A whiskey made by a single Irish distillery using fermented cereal grains such as rye, maize, oats or wheat containing a small proportion of malted barley in the mash mixture. Grain whiskeys are typically distilled using column stills as opposed to traditional pot stills, yielding a higher ABV% and lighter flavour profile than malt whiskeys. Grain whiskeys are predominantly blended with single malt or pot still whiskeys to make blended Irish whiskeys.
‘Single grain’ and ‘grain’ Irish whiskey are identical in that they’re column distilled using grains other than malted barley. The use of ‘single’ merely denotes the whiskey was made in a single Irish distillery instead of multiple distilleries.
Let’s take a closer look at how single grain Irish whiskey is made and how it differs from the other three types of Irish whiskey.
What is the difference between single grain and single malt Irish whiskey?
Single grain Irish whiskey is made with fermented cereal grains such as rye, maize, oats or wheat. Single malt Irish whiskey however, is made solely from malted barley. Single grain whiskeys are typically distilled in column stills whereas single malt whiskeys distilled using traditional pot stills. Grain whiskeys typically have a lighter, fruitier flavour profile with a higher ABV%.
How is Irish grain whiskey made?
The process of making single grain Irish whiskey starts with milling (grinding) the grain such as rye into a flour-like mixture called grist. A much smaller portion of malted barley is also milled and then mixed with the predominant grain being used – in this example, rye.
The mash mixture (grist) is then mixed with hot water to extract the sugars within the malted barley which produces a hot sugary liquid called wort.
After cooling off, the sugary wort liquid is transferred to a cylindrical wooden tank called a washback where yeast is added. Over several days, the very active yeast feeds on the sugars within the wort, fermenting it into basic form of beer called wash.
The wash has an ABV of around 10-15% which is ready for purification via intensive column distillation.
How is Irish grain whiskey distilled?
Grain whiskey is nearly always distilled in what are called column stills – also known as continuous or Coffey stills (after their inventor’s surname – Aeneas Coffey).
Hence their name, column stills are tall, narrow, cylindrical vessels which are vastly more efficient than the single batch process of traditional copper pot stills.
This is becuase column stills can be continuously operated, producing a constant supply of highly alcoholic distillate. Not only does this make production cheaper, but it’s much faster and with less manual labour.
To begin, the rye wash is heated at the bottom of the column structure which boils the alcohol within the mostly water-based beer. As the alcoholic vapours rise through the narrow column, they meet perforated metal plates which are intentionally cooled to recondense the vapour back into liquid form.
By repeatedly heating and recondensing the liquid within the column, only the purest alcoholic vapours rise to the top of the still where they finally exit.
These highly alcoholic vapours are recondensed into new make grain spirit which is now ready for ageing in oak casks. Crystal clear in colour, the ABV can be upwards of 85% with very little contaminants or congeners.
Column distilled whiskey is generally very ‘light’ in character with little harshness compared to pot still or single malt whiskeys. This is why it’s so good for blending as it ’rounds out’ the flavour within the blend making it more balanced and easier to drink.
Think of grain whiskey as the ‘filler’ within Irish blended whiskey.
How is Irish grain whiskey aged?
To meet the classification of grain whiskey, the raw column distillate must be aged in charred oak casks for a minimum of three years. During this maturation period, the cask imparts colour, flavour and body to the whiskey. Ageing can take anywhere from three to seven years depending on the style of Irish whiskey being produced. Once ageing has been completed, the whiskey is typically used for blending with other grain, pot still or single malt whiskeys.
What are the 4 types of Irish whiskey?
The four types of Irish whiskey include; Single Malt, Pot Still, Single Grain and Blended. The most highly produced type of Irish whiskey is blended which comprises 90% of the overall industry.
- Single Malt Irish Whiskey
- Single / Pot Still Irish Whiskey
- Single Grain Irish Whiskey (This article)
- Blended Irish Whiskey
To learn more about the different types of Irish whiskey, check out our article Irish Whiskey vs Scotch.
