With Saint Patrick’s Day right around the corner, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the differences between Irish whiskey and bourbon. People have been enjoying spirits for a long time. As soon as someone figured out farming, someone else figured out how to drink those grains. The earliest distillation techniques can be traced back to the Babylonians in the 2nd millennium B.C., but it’s thought that distilling came to Ireland in the 11th century A.D from monks returning home after voyaging throughout the Mediterranean. In terms of written records, Irish whiskey actually pre-dates Scotch. In 1405, there’s mention of ‘Aqua Vitae’ in the Irish text, The Annals of Clonmacnoise, whereas it wasn’t recorded in Scotland until 1494. Still, it’s impossible to say for certain where whiskey was first distilled in the British Isles. Another record goes to Irish whiskey with the Old Bushmills distillery, which was issued a license to distill whiskey in 1608 from James I, making it the oldest licensed distillery in the world.
But what makes Irish whiskey different from bourbon? Let’s start with the legal requirements of bourbon, which has to be produced in the United States from a grain mixture that’s at least 51% corn, and must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. It can be distilled to no more than 160 proof, and it has to enter into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof. When it’s bottled, the spirit has to be at least 80 proof. Also, bourbon can’t contain any added flavors or coloring. Beyond specific age and labeling requirements, those are the legal requirements for making bourbon. Angel’s Envy is a little unconventional in our approach. After we age our bourbon for four to six years, it’s finished in ruby port wine casks for about six months in a process similar to finished Irish whiskeys and Scotches, but rarely seen in traditional bourbons.
Like bourbon, Irish whiskey has the same nationalism requirement, stating that distillation and aging of the spirit must occur in Ireland (either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland). While it’s not an official rule, most Irish whiskeys are distilled three times. Beyond that, the legal requirements for Irish whiskey are much simpler than bourbon (or Scotch, for that matter). Irish whiskey must be distilled from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains so that the distillate retains traces of their flavor, and it must be distilled to no higher than 94.8% ABV (189.6 proof). It has to be aged for at least three years in wooden casks no bigger than 185 US gallons (or 700 liters), and if the spirits are blended, the label has to reflect that fact. And that’s pretty much all it takes to create one of the world’s earliest recorded whiskeys.