Last week, we learned about the fascinating history of Irish Whisky; how it grew to become one of the most popular spirits in the western world, how it almost died a death in the late 1800s and how it’s seen a spectacular resurgence in recent years. (If you’re not up to date, check out last week’s post here).
Now that we know the history, it’s time to find out more about the drinks themselves. If you’re up to date on our Scotch 101 series, you’ll know that Scottish whisky takes the form of blends, single malts, single casks and cask strength varieties. There’s some cross-over in Irish Whisky, but thanks to the specificities of Irish whisky production, there are also some discrepancies.
Before we get into the types of Irish whisky, though we’ll talk a bit about what makes Irish Whisky… well, Irish Whisky!
The Rules of Irish whisky
Just like with Scotch, there are some pretty clear rules laid out in Ireland about what does, and does not constitute Irish whisky.
The Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 (more on the appearance of that “e” in “whiskey” in a minute) defines the basic requirements of Irish whisky. Here’s a pretty neat summary of everything that you need to know via the folks over at Whisky Advocate.
“Irish whiskey must:
- Be made from a mash of malted barley, plus other cereal grains (optional);
- Be mashed, fermented, distilled to no more than 94.8% ABV, and matured in wooden casks, such as oak, not exceeding 700 liters for a minimum of three years in the Republic of Ireland and/or Northern Ireland;
- Not contain additives other than water and caramel coloring (e150a);
- Retain the characteristics of its raw materials (in other words, smell and taste like whiskey);
- Be bottled at no less than 40% ABV.”
To be honest, this is all pretty standard stuff, not dissimilar to the Scottish rules, and indeed, the rules many counties have for the making of their domestic whiskies across the world.
What about that “e,” though? Well, the “e” in Irish “Whiskey” is simply a regional spelling variation. As a rule, the Americans and Irish tend to spell whisky with the “e,” while other countries, including Scotland, drop the extra vowel. This isn’t set in stone though, and plenty of Irish brands forgo the “e” on their labelling, or stick with the traditional “uisce beatha Eireannach.”