A typical 19th Century distillery scene(Monasterevan Distillery Co Kildare 1784-1921)
Long has Irish Whiskey suffered from a certain perceived but possibly self imposed identity. However this identity in a sense cannot be denied and is one of the reasons that it survived at all. In the late 60's early 70's the Irish Whiskey Industry was on it's knees and drastic action was required to save it. This lead to the amalgamation of Jameson, Paddy & Powers and eventually Bushmills, the only surviving Irish Distilleries at the time, to create the monopoly that was Irish Distillers. Savings had to be made and the Blend became the main stay of Irish Whiskey. A concerted effort was made to promote Irish whiskey initially in Ireland then the rest of the world in a certain way. The mantra became triple distilled for smoothness as opposed to the harsher double distilled scotch. All very general and nice and neat for easy marketing. However in the past 2 decades Irish Whiskey has been transformed and it is now as diverse and colourful as the 4 provinces of Ireland and harks back to the way it once used to be.
Irish Whiskey now boasts a diversity of whiskey styles that possibly even Scotland cannot match. We have triple distilled pure pot still and pure pot still & grain blends, we have triple distilled malts and malt & grain blends and even a mixture of all of the above. All these fit with what people think of as traditional Irish Whiskey. However we also have double distilled malts and malt blends which are peated and unpeated and even a successfully marketed single grain whiskey.This is the new face of Irish whiskey which in tradition goes further back in time than the one that has been created in the 20th Century. Ireland was all things to whiskey back in the 18th & 19th centuries when it dominated the Whiskey industry like Scotland dominates today. Therefore it is only fair to give Irish whiskey a second closer look and the attention it deserves.
As and from 2011 Single Pot Still whiskey is the designated industry nameing standard for Irish Pure pot still whiskey. There will also follow a legal definition for which none existed previously. This will finally nail down this wonderful whiskey as a totally separate style of whiskey and copper fasten it as uniquely Irish.
So what is Single Pot Still whiskey. This is probably one of the most confusing sides of Irish Whiskey and of which I get asked the most questions about. Why do the Irish use the term Single Pot Still when single malt whiskey is distilled in a pot still too? Is there a difference between Irish and Scotch Pot Stills or what is it with Pure Pot Still that makes it different? I will try to explain in the simplest way I can.
Firstly the term Pure Pot Still (PPS) has probably been in existence longer than the term Single Malt when used to describe Whisk(e)y as a category. However this is now being replaced with Single Pot Still to try and make it clearer for consumers, a Pot Still whiskey from a single distillery. People need to clarify in their own minds that Pure Pot Still (hence forth to be termed as Single Pot Still) basically was a descriptor for a style of whiskey and describes the end product rather than the apparatus that is used to create it as Irish stills are not much different from Scotch stills except historically they tended to be bigger than their Scottish cousins.
Single Pot Still and Single Malt is prepared in a very similar way. What is unique about Single Pot Still is the way ingredients are combined to create the end spirit and not the actual way it is distilled. Simply put modern Single Pot Still is made when Malted and Unmalted barley are mixed together to create a single mash and in turn the wort from that mash (of Malted and Unmalted Barley) is then distilled in a copper pot still to create the Pure Pot Still clear spirit. This is then matured in the normal way as any Irish or Scotch whisk(e)y would be matured in oak, the majority of which is bourbon or sherry barrels.
The confusion is created because unmalted barley is considered a grain in distillation terms and any spirit created with it should technically be called a grain whiskey. Where as Malted barley would be used independently to make a single malt whiskey. However as the unmalted barley is used in a mix with malted barley the distillation process actually creates so much more. This seems to go against the notion of the 2 different distillations, one of malt and one of grain whiskey, where mixing them after the distillation and maturation process would result in a blend where the malt tends to be lightened by the grain whiskey. However in the case of the Single Pot Still method the end product, which is triple distilled, creates a very smooth whiskey but contrary to many peoples beliefs that all Irish whiskey is light it actually produces a heavy oily/creamy flavoursome whiskey.
