What’s the Difference Between Scotch and Irish Whiskey?

Moving towards St. Patrick’s Day, we tend to think more about the Irish spirits, Irish whiskey in particular.  A question that I hear frequently relating to Irish whiskey is what is the difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky.  The obvious answer is that Irish whiskey is made in Ireland and Scotch whisky is made in Scotland, but the difference is much greater than just that.

The Barley

One of the fundamental ingredients of most alcohol is a starch of some kind, typically a grain.  In the case of these two types of whiskeys, barley is that ingredient.  The difference between them is that Irish whiskey uses a varied mix of raw and malted barley whereas Scotch is made exclusively with malted barley.  Also, the barley used in Scotch is malted using peat smoke, which gives it the distinctive aroma and smell.

The Distillation Process

The main reason for the difference in flavor between Scotch and Irish whiskey is that Irish whiskey is typically distilled three times (and Scotch only two) which mellows the flavor significantly.  Distilling a spirit is basically the process of separating the alcohol from all the impurities.  It’s an imperfect process and each time you distill a spirit the closer to pure alcohol you get.  Hence, purer alcohol, less flavor (or harshness of flavor). Irish whiskey has a smooth, delicate flavor compared to its more robust, harsher cousin.

There are more brands of Irish whiskey than just Bushmore and Jameson, so this St. Patrick’s Day raise a glass to your favorite Irishman and give an off-brand a try!

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