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What is Irish Whiskey?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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Irish whiskey is an alcoholic beverage which is distilled from grain. By tradition, whiskey made in the Irish style is spelled as “whiskey,” while Scotch products are known as “whisky.” There are several fundamental differences between the Scotch and Irish versions of this popular beverage, and many consumers have acquired a specific taste for one or the other. Many large markets and beverage stores sell Irish whiskey, usually with several brands and styles on offer.

A true Irish whiskey will be produced with grains grown in Ireland, although people may use the term more generally to a refer to a specific style of whiskey making. Barley is the traditional base, although oats, rye, wheat, or even corn may be used. Once malted, the grain is dried in sealed ovens before being fermented and distilled to create the final product. Irish whiskey is distilled three times, so it has a smooth, rich flavor which is very distinctive.

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After distillation, Irish whiskey is aged in oak casks. By tradition, these casks are old, and they have previously been used to age alcohols like rum or bourbon. Since the oak is old, it imparts a more mellow, subtle flavor to the finished product, with undertones of the alcohol which was previously fermented in that cask. This can lead to subtle differences between whiskeys from the same distillery. Typically, Irish whiskey is aged for seven to eight years, although whiskeys as young as four can sometimes be found for sale.

The history of whiskey making in Ireland is quite lengthy. It is believed that the Irish first started fermenting grains around the 8th century, with many monks producing whiskey for medicinal purposes. The Irish refined the recipe, and the Scottish probably picked up the technique from Ireland. By the 1500s, Ireland was becoming well known for its whiskey; Elizabeth I is said to have greatly enjoyed whiskey from Ireland during her reign. After a series of distillery closures in the 20th century, the Irish whiskey industry ultimately recovered, and several companies now make traditional Irish whiskey.

In Ireland, whiskey used to be known as uisce beatha, or “water of life,” after the Latin aqua vitae, with the same meaning. The original Gaelic was probably corrupted into the modern word “whiskey.” Scotch whisky is generally only distilled twice, so it may have a more harsh flavor. In addition, the grain is dried over open peat fires. This gives Scotch whisky a smoky, earthy taste which is very distinctive.

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anon359324
Post 6

The first Irish whisky was made my an Ulster Scotsman and another Scotsman (Jameson). As to who started to make whisky first, there is no way to really know, since the history of whisky is so old but it is know that whisky was being produced by monks at the island of Iona in the dark ages. We do know the Scottish perfected the distillation of whisky.

Renegade
Post 4

@Leonidas226

There is an Irish beverage known as poteen which was originally brewed illicitly from potatoes.

Leonidas226
Post 3

I wonder why whiskey isn't made with potatoes, seeing as how this was the staple crop of Ireland for so long. Was there an abundance of barley as well?

BioNerd
Post 2

I recall hearing stories about strange things happening to young men who first encountered whiskey, such as conversations with the toilet. Perhaps this is an old family joke, but it certainly makes sense that whiskey would have a tremendous effect if not taken in moderation.

Qohe1et
Post 1

It is interesting to note the differences between Scotch and Irish Whiskey. The Scotch Whiskey seems to be much more rugged, which would match the terrain and personality of the country, while the Irish version is softer and more elaborately infused with flavor. These assets seem to match the personality of their respective countries, in their ancient similarities and smaller differences.

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