It is presently owned by Jose Cuervo. The distillery makes Black Bush, Old Bushmills, and Bushmills single malts.
- The Cooley Distillery was once an alcohol plant that used potatoes as its primary ingredient. But in 1987, the potato alcohol plant was converted to the Cooley Distillery as it is known today. This is where Michael Collins, Tyrconnel, and Connemara brand whiskeys are distilled.
- The Teeling Distillery came into existence in 2015, and it is the first new distillery that was constructed in Dublin over the last 125 years.
- The New Midleton Distillery makes Jameson, Paddy, Midleton, Powers, the extremely rare Green Spot, and Redbreast. The distillery was established in 1975.
How Irish whiskey is Made
By way of definition, Irish whiskey is a variety of whiskey that has been distilled and aged for a minimum of three years, using old, oak barrels on the beautiful island of the Republic of Ireland.
Unlike Americans and American whiskey or bourbon, the Irish people are not too fussy about the percentage of grains or what they use to age their whiskey. Irish whiskey is usually distilled from malted cereals, with or without grains.
Distillation and Aging
Distilling whiskey involves the separation of alcohol from water, and this separation is done by evaporating the alcohol using intense heat. Irish whiskey is considered by many drinkers to be far smoother than Scotch, and this is attributed to the fact that Irish whiskey is distilled for a considerable period.
The final spirit, at the end of the distillation process, is 80 percent alcohol. Then, water is added to bring down the volume of alcohol to 63 percent. Then it will be placed in a cask for aging, and as the whiskey ages, a small amount of it is usually lost to evaporation. This is commonly referred to as “the angel’s share.” That’s adorable, isn’t it?
Now Irish law stipulates that whiskey must be allowed to mature in casks for at least three years, and you may even come across some makers that take much longer to mature, i.e., from five to seven years.
Once the whiskey is sufficiently aged, the master blender does his thing by combining multiple casks into one vat, and then adds more water to bring the alcohol by volume (ABV) down to 40 percent or thereabout.
The Irish are more concerned about the art of distilling while the Scots – producers of Scotch whiskey – underscore the art of the blend. This is one of the clear and primary reasons why Irish and Scotch whiskey is different.
Irish Whiskey: The Different Types
There are four distinct types of Irish whiskeys with names that are comparatively similar. They are as follows:
Single malt whiskey
Single malt whiskey is also known as malt whiskeys, and they are produced at a single distillery in pot stills from malted barley. Nothing else is included. The flavor of single malt whiskey depends ultimately on the types of barrels it is aged in.
Single malt whiskeys are peaty or spicy, and they can also be more delicate as they come with bread, floral, and dried fruit notes. Tyrconnell, Connemara, and Bushmills all produce single malts.
See some Scotch single malt comparisons and reviews here:
Grain whiskey is produced from maize or corn. It is fragrant, light, and under normal circumstances blended with pot still or malt to create the likes of Blackbush or Jameson. All the same, if you are so lucky enough to get your hands on this incredibly rare Irish whiskey brand – i.e., Greenore 15 year old – it will be enjoyable and take your whiskey experience to a whole new level.
Single grain whiskey
Single grain whiskey – also known as grain whiskeys are also made in a single distillery, but from a mixture of cereals, quite contrary to what its name suggests. The cereals used in making single grain whiskey include malted barley (which should not be more than 30 percent), and unmalted corn, barley, or wheat.
If you are wondering about the term “single grain,” and what it means, the term refers to the mix that is employed to make the whiskey. You can find this lighter and sweeter variety of Irish whiskey blends when you look for Teeling’s Single, Method of Madness Single Grain, Cooley Single Grain, etc.
Single pot still whiskey
Single pot still whiskey – also known as a pot still whiskey – is made at a single distillery and in a pot still, but it is produced from a combination of at least 30 percent malted barley, and 30 percent unmalted barley along with other cereal grains.
Single pot still whiskeys have intense flavors and feature a lot of spice. It has an oily mouthfeel when compared to the other varieties of Irish whiskey. So, the next time you visit a good restaurant and see Green Spot, Powers John’s Lane, and Redbreast on the menu, you need to acknowledge that you are looking at some of the best single pot still whiskeys out there in the market today.
