Sunday, March 4, 2012

Irish Whiskey vs Scotch Whisky, do you know the difference?

So, recently, amongst all the pre-St. Patrick's frivolities I was providing food for, and presenting my book at a whisky tasting event in the Olde Blind Dog Irish pub in Milton GA, near Crabapple, and, being surrounded by all those fabulous Scotch varieties of the 'hard stuff' got me thinking...I wonder if folks out these know, or even realize the differences between Scottish whisky, which is shortened to 'Scotch', and Irish whiskey? hmmmm...

Did you even know there was a difference? or do you even care??...well, let me clue you in here, lest you wallow in whiskey indifference!

Now, we Irish like to say that we invented the stuff, the 'water of life' that is, whilst the Scots just perfected it...but as I'm Scots-Irish and am frequently balancing between the two let me just say that both have merits. Yes, Bushmills in County Antrim, Northern Ireland is the oldest distillery, going back to 1603 or something of that order but you have to hand it to the Scots, they just did things a little different such as adding smokey flavors to the malted barley and they stole the show.

So, what are the differences?

Well, firstly, Irish whiskey is triple distilled which means they run the stuff through those big ol' copper pots using heat and evaporation three times. Whilst Scotch is only distilled twice...(the Tennessean variety, such as Jack Daniels is only distilled once I think...ha!)....So, this means that Irish whiskey is a touch lighter, and can blow your head off more easily!!...just kidding!

OK, next, it's all down to how the barley is treated at the beginning. In the Irish process they use both raw and malted barley and don't generally use peat to dry out the grains whereas in Scotch whisky the distiller  soaks the barley to induce germination, then dries it out to stop germination using peat fires and the peat smoke is what gives the barley a very unique it, smoke, malt, mash....ooooh yes.

Then what? Well, then both types of whiskey (whisky...they're also spelt differently!) are matured for years and years and years and years in aged oak caskets. Typically ones that were previously used for port, or sherry. Yes, they pop the whiskey, which after distilling is perfectly clear and transparent, into these old caskets (they look like something out of a Pirate movie!) and stack 'em in sheds for eons....and after several years the whiskey takes on that familiar caramel color and flavor from the wood. See?

Now, I know all this runs counter to current culture, but some things in life are worth waiting for, right? Yes, I know, it seems odd to make something then stick it in a shed for ten years, but if you've ever been to Ireland or Scotland you'll know that time is viewed differently than it is here in the United States, so perhaps that might make more sense to you...

So, there you have it!
Irish and Scotch whiskey, the water of life and wonderful stuff to cook with, and to prove it next blog I'll post a recipe that uses whiskey to flavor the sauce. So, check in next time and go ahead and pour yourself a tipple of whiskey to warm the heart and comfort the soul on these cold wintry nights!
Judie the Irish Foodie.

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