Irish Pot Still Whiskey is completely unique to Ireland. What’s the easiest way to describe it? It is made from a mash of both malted and unmalted barley distilled in a pot still. A pot still is a copper still that operates in batches.
History of Irish Pot Still Whiskey
Pot Still Whiskey came to fruition after a tax hike on malted barley in 1785. Adding unmalted barley to the process made production a lot cheaper for the distilleries… and so the evolution of whiskey from traditional Malts to Pot Stills began.
Why did it become so popular?
As well as being cheaper to make, the use of unmalted barley helps Pot Still Whiskey to produce thick tears thanks to its natural oiliness. Alongside triple distillation, this creates a much smoother whiskey. Although Single Pot Still Whiskey isn’t a million miles away from Single Malt, the combination of barley adds a distinct spiciness to the overall dynamic. This new flavour profile meant that it wasn’t long after its creation that Single Pot Still whiskey became the worldwide leader in the whiskey market, overtaking Scotch completely.
For a spirit to be legally classed as ‘Irish Whiskey’, the Irish Whiskey Act states that:
1. the spirits shall have been distilled in the State or in Northern Ireland from a mash of cereals
2. The spirits shall have been matured in wooden casks in a warehouse in the State of Ireland or in Northern Ireland for a period of not less than three years.
In the same Legal Act, Pot Still Whiskey is legally defined by the process of how it is made. The act states that it must:
“have been obtained by distillation solely in pot stills in the State from a mash of cereal grains such as are ordinarily grown in the State saccharified by the diastase of malted barley.”
But what about the grain?
Controversially, there has always been an unspoken rule that Pot Still Whiskey is made purely from malted and unmalted barley, despite there being no regulations to enforce this. It was only in 2014, when a technical file for Irish Whiskey was released to ensure protected Geographical Indication (GI) for the spirit (after SIX years of meetings), was the contents of Pot Still Whiskey outlined. This states that Pot Still Whiskey must be made of:
- A minimum of 30% malted barley and 30% unmalted barley
- Up to 5% of other cereals, such as oats and rye
So, while whiskey can be made in a pot still (or in a ‘pot still style’), that doesn’t legally make it Irish Pot Still Whiskey! A bottle can only be labelled as Pot Still if it fits all of the criteria above.
Want to try some Single Pot Still Whiskey for yourself? The following are available in the Irish Whiskey Museum bar and whiskey store:
- Green Spot (and Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton & Green Spot Chateau Montelena)
- Method & Madness Single Pot Still (and Method & Madness Single Pot Still finished in Wild Cherry Wood)
- Midleton Barry Crockestt
- Powers Three Swallow, Powers John’s Lane, Powers Signature Release, Powers 1817
- Redbreast 12 (and Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength), Redbreast 15, Redbreast 21, Redbreast Lustau
- Yellowspot 12