Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
We all know Champagne can’t be called Champagne unless it’s been produced in Champagne. Similarly with Parma Ham, Port, and Cognac, all of which are tied to their areas of origin. What may be surprising to many is Ireland’s entry into this category, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey. Once referred to as ‘Pure Pot Still’ or simply just ‘Pot Still’, this style of whiskey is enjoying a recent resurgence in popularity. Plus, it’s steeped in history.
What sets Single Pot Still apart from more traditional styles of whiskey like Single Malt is the content of the mash bill (the initial ingredients). By law in Ireland, to emblazon your bottle with Single Pot Still, the mash bill must include at least 30% malted barley and 30% unmalted barley and must be made on Irish soil in a traditional copper pot still. The result is a spicier whiskey with a thicker texture and complex undertones. Amazingly, this peculiar means of producing whiskey has its origin in tax evasion!
In 1785, drunkenness was rife amongst the poor in Ireland and Scotland. To curb consumption of whiskey, taxes were implemented from Westminster to quell distiller’s outputs. One such tax was on the use of malted barley, a key ingredient in whiskey making. Typically, those crafty Irish distillers at the time found a loophole to avoid this tax: introduce a sizeable amount of unmalted barley to the mash and produce whiskey from that instead. What was initially a means of cutting costs later turned into a fortuitous accident as the world embraced what was to be called ‘Pure Pot Still’ whiskey.
Such was the whiskey’s success that virtually all Irish distillers began producing Pot Still whiskey. Pot Still was a global phenomenon in a time when 80% of all the whiskey being consumed in the world was coming from Dublin, the home of Pot Still. Next time you’re in a pub, take a minute to observe some of the old Irish whiskey advertisements displayed in mirrors and other old fashioned advertisements, more often than not you will see ‘Pure Pot Still’ written somewhere.
The Rise, Fall, and Rise again
Through a multitude of economic and political reasons, Single Pot Still Whiskey had almost disappeared from bar shelves towards the end of the 20th century. In 1997, legendary whiskey guru Jim Murray requested a bottle of Redbreast 12, a cornerstone of the Single Pot Still category, and gave it an outstanding review. Interest in this long-forgotten style began to grow again with new releases hitting the market on a regular basis over the next decade. Today, we’re almost spoiled for choice in the Single Pot Still category.
Some of our favourites include Green and Yellow Spot, as well their experimental expressions finished in wine casks like Chateau Montelena and Chateau Léoville Barton. There is also the vast bulk of the Powers Whiskey range; it was arguably Powers themselves who put Pot Still on the map with their Gold Label expression. Today, Powers Gold Label is a blended whiskey with a Pot Still content of over 70%. The ‘Priest’s Tipple’ better known as Redbreast is also a beloved Single Pot Still, with a cask strength version available plus age statements up to 21 years. The latest Single Pot Still to hit the shelves was Method & Madness from the Midleton Distillery in Co. Cork. The excitement of an entirely new brand of Single Pot Still got the best of whiskey fans and it sold out within several months of its release.
Be sure to seek out a Single Pot Still whiskey nest time you’re looking for a night cap or if you need something to warm yourself up! This thick, sweet and spicy tipple is the embodiment of Irish whiskey so grab a bottle whenever you can.