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 flavour, 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 bottle 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 whisky is gathering a lot of momentum in sales with no signs of slowing down at all.

There as a time when Irish whiskies where the most popular spirit in the entire world but suffered a decline sometime in the 19th century and now Scotch Whisky is better known. 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 whiskies are 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 bottle of 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 Irish whiskey distilleries were in full operation in the Republic of Ireland.

But then, history dealt Ireland several blows which affected the production in the Irish whiskey distilleries, 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 along with Scotch Whisky.

Interesting Facts about Irish Whiskey 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, and it can be found in every Irish Whiskey Bar.

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 whisky, 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 by Irish whiskey distilleries and you may even come across some bottle that took 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 whisky – underscore the art of the blend. This is one of the clear and primary reasons why Irish and Scotch whisky 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

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.

Read More: Tullamore Dew vs Jameson

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

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.

What is the most popular Irish Whiskey?

Without question, James seems to be one of the most popular Irish whiskey that many people enjoy thanks to its special flavor of green and unmalted Irish barley.

What is so special about Irish Whiskey?

Irish whiskey is completely different than Scotch whisky as it is made with unmalted barley and has sweet notes of vanila, unlike the scotch whisky which has a bolder taste of barley.

Is Jameson considered a good whiskey?

Yes. Many people enjoy the Jameson whiskey and cherish the way it’s been made. In 2018, the company has sold 7.3 million bottles which is pretty impressive.

Conclusion

So if you come across to an Irish Whiskey Bar, you already know that you are ordering.  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.

Further read: