As Irish as it gets

Taste the finest Irish whiskey. But first know a little bit more about them.

Dhiman Chattopadhyay        Print Edition: May 4, 2008

So you thought Ireland was famous only for Guinness, Daniel Day-Lewis and potatoes? Apparently then, you haven’t tasted a Bushmills or a Jameson yet. Welcome to the world of Irish whiskeys.

What’s different: Although Irish whiskey is similar to Scotch whisky in many ways, the main difference is that most Irish whiskeys are distilled thrice, whereas Scotch whiskies are distilled only twice. Irish whiskey also differs in that peat is almost never used in the malting process, so the smoky, earthy overtones common to many Scotch whiskies are usually not present.

The main players: Currently, there are only three distilleries operating in Ireland: Midleton, Bushmills, and Cooley. Only Cooley is Irish-owned.

Spot the difference: Irish whiskey comes in several forms. There is the single malt whiskey that is made from 100 per cent malted barley distilled in a pot still, while grain whiskey is made from grains distilled in a column still. Unique to Irish whiskey is pure pot still whiskey. While single malt whisk(e)y from both Scotland and Ireland is distilled only in a pot still, the designation ‘pure pot still’, as used in Ireland, generally refers to whiskey made of 100 per cent barley, mixed malted and unmalted, and distilled in a pot still. The ‘green’ unmalted barley gives the traditional pure pot still whiskey a spicy, uniquely Irish quality.

 The story of the extra ‘E’

At one time, all whisky was spelt without the extra ‘e’, as “whisky”. But around 1870, the reputation of Scottish whisky was very poor as Scottish distilleries flooded the market with cheaper spirits produced using the Coffey still. The Irish and American distilleries adopted the spelling “whiskey”, with the extra “e”, to distinguish their higher quality product. Today, the spelling whisky is generally used for whiskies distilled in Scotland, Wales, Canada and Japan, while whiskey is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and America.

Like single malt, pure pot still is sold as such or blended with grain whiskey. Usually, no real distinction is made between a blended whiskey made from single malt and a pure pot still.

What to buy

In blends, the best bet would be the Bushmills Original, Michael Collins, the Black Bush or Jameson.

Pot still

There are only two frontrunners in the pot-still category— the Redbreast (12-year-old) and the Jameson Pure Pot Still.

Single malts

The choice for Irish single malts is far greater and most connoisseurs would go for Bushmills (16-yearold or 21-year-old) or Connemara Peated Malt (12-year-old)

Availability

Most Irish whiskeys are still not available in India. Jameson and Bushmills are available at select five-star hotels.

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