2014’s Irish Whiskey Technical File has undoubtedly helped the sector achieve an impressive growth that 20 years ago seemed all but a pipedream. However, as a document the Technical File (“Product Specification Sheet”) has been both extolled and vilified in equal measure. As a standard set-in stone, it has allowed Irish whiskey a much-needed consistency on which to build its modern-day renaissance. But as a specification it has presented a number of historical imprecisions and likewise reduced the available space for distilling innovation. But following a resubmission of the File to the European Commission back in September 2021 – upcoming amendments may well help the sector not only embrace the broadness it needs to thrive, but to also better reflect its distilling past.
Whilst virtually all standards and regulations could do with a little language tightening, the fundamental issue with the 2014 Irish Whisky Technical File has been the definition of single pot still Irish whiskey. The specification to date has been a minimum of 30% malted barley, 30% unmalted barley and up to 5% “other grains.” And it’s the latter part of this which is both historically inaccurate, as well as seriously limiting. Throughout Irish whiskey’s history, mash bills have invariable included a far higher percentage of “other grains” than 5%. It is only in the ‘modern’ era that for the most part (but not always!) bills have reined in their use of wider grains.
The amendment proposed to the Technical File, if adopted, will see the definition of pot still Irish whiskey changed to allow up to 30% of cereals other than barley to be used. This paves the way for recreating the mixed mash bills of Irish whiskey’s history and also allowing for a far broader recipe which in turn should empower innovation across the sector. It will make for a far more diverse pot still sub-category with substantive differences in profile possible based on the grains selected and the percentages of these utilised. To my mind, all the better for the Irish whiskey drinker.
This said, with any regulation, precise language is important. “5% other grains” is small, but it’s as imprecise as they come. What other grains? As such, the expectation is that in order to retain the profile and global image of pot still whiskey – wheat, rye and oats will be the permitted additions – as opposed to just increasing the “other” to 30%, but not specifying further. That would likely result in a free for all, with some, less scrupulous producers attempting to use whatever cheap additions they could lay their hands on.
However, with a landscape of fully specified 30/30/30 minimums, there’s ample room for producers to get creative – utilising both heritage mash bills as well as an increased addition of Irish grown grain. The move seems to have achieved widespread buy-in from producers – and so all being well, you could see this Technical File update coming within the next 12 months. Exciting times.
Another common misconception about Irish whiskey is that single malt production was any type of predominantly produced style. It wasn’t – and at one point only reflected 5% of the overall market. However, I suspect that this perception likely stems from the collapse of the industry when at one point there were only two producers remaining – and latterly (and still to this day) that if you wanted older Irish single malt, you were limited to just two sources. And so today we’ve got a whiskey from one of those two sources…..I’m looking forward to the future when there are myriad wider possibilities!
One of my favourite Boutique-y labels – and far more than a one tricky pony (the 24 year old edition taking the crown of being my favourite release of 2017). British Isle’s folks will no doubt be aware of the origins of the psychedelic (lovely) horse – those reading from further afield can enjoy one minute of comedy gold. As with all Boutique-y labels, new batches come with very subtle differences to their artwork – and in the case of Irish Single Malt #1 – the number of sugar cubes seems to be the defining difference.
Irish Single Malt #1 Batch 3 is a release of 1,726 bottles from an undisclosed Irish distillery (being a single malt, you’ve presently only got two to choose from – and my bet would certainly be the more northernly of the two). Bottled at 46.8% ABV – there’s just one bottle available from Master of Malt for £59.95 as of writing.
Both Sorren at OCD Whisky and Brian at Brian's Malt Musings are undertaking the 24 days of Boutique-y this year – so after you’re done here, go check them out for some alternative views.
Nose: Ripe, fresh and vibrant. Balled honeydew melon alongside comice pear and peach puree. Milk breakfast cereals and vanilla imbued cream are joined by desiccated coconut – modest and lovely. Dilution reveals apple compote, nougat and sponge cake.
Taste: Opening with tartness from grapefruit and lemon peels, before igniting into tinned orchard fruits, melon, peach and white grape juice. Fruit party. The development maintains the fruit complement, offering both sweetness and well-judged sourness, whilst introducing grated chocolate and a pang of pepper. The addition of water presents a juicy complexion with the addition of tangerine and orange gel. Full and reduced – doesn’t matter – both are pretty attractive.
Finish: Short to medium with a final bite of citrus alongside gentle cask pepper.
Probably Boutique-y’s most recognisable label and a fitting whisky for that designation. Irish Single Malt #1 Batch 3 offers vivacious and defined fruitiness throughout, whilst maintaining a lovely poise and balance between the spirit and the cask. Only a slightly constricted finish holds me back from scoring higher. Nevertheless, one of you really should purchase that last bottle – this is as easy to recommend as it is to drink.