Whiskey which has been made by a single Irish distillery using a fermented mash mixture of 100% malted barely, water and yeast. The whiskey must be distilled using a traditional pot still either 2 or 3 times and be aged for at least three years in oak barrels, as determined by the Irish government.
Let’s take a closer look at how single malt Irish whiskey is made, how it differs from other types of Irish whiskey and it’s similarities to it’s nearby cousin – Scotch.
What ingredients make single malt Irish whiskey?
Single malt Irish whiskey is made from a fermented mash of 100% malted barley, water, and yeast. Unlike single pot still, grain or blended whiskey, ‘single malt’ refers to the use of purely malted barley which is the same grain used to make single malt Scotch.
The barley is first soaked in water and then allowed to germinate or sprout before drying. This process known as malting activates enzymes that break down the barley’s starch into sugars, which are then ready for mashing. This process involves mixing the malted barley with hot water to extract all the sugars within. This produces a hot sugary liquid called wort.
Once cool, the wort is transferred to a wash back (a cylindrical wooden tank) where yeast is added to feed on the sugary liquid. Over several days, the wash ferments, becoming a basic type of alcohol known as distiller’s beer or wash.
The wash has an ABV of around 10-15% which is ready for purification via multiple distillations. This where Irish whiskey can sometimes differ from Scotch.
How is single malt Irish whiskey distilled?
Single malt Irish whiskey is distilled using traditional pot stills. Unlike Scotch, it’s common for Irish distilleries to distil their whiskey three times instead of just twice. Typically, this produces a lighter distillate, which is purer in alcohol with less impurities and congeners. This is why Irish whiskies are often considered smooth and easy going to drink.
The first distillation takes place in a wash still where the fermented wash is heated. With a lower boiling point than water, alocoholic vapours rise upwards and pass through the tubular neck of the wash still.
These vapours are cooled in a condenser, becoming liquid once again. This liquid, with a now stronger ABV of 20-25%, is called low wines, and it will be used for the second distillation which takes place in a spirit still.
In the spirit still, the low wines are heated once again so they purify further. Stronger alcoholic vapours rise out the spirit still, where they are re-condensed into a high ABV liquid of around 65-70%. This liquid is now referred to as ‘new make’, or unaged Irish whiskey.
For many Irish single malt whiskies, they will be distilled once again in a third spirit still which can push the ABV up towards 85%. This third purification isn’t necessary but many Irish distilleries use it as a means of attaining desired flavour, character and tradition.
How long is single malt Irish whiskey aged for?
To meet the classification of single malt Irish whiskey, the new make spirit must be aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years. This maturation stage is what gives the new make spirit it’s colour, whilst adding and subtracting further complexities of flavour.
The casks are stored in either wooden warehouses or bonded warehouses for a minimum of three years. During this time, some evaporation will take place known as the angels share.
The length of time spent aging greatly affects the flavour of each whiskey, with longer aged expressions showcasing complex notes of dark chocolate, leather, coffee, and dried fruit.
Each distillery’s location also contributes unique characteristics to its whiskeys due to variations in climate and local geography. This regional influence gives each expression its own distinct character that allows those who enjoy single malt Irish whiskey to appreciate subtle differences in taste and aroma between brands.
13 best single malt Irish single malt whiskeys to try
Bushmills 10 Year Old
Bushmills 10 Year Old is a superb single malt Irish whiskey, awarded Best Irish Single Malt Whiskey at the 2007 World Whiskies Awards. Its aroma has cooked banana and tropical fruit notes, while its palate has guava, cantaloupe melon, over-ripe white peach, vanilla and peels. The finish is floral and spicy. Enjoying this whiskey in its purest form will reveal a complexity of flavour unparalleled in other whiskeys. Its superior quality and taste make it a sure-fire choice for connoisseurs seeking an enjoyable sipping experience.
Clonakilty Galley Head Single Malt Irish Whiskey
A uniquely crafted single malt Irish whiskey distilled in County Cork, Ireland. With an ABV of 40%, this smooth and distinctive whiskey boasts intense aromas of cocoa and ripe fruits that lead through to rich flavours of dark chocolate, red berries, and liquorice. The long finish of oak spices and dark chocolate is the result of maturing the whiskey in both shaved re-toasted wine barrels and Bordeaux red wine barrels.
Connacht Batch One Whiskey
Connacht Batch One is a single malt Irish whiskey made by Connacht Distillery, the first operational distillery in County Mayo in over 150 years. This small batch, 4-year-old whiskey was aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished off in sherry casks. On the nose, this whiskey has a pleasant mix of seedless raisins, floral honey, butterscotch and ripe pears. The palate has an exciting combination of toffee and creamy vanilla combined with dried fruits and rich malt flavours, while finishing with an oily nutty quality which lingers on the tongue.
Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey
A beautiful alternative to your usual Islay Scotch whiskies, this peated Connemara hails from the coveted Cooley distillery in County Louth Ireland. With an attractive golden amber colour, it boasts sweet aromas of smoked peat, kippers, and apple crumble when poured. Its taste is delicately honey sweet with subdued clean smoke and undertones of barley water, light spice, and vanilla oak. It has a pleasant lingering smokiness on the aftertaste with spicy oak and sweet almonds completing the flavour profile. With its distinctive smoky taste and complex depth of flavour, Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey is an exquisite whiskey that will delight any connoisseur’s palate.
