Irish whiskey is as old as whiskey itself. It’s the original, and one of the better styles of whiskey you can buy all over the world.
Whether you’re new to whiskey and trying one for the first time or a seasoned whiskey drinker that wants a new wrinkle, we think it is for you. Ahead, we’ll cover the history and preparation, along with some information on why we think it’s superior to its biggest competitor: Scotch.
For those who are new to whiskey in general, we included some tips on drinking your first few glasses at the bottom. Happy drinking!
The History of Irish Whiskey
The history of whiskey begins in Ireland, which is as good a reason as any to choose Irish whiskey. The history of the first Irish whiskey is so old that it predates our ability to track it, but most historians place it somewhere around 500 AD.
Surprisingly enough, the first recorded instances if whiskey distillation comes from Irish monks. They learned the procedure from the far east, where it was mainly used to create perfumes.
After some experimentation, the monks found out that fermenting a water and barley mash with yeast before heating it would separate the alcohol.
They used the newfound whiskey to help ease the ailments of sick people and clean wounds. The drink was new to them, as was the altered state of consciousness it induced. Since this was the case, these monks considered getting drunk to be a holy pursuit.
As the use and popularity of the drink expanded, so did its reach and audience. It is enjoyed widespread popularity for hundreds of years after its creation.
While Ireland was the birthplace of whiskey, it wasn’t the only place to enjoy the stuff. Scotland became a major player in the whiskey game - especially when the Great Famine hit Ireland in the 1800s.
Several setbacks allowed other regions to step up their whiskey production and fill the void, which is why Scottish whiskey remains so popular to this day.
Irish Whiskey Today
Unfortunately, Irish whiskey took several massive blows during the 19th century, leading to other regions beginning to dominate the market. There are currently only seven distilleries in the country, with one established before 1975.
Fortunately, for whiskey fans everywhere, It is has been making a comeback in the past 20 years or so. The distilleries that are operating are producing for a massive market now, and have loyal customers who prefer it to Scotch.
Irish Whiskey Vs. Scotch
The primary competition in the whiskey world is Scotch vs. Irish whiskey. You have other players like rye and bourbon but these fall into slightly different categories. They might fill the same place in the market, but their mash base is different from traditional whiskey.
Scotch and Irish whiskeys are quite similar at their bases, however. We’re here to make the case that Irish whiskeys is better, and have a couple of points to make as to why we prefer it - apart from the “e” vs. no “e” spelling difference.
The Distillation Process
The primary advantage and difference between Irish whiskey and Scottish whisky is the distillation process. Whiskey makers distill their product three times, while Scotch is only distilled twice.
The result is a lighter taste in the signature Irish whiskey. Another big difference that affects flavor is the single-pot process.
Only Irish whiskey combines both unmalted and malted barley, which you can tell once you’ve tried them both side by side. Scotch only includes malted barley. Irish whiskey usually won’t have the same smokey flavor as its Scotch counterpart.
The aging process is another reason why many prefer Irish whiskeys over Scotch. Irish whiskey is almost always smoother than Scotch because it’s distilled twice rather than three times.
On top of that, there are more regulations in place that dictate the handling and aging of Irish whiskey. It is has to age in Ireland for at least three years. This is actually a law in the country, and whiskey makers often exceed the regulation by an additional two or three years. The total ABV of the final product is around 40%.
Scotch isn’t bad by any means, but we think Irish whiskeys is better. It has a richer history and more regulations behind it. The result is often a smoother, richer flavor that has a greater appeal than Scotch does.
Irish Whiskey Brands to Try
Jameson is one of the lightest Irish whiskeys you can find, which is part of the reason it became so popular. The marketing strategy was to downplay the fact that it was whiskey and sell it to vodka and rum drinkers.
The strategy paid off, and vaulted Irish whiskeys back to the forefront of the whiskey industry over the subsequent years. Foreign companies began investing in the market more heavily and selling their products to countries all over the world.
Now, there are several Irish whiskeys brands to choose from. Bushmills - one of the oldest and most established Irish whiskeys brands - provides an excellent place to start for those new to Irish whiskeys.
Here are a few of the more popular brands of Irish whiskeys to try:
Getting Started Drinking Irish Whiskey
Now that we’ve covered why you should consider drinking Irish whiskeys, it’s time to give you a bit of a rundown on what you should do when you first try it.
Irish whiskeys - although smoother than a lot of other styles - is often an acquired taste. Some people don’t love it right away, but they might not be trying the right kind.
Ahead, we’ll give you some tips before taking your first sip so you can ensure you get the most out of your drinking experience.
A Few Drops of Water
You might turn your nose up at the idea of adding a few drops of water to your whiskey if you’re new to the drink, but it can actually do a lot for you.
Adding water to whiskey can help in several ways. On the one hand, it helps cut the harshness that new drinkers might not like right off the bat and brings more of the flavors to the forefront.
How much water you’ll want to add will depend on your taste preferences. Some people will add a drop or two, while others will add more to help cut the alcohol percentage in the drink.
You can add this water yourself if you’re at the bar. All you need is a glass of water and a straw. Use the straw as a dropper and put some water in your whiskey until you find the right balance.
You might think that you can achieve the same result by drinking whiskey on the rocks. This is true to a degree, but we don’t always recommend adding ice if you want to get the full flavors of the Irish whiskey you’re enjoying.
Sure, everyone will want a cold glass of whiskey from time to time, but ice can work against you if you’re starting to test the waters. Ice can actually numb your palate to the intricate flavors of the whiskey
If you’re preparing whiskey on the rocks at home, though, you might want to invest in a large square or circular ice mold. Large pieces of ice melt slower than a group of smaller ice cubes, meaning the whiskey won’t dilute as quickly.
The Price of Irish Whiskey
The price of Irish whiskey is a lot like the price of any other spirit. Age, region, and quality all factor into how much you’ll pay. The prices have quite a bit of range as well, meaning it’s often difficult to tell whether you’re overspending or losing out on a delicious treat.
Like a lot of other spirits, though, you shouldn’t hold price above all else. Some cheaper whiskeys can be just as good as the more expensive options if you select the right brand.
You might opt for the oldest Irish whiskey on the shelf to get the best flavor. You might succeed, or get something that just tastes a bit old rather than seasoned.
Enjoying Irish Whiskey
There’s certainly a case to be made for all versions of whiskey that have spawned off of the original, but we think Irish whiskey is one of the best.
It’s worth picking up a bottle next time you’re at the store, or asking for a glass at the bar. There are Irish pubs all over the world, and you can likely find one in your town or city!
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