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Irish Whiskey Basics

A quick guide to understanding Irish whiskey

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rish Whiskey Barrels, Tyrconnell Irish Whiskey, Locke's Distillery Museum, Kilbeggan, County Westmeath, Ireland

rish Whiskey Barrels, Tyrconnell Irish Whiskey, Locke's Distillery Museum, Kilbeggan, County Westmeath, Ireland

Holger Leue / LOOK / Getty Images

Irish whiskey is one of the world's great styles of whiskey. Here is a quick guide to understanding the basics about Irish whiskey.

Distilleries:

Ireland currently only has three working distilleries; Midleton, Cooley and Bushmills. Midleton and Cooley are located in the Irish Republic while Bushmills is in Northern Ireland. All Irish whiskies originate from one of these distilleries. Much like the scotch whiskey industry, all three distilleries have house brands that they produce as well as 3rd party brands that are produced by contract. Both Midleton and Cooley distilleries produce both pot still and grain whiskey, while the Bushmills distillery produces only pot still whiskey (they do, however, source grain whiskey from the Midleton distillery). Traditionally, Irish whiskies are distilled three times for extra smoothness (Scotch whiskies by comparison are traditionally double distilled).

Age:

By Irish law, all whiskies must be aged a minimum of three years in barrels.

Styles of Irish Whiskey:

Single Malt Irish whiskey is made from 100% malted barley by a single distillery in a pot still.

Grain whiskey is particularly light in style. Made from corn or wheat, grain whiskey is produced in column stills.

Blended whiskey constitutes 90% all Irish whiskey production. Jameson and Kilbeggan are famous blended Irish whiskies.

Pure Pot Still whiskey is a blend of both malted and unmalted barley distilled in a pot still. Pure Pot Still is a style of whiskey unique to Ireland.

Potcheen or Irish moonshine distillates don't meet the age requirement to be labeled as Irish whiskey. Similar to American white dog, this is new make of spirit that has seen little to no time in barrel. Knockeen Hills and Bunratty are two popular brands.

Famous Brands of Irish Whiskey:

  • Jameson is produced by the Midleton distillery.
  • Bushmills is produced at the Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland.
  • Clontarf is an example of a third party Irish whiskey.
  • Connemara is an unusual peated whiskey made at Cooley distillery.
  • Greenore is a single grain whiskey from Cooley.
  • Green Spot is a legendary pure pot still whiskey made by Midleton for Mitchell's of Dublin.
  • The Irishman is a well regarded third party line of Irish whiskies.
  • Kilbeggan is Cooley distillery's house blended whiskey.
  • Knappogue Castle is a famous third party Irish whiskey.
  • Michael Collins has both single malt and blended whiskey offerings from this third party producer.
  • Powers is another well regarded house brand from Midleton distillery.
  • Redbreast is a famous pure pot still whiskey from Midleton.
  • Tullamore Dew is another classic name in Irish whiskey.
  • Tyrconnell is a single malt whiskey from Cooley.
  • Wild Geese has a cult following among Irish whiskey enthusiasts.
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