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Single Pot Still Whiskies

Single pot still whiskey holds a significant and storied place within the diverse world of Irish whiskey, serving as a tether between the beverage's vibrant past and its innovative present. Renowned for its unique production process and robust, complex flavour profile, single pot still whiskey is characterised by its use of a mixture of malted and unmalted barley and its triple distillation in a pot still.

History

Irish whiskey, and notably single pot still variant, once enjoyed unparalleled prestige on the global stage. In the 19th Century, it was the most popular spirit worldwide, and single pot still whiskey was its hallmark. The distinct use of both malted and unmalted barley can be traced back to a tax imposed by the British government on malted barley. Ingenious Irish distillers began incorporating unmalted barley into the mash bill, not only as a fiscal workaround but also discovering that it imparted a creamier, spicier profile to the whiskey, a characteristic which would become synonymous with Irish pot still expressions.

How it’s Made

The production method is intrinsic to its character. The mixed mash of malted and unmalted barley is triple-distilled in copper pot stills, resulting in a spirit that is simultaneously rich and smooth. The inclusion of unmalted barley and sometimes oats bestows a signature spiciness and mouthfeel to the whiskey. It’s generally aged in wooden casks which previously housed sherry, bourbon, or sometimes other spirits and wines, adding a layered complexity to the final product.

Flavour Profile

Single pot still whiskeys offer an intricate and expansive tasting experience. Often, they present a full-bodied, slightly oily texture and a distinctive spiciness attributed to the unmalted barley. Fruity, nutty, and often slightly sweet notes are commonly detected, with the particularities of each expression largely influenced by its specific ageing process. Distillers craft various expressions by manipulating variables such as cask type, ageing duration, and distillation nuances to curate a wide array of flavour profiles within the single pot still category.

Notable Brands

An iconic brand, Redbreast offers a range of aged single pot still whiskeys, celebrated for their lush, sherry-inflected profile and complex, evolving flavours.

Green Spot and Yellow Spot: These are historic “spot” whiskeys, initially crafted by Mitchell & Son Wine Merchants, with the colour denoting the age and flavour profile of the expressions.

Powers produces a range of expressions, including the acclaimed Powers John’s Lane, lauded for its balance of rich, hearty pot still character and elegant oak influence.

Influence and Impact

In recent years, the revival and booming global interest in Irish whiskey have spotlighted single pot still whiskey, facilitating its triumphant return to prominence. Many distilleries, both established and emerging, are experimenting with and releasing pot still expressions, playing with variables like cask finishes and ageing durations, and even incorporating modern techniques to both honour and innovate within the category.

In the Glass

Enjoying a single pot still whiskey is often done neat, perhaps with a drop of water to open up the flavours. It's a spirit that demands contemplative sipping, allowing the layers of flavour to unfold gradually with each sip. That said, it also finds its way into high-end cocktails, where its robust character can shine through and complement other ingredients.

Single pot still whiskey embodies the rich, multifaceted history and the innovative spirit of Irish whiskey-making. It's a subgenre of whiskey that tells a story of tax laws influencing production methods, of distillers innovating within constraints, and of a nation’s spirit industry rising, falling, and rising once again. Each bottle, from widely available expressions to rare releases, offers a taste not just of the whiskey itself but of the legacy and future of Irish distillation.

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