Blended Irish whiskey
Blended Irish whiskey is made when you blend at least two Irish whiskeys, whether single grain, single malt, or single pot still. Blended Irish whiskeys are lighter, and their flavors are more approachable. A few examples of blended Irish whiskeys include Jameson, Tullamore D.E.W., and Classic Bushmills, etc.
In most cases, Irish whiskey is aged in ex-bourbon barrels used in America, and these old barrels usually impart lots of tropical fruit, citrus, caramel, and vanilla notes. Ex-sherry barrels are also used from time to time, and these barrels add the Irish whiskey pleasant notes of cinnamon, dried fruit, tannins, coffee, and chocolate.
Distillers have started thinking outside the box and experimenting with the use of a wide variety of old barrels – used for aging cider, rum, or other types of wine – to maturate whiskey.
Irish Whiskey and How You Can Get the Best Out of It
This is where the real fun starts, friends. If you are new to the whiskey universe, you must have heard some experts recommend watering down your Irish whiskey before you start drinking it. It is, of course, an excellent idea.
You can start with ginger and whiskey, i.e., ginger beer or ginger ale with a few ounces of whiskey. The flavors of these two ginger and whiskey complement each other perfectly well, and it is an excellent way of getting to know the general taste of whiskey. You can go for any blended Irish whiskey, though Jameson is the most popular, and therefore the most used.
If ginger ale or ginger beer is not your thing, you can skip them and ask for half whiskey, half water. This is because if you happen to order an Irish whiskey which has 50 percent alcohol, the water can dilute and bring it down to approximately 2 percent. The water opens up the whiskey, thereby releasing aromas and flavors that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. This is how the evaluators of whiskey nose and then judge when blending.
So, as your palate starts developing over a period, you can start cutting back on the quantity of water you add to your glass of Irish whiskey until you like taking it neatly with very few drops of water.
However, if you are an adventurous individual, you may want to do away with the ginger ale-and-water thingy to try your whiskey neat. If that is the case, then you should go for blended Irish whiskey for a start. Most Irish whiskeys are triple-distilled, making for a purer, cleaner, and more refreshing taste.
And for cocktails, blended Irish whiskey works much better in shaken drinks – such as Irish coffees, sours, etc. – since they bind other ingredients exceptionally well. Single pot stills and single malts are full of flavor and impart better to the alcoholic beverages.
Reading the Price of An Irish Whiskey
The cost of Irish whiskey ranges from costly to dirt-cheap, and the spirits in the latter category are less intensive to produce. Aging also contributes to the cost of older whiskeys, and it shouldn’t be surprising that they cost more, though that does not necessarily translate to tasting better. Some older whiskeys have phenomenal tastes while others taste old.
One thing you must always bear in mind is that fact that there is a whiskey for every drinker out there, and it is your job to find yours.
Irish Whiskey Brands
One e hundred and thirty years ago, twenty-eight distilleries in Ireland were in operation. One hundred years later, only two distilleries are in operation, i.e., Bushmills, situated in Northern Ireland, and Midleton, located near Cork in the south. At the time, Irish Distillers Ltd, which was the only organization still making whiskey in Ireland owned these distilleries.
Bushmills – which is still in existence and going actively today – is distilled at least three times using 100 percent malted barley. Midleton distillery produced different brands of Irish whiskey using several blends of grain and even adopted the Irish method of distillation in large, old copper pots. The brands from Midleton distilleries, about thirty years ago, were Powers, Jameson, Tullamore Dew, Paddy, and some other less popular ones.
Regardless of the fact that Irish whiskey was a product that was considered high in quality, the market for it was suffering immensely, and sales were plummeting. A French company stepped in and bought Irish Distillers Ltd in 1988, and started an aggressive marketing campaign, promoting Jameson, the lightest Irish whiskey when compared with the others such as rum, vodka, etc. They even went as far as suppressing the fact that Jameson was whiskey.
The idea worked like a charm: the sales of Jameson Irish whiskey grew by at least 20 percent every year. People took notice of Jameson, and that was how Irish whiskey started making its way into the hearts – and onto the private shelves and public bars – of whiskey lovers.
Irish Distillers Ltd is no longer the only company in Ireland anymore. Bushmills was acquired by Diageo, the owner of Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Guinness, Captain Morgan, etc. and Beam has also bought a new microdistillery that is expected to come of age in a short while.
