Having trouble telling your malt from you grain and your pot still from your blends?
Help is at hand with our handy guide to Irish Whiskey styles…
So, let’s start with the basics. Whiskey is a spirit distilled from fermented grain mash and aged in wooden casks. To be called whiskey in Ireland, the spirit has to be aged in the casks for at least three years and bottled at a strength of no less than 40% ABV (alcohol by volume).
Every whiskey style has a distinct taste, which is driven not only by its ingredients but also the maturation process. Each barrel has its own unique colour and character, which imparts a distinct flavour to the whiskey aged within it. The quality of the casks is crucial – they’re painstakingly selected for their aroma to ensure consistency and superior taste of the final product.
SINGLE POT STILL
Unique to Ireland, this style is made from a mash including both malted and unmalted barley, which is triple-distilled in traditional copper pot stills. Unmalted barley is not used in the production of any other style of whiskey anywhere else in the world. It’s the unmalted barley that gives single pot still Irish whiskey its wonderful creamy mouth feel and full, complex flavours.
The term ‘single’ comes from the fact that production takes place in one distillery. Once the highest selling whiskey in the world, the single pot still style is undergoing a huge comeback and is considered to be the quintessential Irish whiskey. Midleton Distillery in Cork is unique as the location where the craft of traditional Irish ‘single pot still’ whiskey has been protected, nurtured and perfected for almost 200 years.
Malt whiskey is made exclusively from malted barley and is distilled using a copper pot still. Although malt whiskey is made in Ireland, this style is generally associated with Scotland. Single malt whiskey is the product of an individual distillery.
Grain whiskey is typically produced from a mash of malted barley and any other cereal grain, distilled in a continuous distillation apparatus known as a column still.
BLENDS, MARRIAGES AND STAYING SINGLE
A blended whiskey is one that contains two or more types of whiskey. Jameson is a blend of single pot still and grain whiskey. In the case of a whiskey like Redbreast, single pot still whiskeys – some aged in ex-bourbon barrels and some in ex-sherry casks – are married together to create this distinctive, rich brand. The term ‘married’ rather than ‘blended’ isn’t just poetry – all of the whiskey used to make Redbreast is single pot still, rather than a blend of two different styles.
You may also come across the term ‘single- cask’. This is simply a whiskey bottled from one single barrel. It’s usually numbered and labelled with the cask it came from. These whiskeys are considered more exclusive and are available in limited quantities.
Which style suits you?
We’ve come up with this simple chart to help you choose a style of whiskey that suits you: