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The difference between Irish Whiskey, Scotch and American Whiskey Irish whiskey is booming at the moment. Visitor numbers to distilleries are up, sales are up, and our national spirit is going from strength to strength. That’s all great news, and long may it continue. So, let’s take a look at what makes Irish whiskey so great and put it into context with other main whiskeys of the world.   With whiskey, in general, becoming ever more popular, more countries are starting to produce their own. However, in this article, I’m going to compare and contrast Irish whiskey against its main counterparts – Scotch and American whiskey. A lot of people who drink whiskey prefer to stick to just one variety while others, like me, enjoy a wide range across the board. For the vast majority, the only thing they care about is if its taste is to their liking. After that drinkers can be broken down into categories in terms of whiskey knowledge. For instance, most will be aware that nowadays if you use the ‘e’ (whiskey) it refers to Irish, Bourbon and rye, while if you drop the ‘e’ (whisky) it means Scotch. Thereafter you will find those with a general interest who know the basics around specific terms like mash bill, single grain, single malt, pot still, etc. You will then have enthusiasts who know the technical differences between varieties of whiskeys and the production process from distillation to maturation. Then there are the few who are nearly on a par with blenders and distillers in terms of their in-depth whiskey knowledge. The aim of this article, as already mentioned, is to put Irish whiskey into context. And to do that, we’ll delve a little into the history of whiskey and breakdown what makes each variety unique in its own right There is a general consensus that the noble art of distillation dates as far back as 2000 BC, but not for producing alcohol. It was believed to have been used in ancient Mesopotamia as a process for producing perfumes. Moving on we find the first written record of distillation comes from Ancient Greek philosopher Alexander of Aphrodisias. But once again, this does not involve alcohol. Rather, his writings describe a process whereby saltwater was turned into drinking water. Over the years the distillation process evolved, and it was used for a growing number of reasons, including the production of some medicines and other ingredients for ceremonial purposes. Now we reach the interesting part – who invented whiskey, the Irish or the Scots? While the Scots lay claim to the first written documentation of whisky production, it was a considerable time after the first written mention of the water of life which, of course, was in Ireland. It was once widely believed that the first written record relating to whiskey was from the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise, where the death Richard Magrannell, Chieftain of Moyntyreolas, is noted to have occurred at Christmas 1405, due to him “taking a surfeit of aqua vitae” – which translates as an excessive amount of whiskey. However, the first written record of whiskey in Ireland was actually in the previous century in the Red Book of Ossory – a fourteenth-century register of the Kilkenny diocese by Richard Ledred (also referred to as Richard De Ledrede), who was the Bishop therefrom 1317-60. It contains a lengthy treatise on the medical benefits of aqua vitae and includes the earliest known recipe for distillation in any Irish manuscript. The definition of aqua vitae refers to hard liquor produced by distillation of grains, fruit or vegetables that have already undergone alcoholic fermentation. While it is a generic name for liquor, it was most commonly a reference to French brandy. However, in certain parts of the western world, aqua vitae was the common reference to the local alcoholic beverage of that particular region. Interestingly, aqua vitae is the Latin term for the water of life and that is significant because, as we know, the word whiskey comes from the Irish phrase uisce beatha, meaning of course, water of life. The first written record referring to the production of whiskey is in 1494 where the Scottish Exchequer Rolls reference the granting by King James IV of Scotland of “eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith the make aqua vitae.” Some writers have suggested that there was an even earlier mention of whiskey in Ireland. It has been said that King Henry II recorded the use of aqua vitae when he was in Ireland in 1174. In his book The Lost Distilleries of Ireland, author Brian Townsend refers to this but points out that, while entirely likely, it is folklore and there are no known written historical records of it. Whatever the actual date was, it is beyond clear the Irish were first at distilling whiskey. And we also have the oldest license for distillation in the Bushmills region in Ulster which dates back to 1608.     Irish Whiskey The Irish whiskey we drink now is no doubt vastly different than what was produced way back then. It certainly would not have been subject to the same rules and regulations we have now. So, let’s break it down and see what defines Irish whiskey and what makes it so great. Starting with the obvious, it must be made on the island of Ireland, north or south and it must include malted barley. It can also contain other unmalted cereal grains. The result is four main types of whiskey – Malt, grain, blended and Pot Still. MALT: is made using 100% malted barley and distilled in pot stills. The term single malt means the whiskey comes from just one distillery. POT STILL: is made from a minimum of 30% malted and a minimum of 30% unmalted barley. Up to 5% of other cereals may be added and it is distilled in pots stills. (What are pot stills)? Like single malt, it comes from just one distillery. GRAIN WHISKEY:  whiskey is made using no more than 30% barley combined with other unmalted cereals, usually corn, wheat or barley. It is distilled in column stills and comes from just one distillery. BLENDED: is quite simply a mixture of any two, or all of, malt, pot still and single grain.   The basic requirements for Irish whiskey are defined in The Irish Whiskey Act of 1980. The detailed definitions of style were set out by the Foot Industry Development Division of the Department of Agriculture. They stipulate that 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 litres for a minimum of three years in the Republic of Ireland and/or Northern Ireland. Not contain additives other than water and caramel colouring (e150a). Retain the characteristics of its raw material. Be bottled at no less at 40% ABV.   While many Irish whiskeys are tripled distilled, it is not a legal requirement. What also sets Irish whiskey apart from Scotch is that the laws governing its production allow for greater experimentation. For example, any type of wooden cask can be used for maturation, as long as it falls within the 700-litre guidelines set by the EU. For Scotch, only oak casks are allowed for maturation. Up until 2013, there were only seven distilleries operating in Ireland. The good news now is that with the upsurge in the popularity of Irish whiskey, by August 2017 that number had risen to 18. Even better news is that a further 15 are planned.     Scotch Whisky There are five categories of Scotch whisky, as set out in the Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009. They are: SINGLE MALT: is distilled at a single distillery (i) from water and malted barley without the addition of any other cereals, and (ii) by batch distillation in pot stills. From the 23rd November 2012, single malt Scotch whisky must be bottled in Scotland. SINGLE GRAIN SCOTCH WHISKY: is distilled at a single distillery (i) from water and malted barley with or without whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals, and (ii) which does not comply with the definition of single malt. BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY: is a blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies. BLENDED MALT SCOTCH WHISKY: is a blend of single malt Scotch whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery. BLENDED GRAIN SCOTCH WHISKY: is a blend of single grain Scotch whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery. While Irish whiskey is both a variety of whiskey, it is also one region. Where Scotch differs is that it is divided into five regions, each of which has its own distinct characteristics. They are – Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown. There is a d dramatically higher number of distilleries in Scotland than in Ireland. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, there are 126 distilleries licensed to produce Scotch. As well as setting out the five categories of Scotch whiskey, the 2009 regulations also provide legal protection for the five regions. A regional name can only appear on whiskies wholly distilled in those regions and a distillery name cannot be used as a brand name on any Scotch whisky which has not been wholly distilled in the named distillery. In law, other protections are also in place for Irish whiskey and Scotch. The European Regulation 110/2008 confers protected status for both in terms of their geographic indication (GI). Internationally, GI products are also protected by the European Commission in all-new Free Trade Agreement negotiations.   American Whiskey When we think of American whiskey we primarily think of Bourbon. We examine this in more detail and we look at some of the other categories of American whiskey. Bourbon Compared to Irish whiskey and Scotch, Bourbon is relatively new. As already outlined, both can trace
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