SINGLE POT STILL
A BRIEF AND THOROUGHLY INCOMPLETE HISTORY OF IRISH WHISKEY
The tale of Irish whiskey’s topsy-turvy, feast or famine past is too long and winding for this page but believe me when I tell you that before Scotland was the go-to in the world of whisky, Ireland held that spot comfortably. The Irish style of whiskey, which came about at least in part as a result of Irish ingenuity and rebelliousness in circumventing the British crown’s onerous taxation, resulted in a more vibrant and flavorful spirit preferred over all else until the end of the 19th century.
In an effort to extract more revenue from the Irish, the British government enacted the Malt Tax of 1682, taxing the very thing needed to make beer and whiskey; malted barley. The ingenious Irish distillers just rolled with it; along with the malted barley that was being taxed they started blending in just enough tax-free un-malted barley to lower their tax burden while still maintaining an acceptable quality in the final product. This was a strange way to achieve differentiation in the marketplace, but these are the Irish – they’re so unlucky that they’re lucky. Or is it vice versa?
NOT JUST WORDS ON A BOTTLE
The whiskey bottle is a minefield of confusing and contradictory terms; single malt whiskey does not mean that the whiskey comes from a single malting, even though that’s what it sounds like. It also doesn’t mean that it comes from the same batch of distilled spirit. It simply means that all of the whiskey in the bottle is made up of a blend of whiskies from the same distillery and was distilled using only malted barley. A blended whiskey is made up of a combination of malt whiskeys and grain whiskeys; they are blended freely to achieve a certain flavor, aroma, and body characteristic.
Single pot still whiskey is not only another confusing term on a bottle, but it is a rather new one. The original name was pure pot still whiskey, but because of the U.S. trade bureau’s objection to using the term “pure” in a food or drink category, it was changed to single pot still. In simple terms it is defined as an Irish whiskey distilled exclusively using pot stills at a single distillery. It must be made of malted and un-malted barley although there can be a small percentage of other un-malted grains, it must be double or triple distilled, and the resulting spirit must be aged a minimum of 3 years in wooden casks.
The key to the designation is the use of pot stills. In the 1800s, pot still whiskey was by far the most popular style of whiskey in Ireland. I didn’t mention it in the definition above but single malt whiskey must be distilled using pot stills, the same as cognac. The alternative to a pot still is a column still, also known as a continuous still, which as the name implies can run continuously as opposed to a pot still, which runs in batches. Because of its shape and method of operation, pot stills maintain more of the flavors from the wash than a column still but also require double and multiple distillations to achieve the necessary level of alcohol.
Although single pot still Irish whiskey is the original and emblematic style of Ireland, there are relatively few single pot still whiskies available. Among them Redbreast 12 Year Old is considered the definitive expression of the style.
A beautifully balanced and nuanced nose with equal parts dried fruit, spice, vanilla, and oak while the palate is complex and flavorful. The combination of spice, fruit, and citrus complemented by the oak tannins is lovely and sticks around thanks to the long, elegant finish.
Cigar Pairing: Joya de Nicaragua Dos Cientos
The Joya de Nicaragua Dos Cientos delivers a flavorful profile of pepper, earth, and cedar complemented by notes of roasted nuts and sweet spice. The cigar produces an excellent output of thick, creamy smoke that combines exceptionally will the Redbreast 12‘s spice component. Take a puff from the Joya de Nicaragua, then taste the whiskey. You’ll find the viscosity of the dram has increased and the spices is all but gone from the spirit. The cigar borrows sweetness from the whiskey making this pairing perfectly balanced and complementary.