Here are some of the most popular Irish whiskey brands in the world today:
Jameson, produced by Irish Distillery, is widely regarded by whiskey lovers far and wide as the finest and best-selling brand of Irish whiskey today. It takes at least four years for Jameson to mature in oak casks and is renowned for its smooth taste that is enriched with nut and vanilla flavors.
Jameson has a long history that began as far back as 1780 in Dublin, though it is presently produced in Cork, a port city in Southern Ireland.
See some Jameson comparisons and reviews here:
Bushmills 10-year-old is the perfect example of Irish malt whiskey, or what is referred to as the “gold standard.” It is generally aged in old Bourbon casks or at times, an occasional Sherry cask. It is smooth, goes down easily, and appeals to most tastes.
Bushmills 10-year-old is often described as having the combinative aromas of green apples, vanilla, malt sugar, and fresh caramels. This, perhaps, is the reason why many Irish whiskey drinkers refer to it as the “best Irish whiskey.”
See some Bushmills comparisons and reviews here:
Tyrconnell Whiskey is available in different versions such as Port and Madeira as well as the regular or standard one. All the same, it is the cherry version of this Irish whiskey that steals the show, any time, any day.
Tyrconnell Whiskey is a drinkable and highly enjoyable whiskey for both beginners and veterans.
Green Spot is an Irish whiskey that is produced by Midleton Distillers and has been sold by Mitchell and Son of Dublin for not less than four generations. This remarkable alcoholic beverage is a pot still whiskey and is composed of a mixture of both malted and unmalted barley. It is full of character and unmistakably delicious.
Green Spot can be purchased in versions between seven and twelve years old. The most affordable version can cost from $60-70 while the 12-year-old cask strength can cost set you back a whopping $1,000.
To unlock the fantastic taste of this unparalleled Irish whiskey, it is best consumed with a few drops of water. As far as some critics are concerned, Green Spot is the best Irish whiskey brand out there.
Bushmills 21 is an uncommon malt is an excellent example of wood and its effects on the flavor of one of the best and highly-rated Irish whiskey brands in the world today. Bourbon, sherry, and Madeira casks are used in the development of this alcoholic beverage.
Without any doubt, the Bushmills 21 is a connoisseur’s whiskey as it is both complex and extraordinarily supple. Each time you try it, you are bound to revel in a new experience.
Paddy Irish whiskey
Paddy is a blended Irish whiskey that shares the same distillery as Powers Gold and Jameson label Irish whiskey brands. Although Paddy is an every-day Irish whiskey, no one dares to describe it as vulgar. Not only is this blended whiskey malty and light, but it is also approachable and will please both newbies and seasoned whiskey drinkers.
Paddy Irish whiskey is somewhat difficult to come across outside the shores of the Republic of Ireland, but then it is an excellent alternative to the omnipresent Jameson.
Connemara Cask Strength
Connemara Cask Strength is produced by Cooley Distillery, and it is the only Irish peated malt whiskey in existence today. It comes with pleasant, intense flavors that are akin to Scotch whiskey. Its name is derived from one of the most beautiful, boggy, and rugged parts of the western region of Ireland. It has a smooth finish and excellent balance. If you are looking for an Irish whiskey that will delight your palate uniquely, this is it.
How to Find the Best Irish Whiskey: Where to Start
So, where is an excellent place to start when searching for the best Irish whiskey out there? Experts recommend that you begin with Bushmills, and the reason for this is that it has been made in the Republic of Ireland since the 1600s when King James I issued a royal license to Sir Thomas Phillips to distill whiskey. During the Prohibition, Bushmills was one of the very few distilleries that remained in operation, though all operations ceased during World War II to accommodate Allied troops.
Bushmills Original Irish Whiskey is exceptionally smooth, and its tasting notes is a little coastal, tangy, and elderflower. It has a long finish as well, leaving that mineral taste behind.
However, if you are not yet ready to drink it straight, you do not need to worry. Take one easy step at a time, and you will surely get there.
You can start by drinking the whiskey with ginger ale or spice it up by adding a small quantity of honey along with a lemon twist. Then moving to take it with club soda, and then plain water. You can then proceed to drink it on the rocks, and finally drink it straight. Of course, you don’t have to travel all the way down; you may reach a part along with the progression, which makes you truly happy. Why not, you are at liberty to stay there and embrace whatever drinking style suits you.
