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What Are The 4 Types Of Irish Whiskey? Breaking Down the Categories

Irish Whiskey

The world of Irish whiskey goes well beyond Jameson. (Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via AP)

Irish Whiskey has experienced meteoric growth as a category over the last few years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. According to VinePair, exports jumped by 17.3% in 2022 — the equivalent of almost $1.6 billion in revenue.

Brands like Jameson, Bushmills, Redbreast and MMA fighter Connor McGregor’s Proper Twelve — despite its polarizing reputation — are some of the driving forces behind the category’s rapid expansion.

Yet despite Irish whiskey’s ascent to spirits stardom, the category often doesn’t get the same amount of hype in the U.S. as Scotch, American or even Japanese whiskey.

If you’re interested in hopping aboard the Irish Whiskey train and picking up a couple of bottles for yourself, it always helps to be armed with knowledge about the category so you know just exactly what you’re getting into. The world of Irish whiskey is surprisingly complex and can be divided into four different subcategories.

Without further ado, let’s take a deeper look at the four types of Irish whiskey.

The Four Types of Irish Whiskey Explained

Blended Irish Whiskey

Irish Whiskey

Blended Irish whiskey is exactly what it sounds like. It is a blend of whiskeys that can be composed of a variety of different grains, distilled in either pot or column stills and made at one or many distilleries.

Distiller describes blended Irish whiskeys as more affordable, entry-level expressions of Irish whiskey that are typically composed of two or more single malt, single grain or single pot still Irish whiskeys.

These whiskeys must be aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks no larger than 700 liters.

Home bartenders and mixologists alike may gravitate to blended Irish whiskeys, as they are considered cocktail-friendly because they are fairly easy on the wallet. As far as the categories of Irish whiskeys go, blended Irish whiskeys are great for people new to the world of Irish whiskey. Out of all the categories of Irish whiskey, blended Irish whiskey is the most common one you’ll find in the U.S.

Some examples of blended Irish whiskeys would be Kirker Greer, West Cork Irish Whiskey and Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey, which we have reviewed here.

Single Grain Irish Whiskey

Irish Whiskey

The word “single” in “single grain Irish whiskey” can be misleading. One would think single grain Irish Whiskey is made from one type of grain, right? Not quite.

Single-grain Irish whiskey must be distilled at one distillery — but not necessarily from one grain. For those who drink wine, single grain Irish whiskeys are very similar to the “estate wines” of California, which are made and bottled at the producer’s vineyard. Essentially, Single Grain Irish whiskeys are made at one distillery and nowhere else.

Single grain Irish whiskey can be made from one or multiple different types of grains and can be malted or un-malted depending on the flavor and aroma profile the distillery wants to achieve in its mashbill.

Though you’re more likely to find blended Irish whiskeys in the American marketplace, Single Grain Irish whiskies are beginning to gain traction as more people catch on to Irish whiskey.

In terms of flavor profile, single grain whiskies are friendly and approachable. Bourbon drinkers might find single grain whiskies particularly attractive as corn is often used in the mashbill, resulting in a sweeter, more dessert-like profile, according to Irish Whiskey Magazine. If you’re curious about exploring some single grain Irish whiskey, consider Busker Single Grain, which we have reviewed here.

Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Irish Whiskey

Single malt Irish whiskey hosts a mashbill that exclusively consists of malted barley.  To quality as a single malt, an Irish whiskey must be produced by one distillery in a single pot still.

Single Malt Irish Whiskey doesn’t have to be sourced from a single barrel and can instead be drawn from multiple barrels from one distillery. Single malt Irish whiskey must be distilled twice to qualify for the designation, although triple distillation is traditional.

Fans of Scottish whisky might gravitate to the single malt Irish whiskey category, as single malt is the most popular category of scotch. Those interested in diving in should look out for single malt expressions from Bushmills. Bushmills has a long reputation within the Irish whiskey world and is the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery. In addition to blends, Bushmills crafts some age-stated single malts like Bushmills 16 Year Old Single Malt, which we reviewed here.

Single Pot Still Whiskey

Irish Whiskey

Single pot still Irish whiskey is a lot like single malt Irish whiskey. Single pot still Irish whiskey comes from a single distillery and is made in a pot still with a mashbill that consists of barley. The major difference is a single pot still whiskey is made with both malted and unmalted barley, while single malt cannot have any unmalted barley.

Single pot still Irish whiskey must be made with a minimum of 30% malted and 30% unmalted barkey.

Single Pot Still Whiskey is only made in Ireland and tends to be rich and somewhat spicy in terms of flavor profile, largely due to the percentage of unmalted barley.

Like single malt Irish whiskey, single pot still Irish whiskey is traditionally triple distilled but may be double distilled.

If you’re interested in trying Single pot still Irish whiskey, Redbreast 12 Year is a popular and great choice worth taking into consideration.

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Cynthia Mersten is a writer/editor for Whiskey Raiders and has worked in the Beverage Industry for eight years. She started her career in wine and spirits distribution and sold brands like Four Roses, High West and Compass Box to a variety of bars and restaurants in the city she calls home: Los Angeles. Cynthia is a lover of all things related to wine, spirits and story and holds a BA from UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television. Besides writing, her favorite pastimes are photography and watching movies with her husband.