7 best single grain whiskey from Ireland
Kilbeggan 8 Year Old Single Grain Whiskey
Previously known it as Greenore 8 Year Old, the Kilbeggan 8 Year Old Single Grain Whiskey is a delightful expression, featuring an enticing array of sweet and spicy notes. On the nose, the whiskey offers aromas of lemon sponge, honeyed cereal, vanilla and hints of caramel. The palate is smooth and creamy with a light touch of menthol and coconut ice before leading into a long finish with notes of maple, pecan, milk chocolate and a hint of salinity. This whiskey is sure to satisfy your taste buds with its complex yet enjoyable flavour profile.
Beautiful Fruit 8 Year Old Whiskey
The Beautiful Fruit 8 year old whiskey is an exquisite single grain Irish whiskey. It boasts a wonderfully light and fruity character, with estery notes of stone fruit, lemon zest, and tropical tang. After aging in bourbon casks for eight years, the whiskey takes on lovely caramel undertones, delicate florals, and vanilla. Enjoy its aromas of peach, apricot, and pineapple upside-down cake, as well as its smooth palate of shortbread and candied tropical fruit.
Teeling Single Grain Whiskey
An exquisite Irish whiskey made from a single grain blend. It’s matured in Californian Cabernet Sauvignon casks, which lend it a unique flavour profile that sets it apart from other whiskies. It has a sweet and buttery taste on the palate with notes of honeyed apple flesh and red grape, fragrant vanilla and spice, evaporated milk and brown sugar. Its finish is golden syrup tart and sweet egg custard with spicy cereal. This whiskey provides a perfect balance between lightness and fullness, making it an ideal choice if you’re seeking to explore the world of Irish whiskey.
Egan’s Vintage Grain Whiskey
Egan’s Vintage Grain Whiskey is a single grain Irish whiskey that has been aged in American oak bourbon barrels for no less than eight years. Its nose carries strong aromas of vanilla fudge, caramel, and oak, while on the palate, it has creamy vanilla notes complemented by a hint of cinnamon. The finish is long and smooth with light oak spiciness that lingers on the tongue. It makes for an excellent sipping whiskey and can also be used as a base for classic whiskey cocktails.
Fercullen 10 Year Old Whiskey
The Fercullen 10 Year Old Whiskey is a premium single grain Irish whiskey, aged for 10 years in American white oak casks. It is the pinnacle of Fercullen’s range and offers a wonderfully creamy and smooth texture that carries a complex range of flavours. On the nose, this whiskey has ripe mango and apple notes with honey on toast and citrus blossom. On the palate it has a soft mouth feel with notes of vanilla pod, pear, peach and more honey alongside a touch of delicate white chocolate. The finish leaves you with warmth from gingerbread with lingering citrus peels for an extra kick. Overall, this is an exceptionally crafted whiskey that is sure to please.
The Busker Single Grain Whiskey
The Busker Single Grain Whiskey is an exquisite Irish whiskey from the Royal Oak Distillery. It is crafted with both bourbon and marsala wine casks sourced from Cantine Florio 1833, one of the oldest wineries in Sicily. With this combination of ingredients, The Busker Single Grain Whiskey offers a unique flavour profile of sharp green apple, milk chocolate, cinnamon butter, banana foam sweets, vanilla cream, coconut, zingy fruit and earthy oak on the nose, palate and finish respectively. This whiskey offers a complexity yet harmony that is sure to captivate your senses.
Ballyhoo Irish Whiskey
A single grain Irish whiskey that has been made using a mash bill of 93% corn and 7% malted barley. After 4 years of maturation, the whiskey is then transferred to sweet red tawny port casks for an additional 6 months, adding an extra depth of flavour and some rich colour. When sampled, Ballyhoo Irish Whiskey is known for its floral nose with notes of sweet melon and vanilla. Expect flavours of brown sugar and espresso, with dark fruit in support while the finish is spicy and sweet.