Style Profile: Irish Whiskey
The history of whiskey is intimately connected to Ireland, with distilling thought to have begun in that country as early as the 11th century and has remained a major center of production since. The word itself comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha, “water of life.”
The overall impression of Irish whiskies is light and approachable yet complex. A major differentiator between Irish and Scotch is the lack of peat character (Connemara, a peated single malt from the Cooley Distillery, is a notable exception).
By definition, Irish whiskey must be distilled and aged in Ireland; aging must be carried out for at least three years in wood. Beyond that, the distiller has quite a bit of latitude: the grist can be all malt, a mixture of malted and unmalted barley, or the whiskey blended from a mixture of malt spirit from a pot still and grain spirit from a continuous still.
Materials & Process
Classic “pure pot still” Irish whiskey is distilled from a mash composed of a mixture of malted and unmalted barley, often in equal proportions. Historically, other grains like oats, wheat, corn, or rye may have been used as a small fraction of the grist.
Fermentation is conducted off the grain; this in concert with a triple distillation in a pot still creates the lightness and vibrancy associated with Irish whiskey. Maturation is most commonly carried out in second fill sherry casks from Spain or bourbon barrels from the US.
Sample Recipe & Procedure
Malt fraction – 50%-100%, using:
- MCI Irish Distillers Malt
- Crisp Gleneagles Pot Still Malt
- Simpsons Distilling Malt
Grain fraction – 0-50%, using:
- Flaked barley
(Optional – substitute equivalent amount of flaked oats and/or unmalted wheat for ~5% of the flaked barley)
- SafSpirit M-1 OR USW-6
Mash malt, grains and enzyme; lauter to separate grains from wash and run into fermenting vessel, target Brix of 15-20°. Dose with chosen nutrient and inoculate yeast. Conduct stripping run followed by two spirit runs using a pot still. Age collected distillate from second spirit run with bourbon- or sherry-seasoned oak.