In olden days Pure Pot Still used to be considered the crowning glory of the Irish Whiskey industry but has declined over the years due to the expensive nature of production and it's rich and heavy style. The history of Irish Whiskey is vast, glorious and tragic which could take up this whole website. So what one needs to remember is that Irish PPS was probably developed from a base of Single malt whiskey production but due tax abuses by various governments during penal times on such use of malt came with it the Industry's need to adapt and cut costs by swapping some malt content with regular barley and other grains. Hence inevitably the birth of Pure Pot Still. And even though Malted and Unmalted barley has always been the major ingredients, in the past, PPS could also contain other elements such as smaller ratios of oats, corn and other grains that would have been available at any given time.
Today we have seen a resurgence in the interest of Pure Pot Still and to protect this uniquely Irish whiskey it has been renamed as Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
Single Malt Whiskey: A whiskey solely made from Malted Barley which has been distilled, matured and bottled in a single Distillery.
There are a lot of Myths in relation to Single malt. i.e. it being associated with Scotch distilling rather than Irish distilling. This may simply be because Scotland has a very strong & rich history of Single Malt distillery's and production. However Ireland has had an association with Single Malt equally as long as Scotland if not longer. Further, what one needs to realise is that 2 of the current 3 main distilleries in Ireland produce Single malt as their primary business and these are Bushmills & Cooley. The 3rd, Midleton, also produces some limited batches of single malt when required for it's own purposes to be used in blending but in reality do not release Single Malt whiskey to the market and concentrate on Pure Pot Still blends such as the Jameson range.
The most famous Single Malt distillery in Ireland has to be Bushmills and has had a long & illustrious history in single malt production and may surprise people that it is older than most of the famous Scottish single malt distilleries. Bushmills established in 1784 has been renowned the world over for nearly 2 centuries in regards to the whiskey it produces.
Then Cooley, Established in 1987, on the other hand is a relative new comer but has exploded on to the market with successful single malts such as Connemara (peated), Locke's (lightly peated) & Tyrconnell (unpeated) Single Malts.
Both of these Distilleries show the diversity of Irish Single Malts. Bushmills being a triple distilled malt which is totally unpeated and Cooley who only distil twice and produce both peated and unpeated single malts.
Single malt whiskeys have and always will be an important part of the Irish Whiskey industry and long may it live.
The famous Old Bushmills Distillery, Co
Current Annual Output: Circa 4.5 million litres (malt 2009)
Established in 1987 by Entrepreneur John Teeling. Which at the time broke the monopoly of Irish whiskey production in
Current Annual Output: Circa 2.25million litres (malt) & 2.25 million litres (grain) 2008.
Owner: Cooley 100% Irish Independent Limited Company
News that a new Irish boutique distillery could be imminent is exciting news but it is only in the planning stage so we need to keep the fingers crossed on this one.
Location is earmarked for the affable port town of Dingle in County Kerry but even the distillery name is yet to be confirmed. As of Winter 2011 we are still awaiting official confirmation that the project is under way buy insiders say it is still in the pipe line.
Current Annual Output: 0
Owner: Porter House Brewing Co Dublin
The oldest surviving distillery in
Current Annual Output: (Unknown, small batch).
Past Output: Circa 700,000 Liters (1885)
Stills: 2x ???L
Established in 1975 when IDG amalgamates CDC, Jameson & Powers shut up their perspective shops and moved their combined production literally lock, stock & barrel to a single operation at the new Midleton Distillery. The distillery boasts a combination of 13 75,000 interconnected stills creating by and far the most technically complex and modern distillery of its day. A title they may well still hold to this day. This modern marvel of whiskey distilling is now turning over 2.6 million cases of Jameson alone.
Current Annual Output: 15 MLA (Grain) 19 MLA ((combined) Unconfirmed)
Stills: 4 x 28,500L (2 Wash, 1 Feints, 1 Spirit)
Established in 1825, closed 1975, but restored to house the Jameson Heritage Centre. Home to the world’s biggest pot still with a capacity of circa 143875 litres (31,648 gallons), this used to be the strong hold of Cork Distillers Company Ltd (CDC). In the mid sixties however CDC, John Jameson & John Power distilleries amalgamated to form Irish Distillers Group (IDG). The Old Midleton distillery closed it doors in July 1975 only to be reincarnate in the New Midleton Distillery.
Current Annual Output: N/A (Silent)
Past Output: Circa 4.5 Million Liters (Bernard 1885)