What Makes Irish Whiskey Different from American Whiskey?
Irish whiskey has continued to gain a lot of popularity and following since it was introduced in the United States. The almost sudden surge of Irish whiskey into the U.S. market is astronomical, and sales increase on a daily basis. Groovy bartenders, young and old drinkers love the liquor, though a few still prefer to stick to American whiskey.
Now, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion as well as preferences, but this also makes many people wonder and ask, “Is there any difference between Irish whiskey and American whiskey?” or “What are the differences between Irish whiskey and American whiskey?”
This may be subjective, but many drinkers believe that American whiskey has much better quality than its counterpart, the Irish whiskey, especially if it is based on sales. It is safe to say that if American whiskey has high sales, it means that a lot of people show extraordinary interest in it, meaning better quality as well as taste.
Without doubt, both American and Irish whiskeys are delicious yellow-brown or amber spirits. The significant difference between these whiskeys is in their basic ingredients.
The basic ingredient of Irish whiskey is barley while the primary component of American whiskey can be rye, wheat, or corn. Irish whiskey can as well be a blend of malt and barley; so that means it is possible for you to have a drink of unmalted Irish whiskey and malt.
But then, there are four, different kinds of American whiskey and they are:
- American blend
This is perhaps, the primary reason why a lot of Americans still prefer to stick to American whiskeys. It is their own and even offers them several choices.
Irish whiskey’s flavor, though very light, is not as sweet as that of the more robust version of American whiskeys. The light flavor in Irish whiskey is as a result of the presence of malt and barley as part of its basic ingredients. The Irish people do not joke when it comes to the production of their whiskeys, and this is why it is marked by precise accordance with details.
Benefits of Drinking Irish Whiskey
Many whiskey lovers from every part of the world make and drink different varieties of whiskey, and in most cases, they follow the universal process of making the spirit, even though they come with distinct tastes.
Now, any type of alcohol, when consumed in excess, can be fatal; yet the medical community has been able to trace some remarkable health benefits that are associated with drinking moderate amounts of Irish whiskey.
But before delving into that aspect, let’s take a look at the nutritional value of whiskey in general.
The Nutritional Value of Whiskey
Typical whiskey contains about 46 percent of alcohol, and this amount accounts for almost all of its calorie content. It contains trace amounts of cholesterol, very low carbohydrates, potassium, saturated fats, fluoride, sodium, and phosphorus.
It does not have any other nutritional value, though it is loaded with ellagic acid, a potent antioxidant. This compound is primarily responsible for the majority of the health benefits obtained from regular but moderate consumption of whiskey.
So, without wasting too much of your time, here are some of the considerable health benefits of whiskey:
Whiskey contains very little sodium and fat. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a 1.5-ounce shot of whiskey does not contain fat at all. Medically, and for most individuals, a healthy diet is one that has extremely low amounts of fat.
This means that whiskey doesn’t contribute in any way to increase body mass. Alcohol also induces the utilization of stored fats in the human body for energy, so low to moderate drinking of whiskey contributes in a statistically significant way to weight loss.
According to a study that was tabled before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a link has been discovered between moderate consumption of whiskey (i.e., alcohol) and longevity.
This claim was put forward by a neurologist at the University of California who, along with a team of researchers, have been studying the lifestyles of some individuals who lived a long and healthy life, well into their 90s. The research has been ongoing for more than 15 years and proved beyond a reasonable doubt that consuming at least two units of alcohol every day minimizes the chances of dying prematurely.
Inhibits Age-Related Neurological Conditions
According to numerous studies, when whiskey is consumed in moderate amounts, it contributes to the improvement of cognitive performance while minimizing the chances of developing neurological conditions that are caused by aging. Two of these neurological disorders are Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
This is possible due to the presence of the free-radical fighting antioxidant “ellagic acid,” which helps in getting rid of free radicals that have piled in the human body over time. This is a process that is accelerated by the calories provided. The compound also prevents the onslaught of neural, chronic diseases.
However, it is highly crucial for you to know that this effect occurs only when you take whiskey in moderation. Overconsumption of this alcoholic beverage kills off neurons, and that is much worse.
