Irish Whiskey - Myths and Misconceptions Legal Definition of Irish Whiskey & its Misconceptions Irish whiskey is going through a new renaissance as consumers all over the world re-discover what the category has to offer. Thankfully the category has enough international recognition to be considered one of the main whiskey producing regions in the world, and as such many people can recite little about the category. But with so many people with so many points of view and opinions, it’s sometimes hard to know what is fact and what is fiction. Many visitors arriving to these shores, their grasp of Irish whiskey being minimal and their misconceptions being scary. Let me enlighten you, please! The difference between Irish & Scotch is that the Irish spell it with an ‘e’. The origins regarding the ‘e’ in the word whiskey have been controversial for a long time. We do know that Irish whiskey wasn’t always spelt with an ‘e’. Many whiskies across Ireland spelt their whisky without the ‘e’. Paddy Whisky from Cork Distilleries Company, Kinahan’s Whisky of Belfast and Tyrconnell Whisky of Derry. In fact, up until 1979 both spellings were commonly used and are still allowed under the current legislation Irish whiskey is triple distilled, Scotch twice It is true that a good proportion of Irish whiskey is mostly triple distilled today but historically/currently we distill three ways; single (poitíns), double & triple. But the Scots also triple distill, Auchentoshan distillery in the Scottish Lowlands being one such example. Scotch whisky is peated, Irish whiskey isn’t Peat or turf to us Irish was for many the only source heat, for malting or local distilling. The larger commercial distilleries across Ireland however had access to coal to dry/distill their grain, hence a nonsmoky influence. For now, Connemara - (Cooley) is the only peated whiskey in Ireland today, but others like Teeling are not far behind. We should be seeing more and more in the coming years e.g. Nephin distillery, Co. Mayo. Jameson is a Catholic whiskey and Bushmills is a Protestant whiskey False, regardless of people’s opinions when ordering whiskey neither Jameson or Bushmills were ever Catholic whiskeys, both being owned by wealthy Protestant families. If you really have to find a Catholic whiskey? Power’s historically is your only real choice. Irish whiskey must be Triple Distilled The number of distillations required for Irish whiskey was never legally defined in any of the acts. Whilst Irish whiskey is mostly triple distilled although there are exceptions such as the whiskeys that come from Cooley distillery (Connemara, Tyrconnell etc.) that are all double distilled. You can mature Irish whiskey outside of Ireland According to all of the acts written about the spirit, whiskey must be matured and aged on the island of Ireland to be called ‘Irish Whiskey’. Any spirits that are distilled here and matured elsewhere are not legally permitted to be called Irish whiskey. Thus companies who purchase casks of Irish whiskey and continue to age them outside of Ireland cannot claim to be ‘Irish whiskey’. Bodies like the Irish Whiskey Association have been set up to represent the industry and any infringements in any of their attention. Irish whiskey must be matured three years and a day to be legally called whiskey Irish whiskey, in all of its technical acts, becomes whiskey after three years, the same length of time as our neighbors in Scotland. This is because our legal age limits on whisk(e)y were written into law by the same act in 1915. Distillers, adding a day made sure in their heads it was definitely three years! Poitín is illegal While not technically whiskey, Poitín is being included due to how intrinsically tied the two products are. It’s essentially about being licensed and paying taxes to the Revenue Commissioners. If distilled without adhering to the former two conditions, it’s illegal. If conditions are adhered to then Poitín is legal. Since 2008,it received its European Union Geographical Indicator in 2008 and the full technical file on Poitín can be found online. All Irish whiskey styles can be made in either a pot still or a column still As set by the Irish Whiskey Technical Act, Pot Still and Single Malt whiskey cannot be made in column stills and as such must be produced in pot stills. Where the confusion seems to lie, is in-fact with Grain whiskey, which cannot be produced in pot stills like the aforementioned You can only make Irish whiskey from Barley and Corn Irish whiskey currently is made from barley and corn but this doesn’t have to be the case and it wasn’t always. For years, other grains such as oats and wheat have been extremely prominent in the making of whiskey in Ireland. There are records of Andrew Jameson (director of Jameson Whiskey in the early 1900’s) saying that he was unable to source his rye from Ireland at the turn of the 1900’s. So there was a medley of grains used in the production of Irish whiskey for generations. According to the Irish Whiskey Technical File, it defines the mash used to create pot still whiskey must contain at least 30% malted barley and 30% unmalted barley but the remaining 40% can be other grains as the distiller sees fit. Myths Coming from Marketing A lot of myths in Irish whiskey are born from misunderstandings to do with marketing. Furthermore, in a few isolated cases, marketers are intentionally pushing the boundaries of ‘creative marketing’ and this is leading to a lot of mistruths being perpetuated in the Irish whiskey market. This section will just work to clear up a couple of these and arm you with the right questions when faced with a bottle of whiskey that you’ve never seen before. Irish whiskey is ‘smooth’ because it is triple distilled “Smoothness” of Irish whiskey is a creation of the modern day blender to compete with blended Scotches. Traditional pot still Irish whiskey was full of lovely spices and oils that made for creamy, yet prickly mouthfeels. These were also triple distilled (with some exceptions) and they were not whiskeys to be described by their smoothness. If Irish whiskey was smooth, because it was triple distilled, then by this logic more distillations equals a smoother spirit. As such that would mean that vodka, which is fractionally distilled over 40 times, would be the smoothest alcohol in the world… Dram’ is an Irish word Dram is a word that has been brought into the global whiskey lexicon by makers of whisky hailing from Scotland. As Irish whiskey becomes more popular there seems to be a small amount of confusion around the origins of the word itself. ‘Dram’ is most certainly a Scottish word. If you were looking for an Irish word to use instead of ‘dram’ when speaking about Irish whiskey you could use ‘Taoscán’. This is a word that basically means “an un-specified amount”. Bushmills Distillery was built in 1608, making it the oldest distillery in the world Bushmills distillery was actually built in 1784 and traded for many years with this year as its date of establishment. 1608, the date on Bushmills labels today, refers to the date of the first license was granted to distil in that region of Ireland. It was a granted in 1608, which was 176 years before Bushmills was actually established. The 1608 establishment date was only attached to the Bushmills label in around the 70’s/80’s era. At this point there were no other distilleries in the province to challenge the acquisition of the title. These days, there are other wellknown whiskey brands in Ireland who allegedly use a similar approach. In a very Irish way, it’s called “being flexible with the truth”. Single Malt whiskey is the traditional style of Irish whiskey New brands of Irish whiskey very often try to establish a provenance for themselves. In many cases, these Single Malt brands refer to their whiskey as being ‘historic’ or the ‘traditional style’ of Irish whiskey, which is just wrong. The true traditional style is pot still whiskey, which is currently only produced in Midleton distillery, Co. Cork. Single malt has been produced in Ireland for many years but it is more traditionally akin to Scotland rather than Ireland.