On a recent trip the distillery for a big celebration (I wrote about that here), I learned more about the differences between various products, and gained some perspective on where Irish whiskey sits in with other products.
To hugely oversimplify what are the constants and what changes in different types of whiskey:
- Single-malt scotch whisky is made from 100% malted barley and distilled in pot stills. They typically make one distillate, and the single malts that come from a single distillery are differentiated by how long they're aged and in what type of barrels they're aged (ex-bourbon, sherry, etc.)
- Many bourbon distilleries focus on a single mash bill (blend of grains) that they distill in column stills into a single distillate. Since it's all aged in new American oak casks, the various bourbons that come out of a single distillery are differentiated by their length of aging and final proof of the spirit.
- For Japanese whisky, they use many different shapes of still as well as many different types of barrels and often buy grain at different peating levels. They have a lot of different whiskies aging that they blend to make both blended and single-malt products.
There are big exceptions to all of the above.
For Irish whiskey, there are three main distilleries. Midleton makes triple-distilled malted/unmalted pot still whiskey (called "pot still" on its own and "single pot still" when it comes from one distillery) as well as column distilled grain whiskey. Bushmills makes triple-pot-distilled malt whiskey ("single malt") that they sometimes blend with Midleton's column still whiskey. And Cooley makes double-pot-distilled malt whiskey ("single-malt") and column still grain whiskey. [See this blog post for a handy chart.]
But just looking within Midleton, they don't make just one triple-distilled pot still whiskey; they make four. I believe these are designated internally as light, two different medium ("mod pot"), and a heavy. These are made by different variations on the mash bills (ratio of malted to unmalted barley), how high they distill to, and where they cut heads and tails in the distillation.
They use these distillates in different ratios in the final products. That's why the Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys made at Midleton can have such distinct personalities, despite all sharing certain characteristics such as apple and butter notes. They're made from any of four malt/unmalted pot still whiskies, aged for a different number of years in different types of barrels, and bottled at different proofs.
From one distillery comes many options.
- Jameson 12 Year Old
- Jameson 18 Year Old
- Jameson Gold Reserve
- Jameson Signature Reserve
- Jameson Select Reserve
- Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve
- Midleton Very Rare
Single Pot Still
- Redbreast 12 Year Old
- Redbreast 15 Year Old
- Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength
- Green Spot
- Yellow Spot
- Powers John's Lane Release
- Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy