Irish Whiskey: An Introduction

Whiskey. Or whisky. Or liquid pleasure. Whatever you call it, whiskeys can be complicated. Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey and U.S. whiskey constitute the bulk of American drinking of this kind of adult beverage, but each country’s signature whiskeys admit to significantly different drinking experiences.

Four main varieties of Irish whiskey predominate: Single malt, single grain, pure pot still and blended. It’s typically distilled three times, at one of the country’s four operating distilleries. Peat is rarely used in the distillation process — quite unlike in Scotland — so Irish whiskeys tend to be much smoother than Scotch.

Here’s the low-down on Irish whiskey:

  • Same rough price points as U.S. whiskeys, and premium Irish tends to be significantly less expensive than premium Scotch
  • Smooth flavor, not excessively peaty or harsh
  • Blended whiskeys are fine — there’s less of a “snob” factor than with single-malt Scotches — and a majority of Irish varieties are blended
  • Green “unmalted” barley adds a spicy finish to many Irish whiskeys, particularly those labeled “pure pot still”
  • These are eminently drinkable whiskeys that have a distinguished history in Western civilization — they hold their own against Scotch and American competitors and have their own signature flavor

Go ahead. Tip back a glass, and thank the monks who invented Irish whiskey more than a half-millennium ago for their foresight.

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