In honor of the recent St. Patrick’s Day celebration, we will look at the differences between Irish Whiskey and bourbon. History tells us that distillation began in Ireland in the eleventh century. There is a strong argument that Irish Whiskey pre-dates Scotch. There are writings in Ireland referring to “Aqua Vitae” as far back as 1405. For Scotland, you have to wait until 1494 to see the same references.

Oldest Distillery in the World

Old Bushmills holds the record for the oldest distillery in the world. This maker of Irish Whiskey has a license dating back to 1608. The distillery name originates from the local mills that made the barley and the local water source. The River Bush provides the water that makes this whiskey special. Look for their Red Bush Whiskey aged in former bourbon casks.

The Irish and Bourbon

Two hundred thousand Scots-Irish immigrated to the Americas in the seventeen hundreds. Like many immigrants, they found the East Coast of America crowded and expensive and moved inland to the western frontier. They ventured into Pennsylvania and then further west into Kentucky and Tennessee, which were considered the frontier’s cutting edge. The land was mountainous and, therefore, relatively inexpensive. It was a hard life, full of difficulties and often leading to poverty. Many immigrants, including some of the Irish, became known as “hillbillies” because of their frontier life. Mostly, they were farmers that used distilling to create a bartering product instead of letting excess grain rot.

The actual differences between Irish and Bourbon Whiskey

Bourbon must be produced in the United States and contain at least 51% corn. It has to be aged in new charred oak containers and distilled to no more than 160 proof. Bourbon must enter the barrel at no higher than 125 proof. Irish Whiskey is a product of the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland and must use cereal grains for distillation to retain some of the grain’s original flavor. It can be distilled no higher than 189.6 proof and has to age for at least three years in a wooden cask. The cask cannot exceed 185 U.S. gallons. If the spirits are blended, the labeling must reflect that.

A bottle of Slane Irish Whiskey
Slane Irish Whiskey. Imported by Brown Forman it is a whiskey worth trying.

Slane Irish Whiskey

Slane is a delicious whiskey imported by Brown Forman. Listed as a blend of three casks, it is enjoyable. Named for Slane Castle, this Whiskey is an excellent place to start for those of you just reaching out to experience Irish Whiskey. Slane Castle is known for hosting many events, large and small. Including such notable concerts as U2, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, and Kings of Leon, to name a few. A Belated Happy St. Patricks Day to you and yours!