Some drinks are easy to trace. Tea comes from leaves; picked and dried on vast plantations. Wine brings to mind dry, crumbling soil, big fat grapes hanging heavy on the vine, and we’re told as children that milk makes its way to breakfast from generous herds that roam grassy fields.
Whiskey, though, is where the mystery lies. This is partly because most of us only see the finished product with whiskey, and much of the distilling process of its creation takes place in lustrous copper pot stills and in fragrant wooden casks. It’s also partly because it uses mysterious terminology, such as “mash bill” and “cooperage”, and as for the types, well that’s a whole other story…
“Within the Irish whiskey category, there are four subcategories of whiskey,” explains Peter Cooney of craft whiskey distillery Boann, based in County Meath. “There’s single malt, which is 100% malt barley and is distilled in copper pot stills.
“Single grain, which typically would be maize or barley or wheat, and that would be distilled in a continuous column still, and then you would have single pot still whiskey, a ‘mixed mash bill’ (malt barley, ray barley, oats, wheat and rye). The fourth category is a blended whiskey, which is a blend of the others.
“Single malt whiskey is probably the most familiar to people, as it’s commonly associated with Scotch, but single pot still is the variety that’s unique to Ireland, with a tradition all of its own. “It’s kind of ingrained in the brain that single malt is the best,” says Peter, “but we’ve noticed that’s not the case and we’re trying to get people from all over the world to taste single pot still whiskey for what it is.”
For the uninitiated, this traditional Irish whiskey can have quite a different flavour to what you would expect. “Typically Irish whiskey would be considered smooth, easy-drinking and approachable whereas Scotch whiskey would be a bit more robust and a bit heavier,” says Peter.
So while you might associate Scotch with Chesterfield couches, roaring fires and gentleman’s clubs, Irish whiskey is the opposite. “In Ireland, we use triple distillation, which makes for a much more refined, approachable spirit. You can be in a pair of flip-flops, shorts and a T-shirt, and happily have an Irish whiskey.”
It’s why you’ll find lots of riffs on Irish whiskey cocktails – the light, accessible flavours are perfect for mixing with and creating cocktail recipes. Young, hip companies such as Roe & Co in Dublin host food pop-ups in their summer garden in the Liberties, which perfectly match tasting menus with Roe & Co whiskey cocktails. And at the Irish Whiskey Museum bar, you can sample everything from Whiskey Sour with The Irishman Founder’s Reserve Whiskey, to an Old Fashioned with Writers’ Tears Copper Pot.
But for Peter, simple is the way to… “I drink it straight,” he says. “ice chills the spirit down and locks out the flavour, so you’re actually dampening down the spirit… This way, you get to taste the providence of the land, you think about where it’s from, who made it, what the region is.”