Let’s talk about Irish Whiskey.  If you were to walk into a bar at the turn of the twentieth century and order a whiskey, they’d automatically serve you an Irish whiskey rather than bourbon or scotch, as they do today.

English owes the word “whiskey” to the Gaelic phrase “uisge beatha” (pronounced wish-ga baa), meaning “water of life.” Many scholars believe that Irish monks learned the craft of distilling from Muslim clerics and rulers in Moorish Spain and Portugal who used the alcohol for medicinal and water-purification sometime between the 10th and 13th centuries. Once the Irish got a hold of it, whiskey was born, and it quickly traveled across the Irish Sea to Scotland.

Unlike bourbon and scotch, Irish whiskey has very few rules regarding its production. It can be made from a variety of grains, using different production techniques. Here are four different kinds of Irish whiskey: single malt (made from malted barley in a single distillery), grain (usually made from corn or wheat), pure pot still (malted and unmalted barley, using a pot still), and  blended (mixture of single malt and grain).

The only rules Irish whiskey has are that (1) it must be distilled and aged in Ireland, (2) it must be distilled to less than 94.8% ABV with cereal grains and must retain the aroma and flavor of them, (3) it must be aged no less than three years in wooden casks no larger than 185 gallons, and (4) it must be labeled “blended” if it contains two or more types of whiskey.

Most are aged in used bourbon barrels. Distillers are also using a variety of other barrels such as sherry, port, and Madeira.

If you haven’t experienced a good Irish whiskey, St. Patrick’s Day is a great excuse to. Many Irish whiskeys have a very light flavor, and won’t leave you with that heavy taste that bourbons or scotches can have. It’s a very accessible style of whiskey, so if you’ve wanted to try to get into the whiskey craze, Irish whiskey is a great place to start.