The Roots Of Irish Whiskey
The history of the Irish whiskey is deeply rooted in the culture of Ireland. However, the Irish Whiskey Act that was enacted in 1980 serves as a modern-day guide for defining the Irish whiskey. For a spirit to be branded Irish Whiskey, it must be distilled and aged in wooden casks within Irish borders, be less than 94.8% ABV, and be made from malted and un-malted barley. The modern-day definition is derived from a similar law that was passed 300 years ago, the English Malt Tax that was enacted in 1725.
The Distillation Process
Traditional Irish whiskey is made using a five-step process involving malting, mashing and distillation before maturation and blending are done. Malting involves steeping barley in water. This is done several times while changing the water; the water used in the last process is heated first to jump-start the process of germination. Barley is then removed from the water and placed in a suitable place to allow for germination to take place. Once the grains sprout, they are dried in a closed kiln. It is this drying process that distinguishes scotch whiskeys and the Irish whiskey; the former dries the germinated grains in peat smoke, which gives Scotch whiskey that smoky flavor.
Mashing is the second step. Un-malted barley is mixed with the malted barley and passed through a milling machine for grinding. The resulting flour, or grist, is mixed in a mash tun with water and slowly mixed to allow the sugars to mix with water. The resulting mixture is commonly referred to as wort. The liquid is drained, pumped into different vessels, mixed with yeast and left to ferment. Once all the sugars in the liquid have been converted to alcohol, the resulting fluid is distilled in copper pot stills. Most Irish whiskeys including Jameson, are normally distilled three times for a pure and light taste.
The law requires distillers to age the triple-distilled spirit for three years in wooden casks like the American white oak barrel, but most Irish whiskeys are aged for more than the required three years. Before Irish whiskey is bottled, marrying or vatting is done on the casks used so as to create a consistent flavor for a particular brand. There is a clear difference between Irish and Scottish distilleries, the latter emphasize on blending while distilling is more important to the Irish.
Nowadays, you will find Irish whiskey brands that are products of both column still and pot still distillation. You will find bottles that are clearly marked “single pot still” or “pure pot still”, but they are all variations of Irish Whiskey.