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  • William Oliver's

What Makes Irish Whiskey...Irish?

What makes Irish whiskey so different from its counterparts in the whiskey world? Perhaps its unique smoothness and complex fruit flavors, with evident cereal grain notes, set it in a class all its own. Some will argue for it to truly be "Irish" it must be tripled distilled. Alas, this is not one of the legal requirements for it to be a true Irish whiskey. To be a whiskey which bears the name of The Emerald Isle it must meet the following legal requirements:

  • Must be made from mash of malted barley, plus other cereal grain.

  • Be mashed, fermented, and distilled to no more than 94.8% ABV.

  • Matured in wooden casks not exceeding 700 liters.

  • Must be a minimum age of 3 years and be aged in the Republic/Northern Ireland.

  • Contains no additives other then water and caramel coloring (e150a).

  • Retain the characteristics of its raw materials (in other words smell and taste like whiskey).

  • Be bottled at no less than 40% ABV.

  • The final product may be bottled outside of Ireland, but no whiskey can leave the island in wooden casks that impart additional aging.

  • If an age statement is on the bottle, the youngest whiskey that is added must be the age statement on the bottle (i.e., if the blend is a 14 year old whiskey and a 19 year old whiskey, the bottle must be labeled as a 14 year old whiskey).


The Spirits Act of 1880 breaks down the complex and profound art of Irish whiskey making. It is a trove of legal language defining, clarifying, and solidifying what makes the Irish spirit different from its counterparts.

Those bold enough to get through the entire Spirits Act, without making their eyes cross, will be among the rare whiskey drinkers. The few who can raise their glass, say "sláinte mhaith", and truly understand what it means to enjoy a glass of whiskey from Éire (that's Gaelic for Ireland)!

Is that enough though? Is a legal requirement all that makes Irish whiskey unique? If any credence is given to the notion of terroir (the idea that a spirits' place of origin, its environment, contributes to its uniqueness and flavor), then surely the Irish whiskey cannot simply be a product of laws and treaties.

There is a Colorado distillery that makes an "Irish Style" whiskey. Perhaps this provides the best opportunity to decide if terroir makes a difference.

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