A 1.5-ounce serving of whiskey contains 0.04g of carbohydrates and nothing more. This carbohydrate is in sugar form, and simple enough for the human body to break down and use immediately for energy.
Prevents the Internal Clotting of Blood
Whiskey is a well-known blood thinner as it stimulates the uptake of fats, thereby causing a significant increase in the amount of “good cholesterol” in it. This action counteracts the chances of the deposition of fat and blood clots happening inside capillaries, thus cutting down the chances of thrombosis as well as stroke.
Minimizes the Risk of Cancer
Whiskey contains a potent antioxidant called ellagic acid, much more than is present in red wine. This compound is powerful enough to destroy cancerous cells. According to a study that was conducted and presented at the EuroLab Conference in Glasgow in 2005, whiskey contains more of this cancer cell-fighting substance than any other type of alcohol.
Improves Heart Health
There is a 50 percent reduced chance of experiencing heart attacks or strokes when whiskey is taken moderately. This is possible due to the reduced chances of the formation of blood clots in combination with improved blood pressure.
Effectively Controls Diabetes
When you consume whiskey moderately, it enhances the ability of your body to control insulin and glucose levels along with the substantial reduction of “bad cholesterols.” This leads to an improvement in the uptake of stored fat, thus preventing the onset of diabetes.
Improves the Immune System
Whiskey contributes to the boosting of the immune system in the human body, and this is on account of the presence of antioxidants. Whiskey provides more than enough calories to cause an increase in basal metabolic rate (BMR), thus reducing the potency of damaging pathogens.
Whiskey Helps to Cure the Common Cold
When taken in moderation, whiskey helps to distend or broadens your blood vessels, which helps a lot with cold symptoms such as congestion. It allows more movement of the mucous membrane in the sinuses, thereby flushing out infections.
A small shot of whiskey can also enhance the quality of your sleep at night, but you need to ensure that you do not take more than one shot or the opposite effect will be the outcome, thereby leaving you with a terrible hangover instead of curing a common cold.
Allergies and Side Effects of Whiskey
Whiskey is an alcoholic beverage, and despite the plethora of health benefits it possesses, the damaging effects of this spirit can be catastrophic. Some of these adverse or side effects include alcohol poisoning, which causes hyperbolic heart rates, vomiting, and nausea.
Loss of balance, impaired judgment, and altered patterns of responding to situations cause people who overconsume whiskey to make negligent or rash decisions that they regret later when they become sober.
Liver cirrhosis is a degenerative disease that is caused by excessive drinking, and this discombobulates healthy metabolism in the human body. This results in fat deposition, the hardening of the human liver, and the unmitigated disruption of its regular activities.
The unrestrained intake of alcoholic beverages causes addiction, thus causing you to drink more and more. This sets off a series or chain of reactions which further wreak havoc on the human body.
For instance, the human body’s metabolism goes awry and is entirely ruined as a result of excessive intake of alcohol, thus leading to increased chances of developing stroke.
Overconsumption of alcoholic beverages can also interfere with other degenerative diseases as well as medication.
Whiskeys become more full-bodied or flavorful if they are allowed to age longer. This is the basic concept that the Irish follow when making their native spirits. They utilize old barrels when aging their whiskeys, and this could take as long as three years to achieve that distinct flavor that is associated with Irish whiskey today. Please drink responsibly!
But Americans are not gifted with the art of patience that the Irish people portray when producing whiskeys. Americans are interested only in creating their whiskeys faster or within a short time. So, they do not resort to using old barrels when aging their whiskeys.
Instead, Americans make use of charred, but new oak barrels for aging their whiskeys for at least two years. The reason why Americans prefer to use new, oak barrels to age their whiskeys for two years is that they want the whiskey to look and taste fresher and clearer, too. Another reason, perhaps, is that Americans cannot wait too long to get their hands on their whiskey since they believe that it is the “good stuff.”
And since the Americans and the Irish store and age their whiskeys using different methods and periods, it is expected that there would be significant differences in the taste and flavors as well.
If you are looking for something more of a classic, then Irish whiskey is the best option for you. But if your goal is to savor the different flavors of whiskey, then you can go for American whiskey, thanks to the availability of Bourbon, rye, American blend, and Tennessee flavors.
So, it depends primarily on your palate; if you want a light flavor, go for an Irish whiskey, but for stronger hits, American whiskey is the best.