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Guide to Irish Whiskey
Irish Whiskey, or Fuisce, is simply Whiskey made in Ireland. The word Fuisce is the modern Irish word for Uisce Beatha, which literally mean water of life, and was the name given by Irish monks in the middle ages to distilled alcohol. That probably gives you an idea of how important Whiskey is in Irish culture and history. Also, the astute reader would have noticed how Whiskey sounds like Fuisce. Thank the anglicization of this old word and its mispronunciation for that. You see the debt we whiskey drinks owe to the Irish?
The Irish have a long history of making whiskey, dating as far back as 1405 (by some fiercely debated claims, a full 89 years before the Scots) and claim the oldest surviving licensed distillery in the world (Old Bushmills Distillery). Irish Whiskey was also once the most popular in the world, and considered far superior to Scotch, which had a dubious reputation. By some accounts, the "e" in Irish Whiskey was introduced to distinguish it from the cheaper quality Scotch! Unfortunately, a war for independence from Britain, the Prohibition in the US and a lack of a bootlegging network into the US all managed to reduce Irish Whiskey distillers down to just three and production to about 500,000 cases per annum from a height of 12 million around 1900.
Interesting Facts About Irish Whiskey
1. Most Irish Whiskey is triple distilled. Compare this to Scotch, which is mostly double distilled. Peat is also rarely used, and this along with the triple distillation, leaves most Irish Whiskeys with a fruity and light finish.
2. Single Pot Still Whiskey, a traditional style of Irish Whiskey and its most popular, is very confusing. It doesn't imply Whiskey made in a pot still, as you think it would. Instead it refers to the mash used to make the whiskey - a combination of malted and un-malted barley.
3. Single Pot Still Whisky uses the un-malted barley because of historical reasons and taxes. To avoid British taxes on malted barley, somewhere in the 1400s, Irish distillers began to mix the un-malted 'green' barley in their mash, to very pleasant results, and a whole new style of whiskey was born!
4. Irish Whisky was almost wiped out around 1960, with only a handful of distilleries remaining. Three of them merged and put their marketing efforts behind one brand, which would ultimately lead to a massive comeback for Irish Whiskey overall. The brand? Jameson.
5. Demand for Irish Whiskey grew throughout the late 20th century, and led to this segment growing almost 20% annually by the 2000s. Single Pot Still Whiskeys staged a comeback as well and are now among some of the most desired and award winning whiskeys worldwide.
Types of Irish Whiskey:
Irish Single Pot Still: As mentioned above, contrary to the name, this isn't just whiskey made in a pot or a single pot. It's whiskey made from mash of malted and un-malted barley at a single distillery. The addition of the un-malted 'green' barley lends a certain grain-iness and spice which is loved by many. Check out some popular Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys.
Irish Single Malt: This one is simpler and similar to Single Malt Scotch. It's whiskey aged in oak for at least three years, and distilled from a mash of malted barley at a single distillery. Check out some popularSingle Malt Irish Whiskeys.
Irish Single Grain: This is whiskey made from single grain - corn, wheat, rye or barley - and usually made in a Continuous Column Still, and not pot stills. Some newer distilleries have adopted this style to great success and this segment continues to grow. Check out some popularSingle Grain Irish Whiskeys.
Irish Blended Malt: A very versatile and popular category, home to some of the most famous and well recognized Irish Whiskey brands. Blended whiskeys in Ireland can be made by blending malt whiskey and grain whiskey (similar to Scotch whisky blends), Irish Blended Whiskey can be made not only by blending malt whiskey and grain whiskey, ala blended scotch, but also by blending single pot still Irish whiskey with either of the other two styles, leading to multiple possible combinations. Check out some popularBlended Irish Whiskeys.
A rich history, unique style and recent innovation has resulted in Irish Whiskeys becoming increasingly popular and making a great showing at awards as well. New brands as well as old offer some exciting choices to whiskey lovers across the world. Explore all our Irish Whiskeys or start with some of our best deals below. Sláinte!