Queen Elizabeth 1st enjoyed Irish whiskey. It is said that she had casks of Irish whiskey transported to London and stored in the palace. By the 18 century Ireland had roughly 2000 stills in operation making Irish whiskey. At present there are only 4 distilleries in operations: Cooley, Kilbeggan, New Midleton and Old Bushmills. January 2012 Beam Inc., creators of Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, bought Cooley Distillery, the last independently Irish owned distillery.
Regulations for producing Irish whiskey are determined by the “Irish Whiskey Act, 1980.” This superceded the previous act of 1950. When compared to the requirements to make Bourbon and Scotch, Irish whiskey is much simpler. The Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 says that to be labeled Irish whiskey it has to be produced according to the following requirements:
1) spirits shall have been distilled in the State (Republic of Ireland) or in Northern Ireland from a mash of cereals which has been saccharified by the diastase of malt contained therein, fermented by the action of yeast and distilled at an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% by volume giving the distillate an aroma and flavour derived from the materials used.
2) spirits shall have been matured in wooden casks in warehouse in the State or Northern Ireland for a period of not less than three years.
3) spirits comprising a blend of two or more distillates are referred to as a “blended” Irish whiskey and must meet requirements one and two.
Styles of Irish Whiskey include blended, single grain and single malt. Blended whiskey accounts for a majority of Irish whiskey being produced today. Blended Irish whiskey can be composed of whiskey from multiple distillate as well as more than one distillery as long as it adheres to the policies defined in the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980. Some examples of Blended whiskies include: Bushmills Original, Jameson, Kilbeggan, Clontarf, Inishowen and Paddy to mention a few. To dive a little further into the process, Jameson is created from a mash of malted and un-malted barley. It will then be triple distilled in pot stills and aged in oak casks. To create the final product a mix of triple distilled whiskey and neutral spirits are paired in just the right proportions to make Jameson what it has always been and will continue to be.
Single Malt whiskies are also available but they are not as prevalent as blended whiskey. Single malts are produced from a mixture of or 100% malted barley, distilled using a pot still and manufactured by a single distillery. Some example of single malt Irish whiskies are: Tyrconnell, Bushmills 10, 16, 21 year old and Locke’s Single Malt 8 year old. Tyrconnell uses 100% malted barley, yeast and water. Small batches are then triple distilled in copper pot stills.
While Irish whiskey usually doesn’t contain grains malted with peat there are a few that do contain this distinctive flavor. Cooley distillery makes an Irish whiskey called Connemara. The malted barley is dried in peat fired kilns that gives it the distinctive smokey flavor commonly associated with Scotch whisky. Connemara is twice distilled in copper pot stills then aged in American Oak for several years. Connemara is considered to be a peated single malt.