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Scotch & other whiskies

Other Whiskies

  • Irish whiskey is thought to be the original whiskey, but its development was nearly contemporaneous with that of similar spirits in Germany and Holland. By the 1500s production had expanded from the monasteries to the public at large. By the 1700s the industry had greatly expanded, with some distillers avoiding taxation, while others "went legitimate" and tried to achieve economies of scale. These illicit Irish whiskies are sometimes still produced, and are called poitin (pronounced “po-teen”), whose production was a matter of economic and political freedom.

    The first type of Irish whiskey would have been like Scotch, with pot-stilled barley, oats [heavy, oily whisky], & rye [spicy whisky] malted and dried with peat in the mashbill. The second type of effort used enormous [pot] stills, yielding a lighter, more neutral spirit. Whiskey was distilled three times, and here the mashbill was filled with only about 30% malted barley. The rest was un-malted barley, wheat, corn, and oats. There was almost no peat – coal fires were used to malt the barley.

    All went well until 1916, when the Irish declared their independence and left England in the Easter Rebellion, and subsequently establishing the Irish Free State in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922. Since England is not a forgiving country, distribution of Irish whiskey went to hell in a hand basket. This calamity was compounded by the Prohibition era in the U.S.

    In the 1930s and 1940s, continuous distillation was introduced in an effort to cut costs. The business still continued to slide, however, and the remaining distilleries consolidated: Jameson, Power's and Cork merged in 1966 to form Irish Distillers Ltd (IDL), which all operate from one distillery in Midleton in County Cork. This distillery produces Jameson and Power’s as well as many other types of spirit.

    Bushmills joined IDL in 1973, but this group later became part of Pernod-Ricard, who eventually sold Bushmill's to Diageo. In 1989 an independent (Cooley) started up, bringing the number of Irish whisky distilleries to three. The spirit has experienced something of a renaissance since the 1990s, however, is now gaining popularity again.

    There are several differences that distinguish an Irish whiskey: there is little peat, the blends are done before maturation, and all are matured in the American oak; oats and rye are no longer used. Whiskies that say "pure pot still" are not all malt but are done completely in a pot still.

    The distillery at Midleton produces some whiskies that are pot stilled three times, and others that are column-stilled three times. Bushmills uses malted barley, but all of the whiskies are column stilled, and Cooley blends pot stilled malted barley and column stilled wheat and corn.

    The minimum aging for Irish whiskey is three years, and this is normally accomplished in ex-Bourbon casks, although some Sherry casks are used as well.

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  • Canadian whiskey dates to the mid-18th century. Prior to this time, rum was much more popular, while now vodka is the leading category. The heyday of Canadian whiskey was of course during prohibition. From 1919 until 1949 there was not a lot of distillation in the US, but it was good times for the Canadian industry. Canada also had a prohibition, but it didn't work, and they got rid of it sooner than we did in the US.

    Canadian whiskey is often thought of as rye whiskey, but there are actually many types produced, and most of it is now produced from corn along with some wheat and barley. By law, it must be aged 3 years in charred oak barrels, and by law it can be no more that 51% straight (i.e. it must be half grain neutral spirits), thus Canadian whiskies are defined as blended whiskies. Continuous stills are almost always used, except on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia and a couple others. 200,000,000 bottles are made yearly.

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  • In terms of volume and tradition, Japan deserves recognition with the rest of the whisky producing countries – they have been distilling for 100 years now. There are currently six distilleries operating in Japan. Suntory operates two: Tamazaki and Hakushu, which is the biggest malt distillery in the world. The Suntory operation was established by Matzataka Takasuru. For many years, they needed to blend in foreign (i.e. Scottish) whiskies, although now each distillery produces all of the components of each blend – there is no exchanging of spirits as there is in Scotland.

    One new trend is the use of Japanese oak barrels, and the creation of a unique identity based on clean, precise distilling and elegant, fine spirits. Currently blended whiskey rules the Japanese market, but this is a declining segment, and single malts are on the rise here. One main producer of Japanese blended whiskey is Nikka, owned by Asahi brewing, who is well known for their Noichi whisky.

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