Irish Whiskey and the Single Pot Still

by
June 24, 2017

If you’ve been tasting Irish whiskey lately, such as Redbreast or Green Spot, you might have come across the term “Single Pot Still” on the label. Is it the same as single malt? What is a pot still, anyway? Why does its singularity matter? We’ve taken a deeper dive into the category below.

What is Single Pot Still?

To answer that question, it’s almost like a single malt. Same basic concept – the whiskey is produced at a single distillery from a single grain. But what distinguishes single pot still over single malt is that single malt is made from 100% malted barley (note: American Single Malt only requires 51%). Single pot still is made with a mashbill of both malted and un-malted barley (aka “green barley”). In fact 30% of each are the required minimum in this category. Another thing to note:  Single pot still whiskeys can only be made in Ireland. Of course, like all Irish whiskeys, they must be aged for at least three years.

Single Pot Still WhiskeyRedbreast 12 and Green Spot / Photo Courtesy of SinglePotStill.com

Un-malted barley adds a unique character to this whiskey. It makes it more, well, barley-ish. When you taste them, you might have noticed a distinctive spiciness. It has more of a weighty texture and grainy cereal flavor that isn’t as present in a Scotch single malt, or even other types of Irish whiskeys. It has more depth.

The reason this mashbill method came about harkens back to the 1800’s. Irish distillers were paying up the swan’s neck (more on that below) on malt taxes. As a work around with the excise agents, they began cutting their malted barley with green barley so they could turn more of a profit. Lucky for them it actually had a pleasant effect on the whiskey when done right.

Triple Distillation

Another difference is that unlike most single malts which are almost always double-distilled — exceptions like Auchentoshan and Springbank’s Hazelburn whiskies aside — single pot still is traditionally triple-distilled.

Which brings us to the still itself. The pot still is the copper one you might be familiar with. It has a rounded base and collared, bent neck, or ‘swan’s neck.’ The other kind, the column still (aka continuous still, Coffey still, or patent still) is usually made of steel and is the kind used to make vodka and dry gin as well as grain whiskey used for blends. Basically, if you want your spirit to have some inherent flavor and complexity to it, you make it in a pot still.

Single Pot Still WhiskeyPowers 12 and Midleton Barry Crockett / Photo Courtesy of SinglePotStill.com

“Pure Pot Still”

To make matters even more confusing, up until 2011, these whiskeys were labeled as “Pure Pot Still” or “Irish Pot Still”. If you see these on a label, you know you have a “vintage” bottle.

At present, there are only a couple of distillers out there making Single Pot Still Whiskey for commercial purposes. The category became less popular in the 20th century when Scotch whisky began to dominate the marketplace, not to mention complications from the Irish Civil War of Independence and the American Prohibition. But with the resurgence of classic drinking habits in the 2000’s, it’s finding a new fan base with whiskey aficionados and various history minded booze nerds enthusiasts. Hopefully we start to see more on the way.


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