Irish whiskey (Irish: Fuisce or uisce beatha) is whiskey made in Ireland.
Key regulations defining Irish whiskey and its production are established by the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980, and are relatively simple (for example, in contrast with those for Scotch and Bourbon whiskey). They can be summarised as follows:
- Irish whiskey must be distilled and aged in the island of Ireland
- The contained spirits must be distilled to an alcohol by volume level of less than 94.8% from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains (saccharified by the diastase of malt contained therein, with or without other natural diastases) in such a way that the distillate has an aroma and flavour derived from the materials used.
- The product must be aged for at least three years in wooden casks.
- If the spirits comprise a blend of two or more such distillates, the product is referred to as a "blended" Irish whiskey.
There are several types of whiskey common to Ireland, including those referred to as single pot still, single malt, single grain, and blended Irish whiskey. But in contrast to the Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009, the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 does not actually contain a definition of the terms "single malt Irish whiskey" or "single grain Irish whiskey" or specific rules governing their production, so the exact definitions of these terms may not be clearly established. The meaning of such terms can vary substantially from producer to producer. For example, some Scottish whisky that could have been considered "single malt" before 2009 was distilled using continuous stills, and there is an American whiskey marketed as a "Single Malt" that is made from rye grain. Both of these practices would violate the 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations definition of "Single Malt Scotch Whisky" but may not be prohibited for "Single Malt Irish Whiskey".
The word "whiskey" is an Anglicisation of "uisce beatha/uisge beatha" a phrase from the Goidelic branch of languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx) meaning "water of life". (Intoxicating liquor, and especially whiskey, is also sometimes referred to in Ireland as "the craythur".)
Most Irish pot still whiskey is distilled three times, while most (but not all) Scotch whisky, is distilled twice. Peat is rarely used in the malting process, so that Irish Whiskey has a smoother finish as opposed to the smoky, earthy overtones common to some Scotches. There are notable exceptions to these "rules" in both countries; an example is Connemara Peated Irish Malt (double distilled) whiskey from the Cooley Distillery in Riverstown, Cooley, County Louth.
Although Scotland sustains approximately 90 distilleries, Ireland has only four (although each produces a number of different whiskeys): economic difficulties in the last few centuries have led to a great number of mergers and closures. Currently those distilleries operating in Ireland are: New Midleton Distillery (Jamesons, Powers, Paddy, Midleton, Redbreast, and others, plus the independently sold rarity Green Spot), Old Bushmills Distillery (all Old Bushmills, Black Bush, 1608, Bushmills 10-, 12- and 16- and 21-year-old single malts), Cooley Distillery (Connemara, Michael Collins, Tyrconnell, and others) and the reopened Kilbeggan Distillery, which began distilling again in 2007. Irish Distillers' Midleton distillery has been part of the Pernod Ricard conglomerate since 1988. Bushmills was part of the Irish Distillers group from 1972 until 2005 when it was sold to Diageo. Cooley, which also owns Kilbeggan, agreed in December 2011 to be acquired by Beam Inc.
In addition to the 4 distilleries, there are a number of independently owned Irish Whiskey brands, such as Tullamore Dew.
Read more about Irish Whiskey: Types
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