Guinness might possibly be the biggest liquid export from the Emerald Isle, but Ireland has long been famous for its whiskey exports.
From the classic Jameson v Bushmills argument (which do you prefer?), to brands like Tullamore and Teeling, to the fact that Bushmills is the oldest working whiskey distillery in the world, having first received a license granted by King James 1st in 1608, Ireland has a long and successful affiliation with whiskey.
All Irish whiskey, also known as Uisce beatha, literally “water of life“, is made from malted barley and distilled three times. However, there are several different types; Malt, pot still, grain, and blended.
What is Irish Whiskey Made From?
Types of Irish Whiskey
There are a few different types of Irish whiskey. Single Malt, Single Pot Still, Single Grain, and Blended. Although all of these contain malted barley, that is the only ingredient they have in common.
Before we start, we need to highlight something potentially misleading when viewing Irish whiskey labels, and that’s the word “Single.”
When you read that word on a bottle of Irish whiskey, it does not mean that each bottle has one Malt, comes from one pot still, or has just one grain. “Single” simply means that it comes from the same distillery.
What do all Types of Irish whiskey have in Common?
As mentioned, one of the key similarities between all kinds of Irish whiskey is that they contain malted barley. This means that barley is left in water until it begins to sprout, then it’s dried. This gives Irish whiskey a robust taste.
Another Whisky (notice the difference in spelling), Scotch, is also made from Malted barley. However, the difference is that scotch is distilled twice, but Irish whiskey is distilled thrice.
What is Single Malt Irish Whiskey made from?
“Single Malt” is a malt whiskey produced in a single distillery.
Malted barley, yeast, and water are the only ingredients in a single malt whiskey. Anything else, and you can’t call it single Malt.
The malted barley can be peated or unpeated – meaning it might or might not have been dried in a peter oven. During distillation, it’s kept in a pot still to give it that unique flavour.
Single Malt is similar to Scotch, the only difference being that scotch is distilled twice, and Single Malt three times.
What is in Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey?
Despite how it might sound, “Single Pot Still Whiskey” doesn’t need to come from one pot still. So long as all the pot stills are at the same distillery, the name is still valid.
This whiskey uses both malted and unmalted barley; by law, you need at least 30% of each to call it “Pot Still Whiskey.” However, unlike Single Malt, pot still whiskey can still contain other grains, such as oats, corn, or rye. However, none of these grains can be malted.
This unmaltedness gives it that spicy and creamy feel.
As the name suggests, this kind of whiskey is made in a pot still.
What is Single Grain Irish Whiskey made from?
The “single” in “single grain” is probably the most misleading use of that word. Because single grain whiskey can (and often does) contain more than one type of grain. It’s more like “Grain Whiskey from a single distillery” – which, we’ll admit, doesn’t have the same ring.
By law, grain whiskey cannot have more than 30% malted barley. The rest is usually made of other (always unmalted) grains such as corn, barley, wheat, or even oats. All the grains are mashed into flour, and the fermentation process begins. If it’s “single grain,” the whiskey in a bottle will have come from the same distillery.
What is Blended Whiskey made from?
You get a blended whiskey if you take two or more of the above whiskies and put them into a bottle.
Irish Whiskey Brands
To help you better understand the differences between the four main types of Irish whiskey, let’s look at some of the brands you might be familiar with.
Arguably the most famous Irish Whiskey brand is Jamesons. Jamesons is an excellent example of mixed whiskey, combining pot still and grain whiskey. Maize is added to the mix to give it the signature slightly sweet taste.
Teeling is a pot still whiskey. It uses nothing but barley, 50% malted and 50% unmalted.
Bushmills is a single malt whiskey that has been aged for ten years. Because Bushmills uses only malted barley, you can expect a slightly higher price tag.
Glendalough makes many different types of whiskey, but their single grain is one of their best sellers. The barley is mixed with corn, turned into flour, and made into whiskey. What makes Glendalough unique is how they store it to age.
It spends 3 and a half years in an old bourbon barrel and then six months in a sherry barrel. The barrel that whiskey is stored in does not affect what you call it.
Whisky or Whiskey?
Before we end, one last point. Irish whiskey should always be spelled with an “e” before the y. This came from the 19th century when Irish distillers wanted to make clear that their whiskey was different from Scotch in Scotland.
In America, Bourbon came from Irish Immigrants. Hence why, bourbon is also spelled with the e. Whisky made in Scotland, England, Canada, or the EU is usually spelled without the e.
Interested in more Irish food and drink stories? What about the nation that drinks more Guinness than Ireland?! Click here to discover that story.