Whiskey (Irish: Fuisce or uisce beatha) is whiskey made on the island of Ireland.
The word “whiskey” is an Anglicisation of uisce beatha or uisge beatha, a phrase from the Goidelic branch of languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx) meaning “water of life” (see aqua vitae).
Most Irish pot still whiskey is distilled thrice, while most (but not all) Scotch whisky is distilled twice (Auchentoshan being an example of a three times distilled Scotch). Peat is rarely used in the malting process, so that Irish whiskey has a smoother finish as opposed to the smoky, earthy overtones common to some Scotches (particularly those from Islay). There are notable exceptions to these rules in both countries; an example is Connemara peated Irish malt (double distilled) whiskey from the Cooley Distillery in Riverstown, Cooley, County Louth.
Irish whiskey was once the most popular spirit in the world, though a long period of decline from the late 19th century onwards greatly damaged the industry. Although Scotland sustains approximately 105 distilleries, Ireland has only seven in current operation – only four of which have been operating long enough to have products sufficiently aged for current sale on the market as of 2013, and only one of which was operating before 1975. Irish whiskey has seen a great resurgence in popularity since the late twentieth century, and has been the fastest growing spirit in the world every year since 1990. The current growth rate is at roughly 20% per annum, prompting the construction and expansion of a number of distilleries.
The word ‘whiskey’ (or whisky) comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha, meaning water of life. Irish whiskey was one of the earliest distilled drinks in Europe, arising around the 12th century (see Distilled beverage). It is believed that Irish monks brought the technique of distilling perfumes back to Ireland from their travels to the Mediterranean countries around 1000 A.D. The Irish then modified this technique to obtain a drinkable spirit. Whiskey was first recorded in Ireland in 1405. It was later recorded in Scotland in 1494. The Old Bushmills Distillery claims to be the oldest surviving licensed distillery in the world (the distillery claims a heritage to a licence from James I in 1608, and the Bushmills distillery company was established in 1784). A statute introduced in the late 16th century introduced a viceregal licence for the manufacture of whiskey.
In the early twentieth century Irish whiskey was the most popular whiskey in the United States, however prohibition between 1920 and 1933 greatly upset the export market and forced many distilleries out of business. The Irish War of Independence and subsequent civil war also made exporting whiskey difficult and following independence a series of trade disputes with Britain cut off export to all Commonwealth countries, greatly hampering the industry. By the 1960s there was only a handful of remaining distilleries in Ireland, and in 1966 they amalgamated under the name of Irish Distillers to combine their resources. By the mid-1970s there were only two distilleries in Ireland, those of New Midleton and Bushmills, both owned by Irish Distillers. Production reached a nadir at about 400,000 – 500,000 cases per annum during the seventies, from a height of 12 million cases around 1900. The takeover of Irish Distillers by Pernod Ricard in 1988 led to increased marketing of Irish whiskeys, especially Jameson. Since the early 1990s Irish whiskey has undergone a major resurgence and has for over 20 years been the fastest growing spirit in the world. Production rose from 4.4 million cases in 2008 to 6.5 million in 2013, with growth projected to rise to 12 million cases by 2018. As of 2013, roughly 800 people were employed full-time in the whiskey industry in Ireland.
Key regulations defining Irish whiskey and its production are established by the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 and are relatively simple (for example, in contrast with those for Scotch and Bourbon whiskey). They can be summarised as follows:
- Irish whiskey must be distilled and aged on the island of Ireland; that is, either in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland
- The contained spirits must be distilled to an alcohol by volume level of less than 94.8% from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains (saccharified by the diastase of malt contained therein, with or without other natural diastases) in such a way that the distillate has an aroma and flavour derived from the materials used
- The product must be aged for at least three years in wooden casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres (185 US gal; 154 imp gal)
- If the spirits comprise a blend of two or more such distillates, the product is referred to as a “blended” Irish whiskey
There are several types of whiskey common to Ireland, including those referred to as “single pot still”, “single malt”, “single grain”, and “blended”. But in contrast to the Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009, the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 does not actually contain a definition of the terms “single malt Irish whiskey” or “single grain Irish whiskey” or specific rules governing their production, so the exact definitions of these terms may not be clearly established.
Irish whiskey comes in several forms.
If the whiskey is continuously distilled from unmalted grains, it is referred to as grain whiskey. This lighter and more neutral spirit is rarely found on its own and the vast majority of grain whiskey is used to make blended whiskey, a product made by mixing column still product with richer and more intense pot still product.
Irish whiskeys made in a pot still fall into two categories. Those made entirely from malted barley distilled in a pot still are referred to as single malt whiskeys, a style also very commonly associated with Scotland.
The second style of Irish pot still whiskey is single pot still whiskey, made from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley completely distilled in a pot still. This latter style has also been historically referred to as “pure pot still” whiskey and “Irish pot still whiskey”; older bottlings often bear these names.
Regardless of whether the blended whiskey is made from combining grain whiskey with either single malt whiskey or with single pot still whiskey, it is labelled with the same terminology.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Irish whisky, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.