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Scotch Whisky vs. Irish Whiskey: What's the Difference

Scotland and Ireland are two of the most well known Whisky/Whiskey producers in the world. And despite the fact that they’re neighbors, there are some pretty fundamental differences to how they do things.

Read on to learn the differences in spelling, production, distillation and malting, and see what they have in common - apart from being f*****g awesome.
 

What is the difference between Whisky and Whiskey?

The first obvious difference between the two is the spelling of Whisky. Scotch Whisky is always spelt without the E, whereas Irish Whiskey is always spelt with an E.

Speyburn Scotch
 
Whisky is the anglicized form of the Gaelic word uisge beatha (pronounced “oosh-kie bah”). Gaelic is native to both Ireland and Scotland, so it's hard to say where the E came from, but clearly it meant more to the Irish than the Scottish.
 

How are Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey produced?

As well as spelling, there are some big differences in how Whisky/Whiskey is produced in Scotland and Ireland. But let’s talk generally to begin. 
 
Scotch is typically made from malted barley, and other grains, in a copper pot still and matured for a minimum of three years.  

Irishman Whiskey

Irish Whiskey is typically made from unmalted barley, and other grains, in a copper pot still and matured for a minimum of three years.
 
So far, so good. They are fairly similar at a basic level, but once you get into it, they change quite a bit.


Distillation and Malting of Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey

Scotch is usually distilled twice and made completely from malted barley. Single malt dominates the market but blends are also popular and made from a mixture of malted grains, always with some percentage of barley.

Irish on the other hand, is mostly triple distilled, which makes it renowned for its smoothness. It is also more likely to be made up of a combination of grains, not just barley.
 
The extra distillation probably has the biggest effect on the difference between the flavors of Scotch and Irish Whiskey. It gives Irish Whiskey a lighter flavor, and as mentioned before, makes the mouth feel smoother.

Copper Stills
 
Of course there are exceptions to these rules, with distilleries such as Auchentoshan in Scotland using triple distillation and Kilbeggan in Ireland using double distillation.

It also has an extra category of malt, Single Pot Still, which means it is made from both malted and unmalted barley. This grew out of a tradition of using unmalted barley, as malted barley was taxed.

barley

Some of the brands you must know from this category are Method & Madness - such a great example of the style, Green Spot of course is an absolute classic and Redbreast is probably the iconic Single Pot Still character.

While both countries use copper pot stills, Scotland has more variety in their stills, whereas in Ireland the pot still, which is typically smaller than their Scottish cousins, are more common.
 

What do Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey have in common?

Despite the differences in methods there will always be some similarities between Irish Whiskey and Scotch.
 
Scotland has over a hundred distilleries so it shouldn’t be that surprising that some of them have similar flavor profiles to distilleries in Ireland.

The use of oak wood is always going to have a big effect on the flavor of the liquid, roughly 70% of the end flavor in fact, and both Ireland and Scotland must use oak casks.
 
Further to this, they are also both very likely to use ex-Bourbon or Sherry casks.

Scotch Whisky
 
This will of course give the two malts similar flavors, with Bourbon casks imparting a sweeter flavor and Sherry casks encouraging fruity and spicy notes.
 
If you’re looking to try Whiskies that might have you questioning if they are Scotch Whisky or Irish Whiskey, then you should try Auchentoshan Scotch which is similar to the Irish Whiskey character as it is triple distilled and often very soft and smooth with a vanilla character too.

Some of the Teeling single casks are similar to Scotch due to their depth of flavor, their experimental maturation and finishing processes. They often have a less-smooth flavor profile than you’d expect from Irish Whiskey. Dingle Irish Whiskey is proving to be quite a great Whiskey as it has lots of character, not unlike some of the fruitier Scotches.

 

Updated Apr 22nd 2020


By Team Flaviar

Team Flaviar

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