What makes Irish and Scottish whiskies so different?

What makes Irish and Scottish whiskies so different?

If you’ve always assumed that the only difference between Irish whiskey and Scottish whisky is simply the letter e, then you couldn’t be more wrong. From the distillation process to some of the ingredients used, these two classic drinks couldn’t be more different.

But while there’s no doubt that Scotland and Ireland both have a rich heritage in the whisky industry, what are the differences between whiskies from these two nations?

The distilleries

• Ireland: There are just three distilleries in Ireland, which were formed when a number of small distilleries merged together. The distillers today still follow the traditional recipes and techniques from the original distilleries. The oldest registered distillery in Ireland is Bushmills, which has been in production since 1608.

• Scotland: Today, there are more than 80 working distilleries in Scotland. The oldest Scottish distillery, Littlemill, was opened in 1772, but it’s no longer in production. Now the oldest distillery still in operation in Scotland is Glenturret, which first opened in 1775.

Distillation and ageing

Irish whiskey and Scottish whiskey use different distillation and ageing processes. However, both processes will generally use wooden casks for aging.

• Ireland: Irish whiskey contains is distilled three times, producing a smooth and light spirit. Irish whiskey is smoother and more neutral thanks to the third distillation.

• Scotland: Scottish whisky on the other hand is only distilled twice. It’s thought that Scottish whisky is stronger because of only having two distillations.

The use of peat and grains

Irish whiskey and Scottish whisky both contain water and barley. However, the way the ingredients are used and blended couldn’t be more different.

• Ireland: Irish whiskey uses malted barley, but may also mix other grains in with it too. This grain whiskey lends itself to blending and has traditionally been used to produce cheaper blends. Wood or other fuels are also used in this process, making the spirit lighter and less smoky.

• Scotland: During the production process, Scottish whisky allows the barley to sprout. Then the barley is dried out with smoke from peat moss. The type of peat that is used, along with the amount of time the barley is allowed to dry in the peat smoke, influences the final flavour of the spirit. Thanks to the peat smoked barley, Scottish whisky tends to have a strong aroma and taste.

The stills

The size and shape of the stills used in the distillation process are generally quite different in Ireland and Scotland.

• Ireland: Here, pot stills are commonly used. These large, but short stills have a round base and tend to produce more rounded, softer spirits.

• Scotland: Distilleries in Scotland use a number of different stills that vary in shape and size, giving a more diverse range of flavours.

Whiskey or whisky?

There has been much dispute over whether it should be, whiskey or whisky over the years. The Scottish spell whisky, and the Irish add in the ‘e’. This difference is because of the different translations of the word from the Irish Gaelic and Scottish forms.