Everything You Need to Know about the Cunning (Single Pot Still) Irish Whiskey

Like the single malt in Scotland, single pot still Whiskey is one of the main categories of malt on the Emerald Isle. In fact it is one of the biggest and is a native of the land.

What is Single Pot Still Whiskey ?

Firstly, it has to be made in a Pot Still, which is a type of copper still that distills in batches. This is different from a Coffey still or continuous still, but more on that later.

One of the big difference between Irish pot still and single malt, is that it is made up of a mash bill of both malted and unmalted barley. This gives it quite a spicy flavor profile.

It’s referred to as single as it has to be made at one distillery only.

It used to be some of the most popular malt in the world and even outdid Scotch at one point.

Where it all began?

In 1785 taxes on malted barley were raised, leading to indignation and disgust from Whiskey drinkers and distillers alike.


In the 1840s, following a succession of failed potato crops, Ireland saw the disastrous unfolding of the Great Famine. In the space of just five years, over 1 million people died and another 1 million emigrated, many to the United States of America. Amid all of this tragedy and sorrow, the future of Irish Single Pot Still whiskey and its workers and their families were also fighting to survive. The next 100 years were destined to be among the toughest in our history #irishhistory #irishwhiskey #singlepotstill #midletondistillery

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As such, single pot still Whiskey was created. By adding unmalted barley to the mash bill, they were able to avoid huge taxes.

What was originally supposed to be merely a good loophole for avoding taxes, turned out to be rather fortuitous.

In fact, single pot still soon became the largest selling malt in the world, overtaking Scotch by a long shot.


Irish whiskey isn’t the only thing we helped pioneer. The roof of our maturation house at John’s Lane, pictured here in 1946, was one of the world’s first “green roofs.”

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The Coffey Still

Everything was going smoothly for pot still Whiskey, until Aeneas Coffey came along.

An Irishman himself, he invented the Coffey Still in the 1830s, which was lauded as being more economical and efficient then the Pot Still.

It is what is now known as a continuous or column still, rather than a batch still. This means it continually distils, without the need to stop and refill it.

This type of still was roundly rejected by the Irish, who believed that the popularity of pot still Whiskey would continue and surely keep the industry going. The Scots, on the other hand, completely embraced the Coffey still and it became a main still type in Scotland.


We only use copper pot stills to distil our whiskeys in Midleton, the same way we’ve done it for almost 200 years. #singlepotstill #irishwhiskey #midleton #singlepotstillirishwhiskey

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The Fall of Irish Whiskey

Unfortunately the Irish were very, very wrong about the continued success of pot still Whiskey. While the industry did not immediately crash, this, along with a number of other factors caused its steady decline and eventual (all but) bust.

As well as the invention of the Coffey still came the fight for independence from the British, which caused a trade war. This shut down access to Ireland’s biggest Whiskey importer.


In 1916, combined with the recession and the onslaught of World War I, the Irish whiskey industry found itself in the eye of another revolutionary storm. April of 1916 brought the Easter Rising in Ireland and the economic turmoil which accompanied it. Meanwhile, by 1917 all the distilling in Ireland nearly ceased as the barley was required for the war effort overseas. Irish whiskey was hanging on by a thread. #irish #whiskey #history #singlepotstill #midletondistillery

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Not long after this, prohibition and the Great Depression shut down trade on the other side of the country. Distilleries closed pretty swiftly during these events, and the art of single pot still Whiskey was almost lost forever.

Very few distilleries remained open, with only three brands remaining, Bushmills, Jameson and Powers.

The Rise of Irish Whiskey

That is until today. The Irish Whiskey industry is currently experiencing a boom, with the number of distilleries exploding across the country.

The industry crawled along over the last century, with a distillery or brand popping up every now and then. But in the past decade interest in Irish Whiskey has soared and new brands are being founded all the time.

Single pot still itself has seen a resurgence, with many brands turning to the old favourite, evoking nostalgia and reinvigorating old traditions.

Which to try?

Let’s take a look at some of the best:

Redbreast 12 Year Old

Perhaps one of the best Irish Whiskies on the market as well as a brilliant example of a single pot still, you can’t go wrong with a Redbreast 12 Year Old. This award winning malt impresses year on year, and has caught the eye of critics such as Jim Murray.

The nose opens with sweet nuts and citrus peels. The palate is rich and oily, with lots of spice and a Christmas cake-like appeal. It is packed with dried fruits, almonds, pecans and marzipan. The finish is dry and smooth, with more spice and sweet nuts.


They say a picture paints a thousand words, but one sip of whiskey can paint a thousand more – if not two. #Redbreast #TheArtOfWhiskey

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Green Spot Single Pot Still

Another well-loved single pot still malt, Green Spot Single Pot Still is adored by many and has a robust flavour profile. It’s most recent award was in 2017, where it was given Gold at the Irish Whiskey Masters in the Irish Single Pot Still category.

The nose opens with a refreshing note of cut grass and tropical fruit. The palate has honeyed smoothness, with menthol, oak wood, vanilla and lots of spice. The finish is gentle and easy going, with more vanilla and oak.


If you SPOT a GREEN Whiskey, snatch it! According to the Whisky Bible, this beloved Irish dram is one of the World's greatest Whiskies. With its copious smoothness and creamy taste... It’s hard to disagree. #christmasselection #irishwhiskey #greenspotwhiskey #whiskey #whiskeylover #whiskeyporn #whiskeygram #tastingisbelieving #whiskeytasting #instagood repost from @unchfilms

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Powers John’s Lane

Named for the distillery where it was first made that has now closed, Powers John’s Lane is an excellent example of a single pot still Whiskey. It has been matured in Bourbon and olosoro sherry casks, giving it plenty of sweetness and spice.

The nose begins with rich oak wood, vanilla and a hint of malted barley. These develop on the palate where they are joined by coffee and dried fruit, with more vanilla and oak. The finish is long and soft, ending on oak wood and a slightly caramel note.


Ooohhhhhh Noooooooo, bottle down. #powersjohnslane #midletondistillery #irishwhiskey #whiskey #12yearsold

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Not sure where to start? Flaviar can help you with the tasting box The Cunning Whiskey from Ireland with samples of selected single pot still Whiskeys.

Already had some? Share your tasting notes and suggestions with us!

Cover image: Spot Whiskeys


By Greg


Greg is a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. His mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about Whisky, Whiskey, Gin, Beer and fine dining through his website, GreatDrams.com, writing, brand building and whisky tastings.



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