Dingle Single Malt Whiskey
Released in mid-2020, Dingle Single Malt Irish Whiskey is a triple-distilled expression that has been matured in a combination of Pedro Ximénez and bourbon casks. It has a creamy and mellow nose with notes of vanilla, dark chocolate, sherry, dried fruits, aromatic spices such as anise, clove, and nutmeg. On the palate, it has indulgent caramel, vanilla, and chocolatey notes alongside raisins, espresso, apricots, black pepper and hints of rhubarb crumble. The finish is sweet with flavours of rhubarb and custard boiled sweets, sticky toffee pudding and dried fruits. A truly luxurious Irish whiskey experience!
Fercullen 18 Year Old Whiskey
For something decadent and dinner, this 18 Year Old single malt Irish whiskey from the Fercullen range is a delicious expression. Its 18 years of maturation in ex-bourbon barrels lends it a unique flavour profile that includes notes of caramel, honey, cinnamon, dark chocolate, mint, toffee crisp bars, melted butter, gingerbread and nutty malt. The finish ends with a delightful hint of orange zest. This whiskey is sure to be an enjoyable sip with a lovely dessert after a poignant meal with friends.
Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old
A triple distilled variety, aged for 12 years in American ex-bourbon casks. This 12 year old single malt from Knappogue has a complex aroma of vanilla shortbread, black pepper and chewy malt, complemented by gentle oak spice and vanilla custard on the palate. The finish is rich with orchard fruit lingering pleasantly on the tongue. With its deep amber colour, inviting aromas and smooth flavour, Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old single malt Irish whiskey is a lovely bottle of single malt Irish whiskey.
Mourne Dew Single Malt Irish Whiskey
A superior blend of carefully selected peated and unpeated malts aged in both bourbon and IPA casks. The result of this aging process is an incredibly complex whiskey with fruity aromas such as pineapple and peach, with spicy undertones of oak, pepper, cinnamon, and anise. On the palate, the sweet apricot complements the hint of peat that sits comfortably at the backdrop. The finish yields distinct notes of spiced fruitcake and dark chilli chocolate – creating a unique experience for the more adventurous whiskey fan.
Teeling Single Malt Irish Whiskey
A unique expression crafted from 100% malt whiskeys aged in five different wine-cask-finishes, including Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon. It boasts an intense and complex aroma with white grape juiciness on the nose, fresh malt and Rolos favouring the palate. On the finish, it has a touch of sweetness with notes of strawberries and double cream. A delightful drop – sure to tantalise the taste buds!
The Dublin Liberties 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
The Dublin Liberties 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey is a distinctively rich and complex whiskey, with a signature spicy aroma and intense flavour. This whiskey is made from 100% malted barley and has been aged for 10 years in oak casks, before being finished in hand-picked Sherry casks chosen by Master Distiller Darryl McNally. On the nose it offers hints of sherried peels, custard creams and hot cinnamon, while the palate reveals notes of dark chocolate, raisin and walnut. The finish has nutty notes that linger on the tongue, with sugared almond flavours to round off the experience.
The Quiet Man 8 Year Old
The Quiet Man 8 Year Old single malt Irish whiskey is an exquisite and complex spirit, aged for 8 years in first-fill bourbon barrels. It has a distinct nose of honey, sharp apple, white oak, and fudge. On the palate, its taste is characterized by toffee apple, pear, thick vanilla and orange peels. Its finish is notably light with vegetal oak notes combined with brown sugar and ginger snap biscuits. A truly unique whiskey that will tantalize your taste buds – perfect for sipping on its own or as a base for exquisite cocktails.
The Sexton Single Malt Whiskey
The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey is an exquisite blend of malted barley, triple distilled in copper pot stills and aged in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. This gives the whiskey a unique flavor profile with notes of nuts, marzipan, dark chocolate, dried fruit, honeycomb sweetness, apricots, lemon zest and prunes. The finish is woody with a hint of honeyed sweetness. Its distinct hexagonal bottle makes it a real standout on the shelf. Whether you’re an experienced whiskey connoisseur or just starting out, The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey is an absolute must-try.
Tullamore DEW 14 Year Old Single Malt Whiskey
Tullamore D.E.W. 14 Year Old single malt Irish whiskey is a smooth, well-crafted spirit that has been triple distilled and aged for fourteen years in bourbon, port, Madeira and Oloroso sherry casks. Its aroma features zesty citrus, grilled pineapple and vanilla notes while its palate offers up creamy malt and tannins, ripe red grapes and a hint of poached apple. The finish is sweet with a lasting sherried sweetness that lingers on the tongue. A unique expression of Irish single malt whiskey for those days when you fancy a high-shelf sort of pour.
What types of Irish whiskey are there?
There are four main types of Irish whiskey including; single malt, single pot still, single grain and blended. The most common type of Irish whiskey is blended which accounts for around 90% of all Irish whiskey production.
To learn more about these types of Irish whiskey, please check out our in-depth article about Irish Whiskey vs Scotch.
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