There are four distinct styles of whiskey or whisky in the world (the “e” is used in the United States and Ireland, whereas Canadian and Scotch take their whisky without the “e”) each with its own particular characteristics. While all are produced in a broadly similar way, there are substantial differences between different countries’ products including the choice of grains, number of distillations, type of stills used, maturation period and type of oak barrels used. Each country’s style has its own special characteristics to discover and savour.
Irish and Scotch are often compared to each other just as American and Canadian have broadly similar characteristics.
Unlike Scotch, the malted barley in Irish whiskey is dried in enclosed kilns, not over peat fires, and therefore lacks the ‘peaty smokiness’ of Scotch whiskies. This maintains the natural flavour of the barley as one of the defining characteristics of Irish whiskey, which are typically fragrant, with a roundness of body.
A second important differentiating factor is the Irish use of unmalted barley in the pot still as well as malted barley. (The Scots use only malted barley at this stage.) The main flavour of Irish whiskey comes from barley, and the differences between the brands lie in the proportions of raw and malted barley. Three styles of whiskey – pot still, grain and malt whiskey – make up blended Irish whiskey. The flavourful pot still whiskey is blended with both lighter grain whiskey and more flavoursome malt whiskey to produce the final, well-balanced blend.
Tullamore Dew is distilled three times to greater purity and smoothness
Three times for purity, once more than Scotch. Tullamore Dew, like most Irish whiskies, is distilled three times to give greater purity and smoothness. Each extra passing of the spirit through the still improves its quality, purity and strength – with the result that Irish whiskey leaves the still with higher alcohol content than Scotch.
‘Vatting’ not ‘Blending’
The character of Irish whiskey is more closely connected to the distilling process than to the subsequent blending. The skill, they say, lies in creating the right distillates in the first place. As a result, the Irish call this latter technique ‘vatting’ rather than ‘blending’. By contrast, blended Scotch whisky is achieved by mixing many different mature malt and grain whiskies together, balancing the final flavour by adjusting the relative proportions of each.