by Peter Barradine November 11, 2020 3 min read

A Brief Introduction to Irish Whiskey

This week we take a peek at Irish Whiskey, learning about its history, the process involved in the production and some of the different types of whiskey they produce. Hopefully this blog post will bring some understanding to this spirit that often gets overshadowed by Scotch.

Yes, you may have already noticed the addition of the ‘e’ which Scotch cares to neglect. Why might you ask? Well over the course of the 19th century the larger distilleries decided that they needed to differentiate their product from their Scottish counterparts, basically a little marketing ploy. Let's not dwell on the name and delve a little deeper into the amber waters that is Irish Whiskey.

History

Distilling was said to have originated in Ireland around the 12h century when those trail blazing monks, who seem to have been responsible for many of the alcoholic beverages that we enjoy, returned to Ireland with the idea to create perfumes. Before you start anointing yourself with whiskey and getting strange looks, the Irish modified and refined this into a drinkable spirit.

 With distilling now ingrained in Ireland it went from strength to strength and there was a massive boom from the 16th to 19th centuries. In 1821 there were 32 licensed distilleries, due to tax reforms and increased investment this shot up to 93 by 1835! This is when trouble hit.

The early 20th was a terrible time for whiskey production in Ireland with issues out of their control. The first hit was due to the outbreak of WW1 then in 1916 Ireland went to war with Great Britain and this went from bad to worse when the War of Independence started in 1919 and lasted till 1921. Exports were banned to Britain and other Commonwealth countries due to the subsequential trade war. This tarnished the image of Irish whiskey in the eyes of the British. When you thought it couldn't get any tougher for Irish distillers they lost their second largest export market due to prohibition in the US!

The Irish whiskey market did not really see any resurgence till the 1980s. During this period Irish distilleries underwent takeovers and investment from companies such as Pernod Ricard. This helped the distilleries gain more exposure in overseas markets and has led to an annual growth of around 15-20% per annum!

Types of Irish Whiskey

Here are examples of different varieties of Irish whiskey and some of the producers we stock here at SplitSmiths.

Single Malt

These are whiskies that come from a single distillery, they are only made with malted barley and are produced in single pot stills. Fancy trying this wonderful expression of whiskey? You're in luck as we stock The Irishman Single Malt. This small batch production single malt is matured in two different woods to give it exceptional flavour and complexity. Toffee and vanilla give way to toasted almonds, honey and floral aromas with a long, decadent finish enhanced with oak.

Single Pot Still Whiskey

Single pot whiskey is also produced by a single distillery, in a single pot but unlike single malt it uses a mixture of malted and unmalted barley. 

Grain Whiskey

This is whiskey produced in a column or Coffey still instead of a pot still. It produces a lighter style spirit which is neutral in taste. It is often a component of blended whiskies.

Blended Whiskey 

This is a mixture of all the above styles and produces some of the world's most famous whiskies. The Pogues Irish Whiskey, inspired by the band. A blend of malt and grain whiskey produced in small batches. Created by master whiskey maker Frank McHardy at the most exposed and southerly located distillery on the Atlantic, where conditions are perfect for the maturation of Irish Whiskey. On the nose, you’ll experience malt, roasted almonds, spice, and dark chocolate. And on the palette discover citrus, spice, cracked pepper, dark fruit, and a hint of sweetness.

I hope this has helped to give you a better understanding of Irish whiskey and perhaps to give one of ours a try.

Slàinte!


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