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Difference Between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky

whiskey-pdIrish whiskey vs Scotch whisky

Although the alcoholic beverage known as whiskey is manufactured and devoured around the world, it was originally first distilled in Ireland. Whiskey production in Ireland resulted from the bread eating culture where the rural poor would grow grain, and use the mash from the grain to produce whiskey. However, Scotland is credited for refining the most popular grain spirit, and as you may have noticed, it is spelled as ‘whisky’ in Scotland, whereas the Irish prefer to spell it as ‘whiskey’.

One of the key differences between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey is the distillation process. While Scotch whisky is distilled only twice, Irish whiskey undergoes triple distillation, giving it a marked lightness, and this is done in pot stills that are thrice the size of normal copper stills, hence the uniquely fine drink that is Irish whisky. Scotch whisky uses uninterrupted process stills.

While making Scotch whisky, the barley used is wholly malted, and it is first allowed to sprout, and then it is dried. Peat smoke is used in the drying process, which produces the distinctive Scotch aroma of the whisky. As for Irish whiskey, raw and malted barley is used in the pot still phase. The barley is dried in kilns that are covered, keeping the barley’s natural flavor, resulting in a key quality of Irish whiskey.

In making Irish whiskey, greater importance is attached to the distilling process, whereas for Scotch whisky, the emphasis is laid on the master blender’s skills, where blended Scotch whisky is produced by mixing various mature malt and grain whiskies, hence the process of ‘blending’. The Irish believe in the principle that the ‘skill’ is in forming the right distillates to begin with, a technique they refer to as ‘vatting’. The aging time of the whiskeys differ as well. Scotch whisky is kept in the cask for a minimum of two years, while Irish whiskey is aged for a minimum of three years.

Also, depending on the region where the whiskey was produced, the label on the whiskey will represent that. Scotch whisky can only be labeled ‘Scottish whisky’ if it was produced and matured in Scotland. Likewise, the whiskey made in Ireland is the one labeled as ‘Irish whiskey’.

Scotch whisky is distilled twice, while Irish whiskey undergoes triple distillation.
Scotch whisky uses peat-smoked, wholly malted barley, while Irish whisky used kiln-dried, raw and malted barley.
Scotch whisky is produced by ‘blending’, while Irish whiskey is produced by ‘vatting’.
Scotch whisky is casked for a at least two years, while Irish whisky is kept in the cask for at least three years.

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  1. As a Scotch Whisky enthusiast ( and IRISH ) and collector for 20 years, I appreciate people’s contributions to further educate us all on the wonderful qualities of whisky. Although the article on DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IRISH WHISKEY AND SCOTCH WHISKY is full of accurate information, it also contains many inaccuracies. Respectfully, I would like to contribute in a positive way and clear up a few of the inaccuracies.

    Yes, most distilleries in Scotland produce using double distillation, but he LOWLAND malts use triple distillation as do the Irish. Additionally, the SPRINGBANK distillery in Campbeltown, distills SPRINGBANK 2-1/2 times and when producing LONGROW and HAZELBURN at the same distillery, the latter two go through double distillation.

    As far as POT STILLS, the Scots produce ALL single malts in COPPER POT STILLS as well. The article mentions UNINTERRUPTED PROCESS STILLS for Scotch Whisky. This continuous process, referred to as COLUMN distillation or COFFEY STILLS is done ONLY for the purpose of producing Scotch being produced from multiple grains ( e. g., malted and unmalted barley, corn, wheat, etc ) for the purpose of blending with single malt Scotches to produce blended Scotches. The term IRISH POT STILL WHISKEY can be confusing to the novice. This term only means that this style of Irish whiskey is produced from MALTED and UNMALTED barley. Don’t confuse IRISH POT STILL WHISKEY with using COPPER POT STILLS to produce SINGLE MALT IRISH WHISKEY. The terms have two entirely different meanings. A good example of an IRISH POT STILL WHISKEY is MIDLETON. Good examples of Irish single malt whiskies are BUSHMILLS 10-Yr-Old, 16-Yr-Old, and 21 Yr-Old Madeira Cask. Good examples of IRISH BLENDED WHISKIES are JAMESON, BUSHMILLS BLACK BUSH, and BUSHMILLS WHITE LABEL ( ALSO KNOWN AS WHITE BUSH ).

    Not all single malt Scotch whiskies are produced by drying the malted barley by peat fire. GLENGOYNE does not use any peat at all in their drying process. SPRINGBANK is lightly peated while LONGROW and the ISLAY MALTS are heavily peated. HAZELBURN, produced at the SPRINGBANK distillery does not use any peat just as GLENGOYNE.

    As far as aging, British law dictates that Scotch whisky must age for a minimum of three years, NOT two years to legally be called Scotch. Any Scottish spirit under 3 years old is referred to as SCOTTISH SPIRIT or SCOTTISH NEW MAKE SPIRIT.

    As stated in the article, SCOTCH WHISKY IS PRODUCED BY ‘BLENDING’ is also inaccurate. Yes,the Scots produce blends ( blending grain scotches with single malt scotches ) but they also market single malts. Additionally the Scots produce BLENDED MALT WHISKIES, formerly called VATTING, the Scotch Whisky Association ruled ~3 years ago to begin using the confusing term of BLENDED MALT WHISKY vice VATTING. This term for VATTING single malt Scotch whiskies was not met with smiling faces and people are still upset at this term. Many experts in the industry refuse to use this new term as it is confusing to the consumer. The IRISH produce IRISH POT STILL, blends, and single malts as well.

    I welcome any comments.


    Kenneth Blankenship

    • Great response Kenneth. The factual errors and misdirects in the original article were fairly serious but your response was spot on.

    • Kenneth,

      Thank you for a well written and informative piece. As a novice I have enjoyed a variety of whiskeys but I lack the knowledge to be truly informed. Just for interests I would love to spend some time learninghow to make a very good whiskey.

    • Most helpful! Thank you.

    • Isn’t there another factual inaccuracy? The original article says, “Scotch whisky is casked for a at least two years, while Irish whisky is kept in the cask for at least three years.” As far as I know, in order to be called a scotch, it needs to be casked for at least four years, not two.

    • Excellent commentary. I’m of the opinion that blended Scotch can be just as Wonderful as a Single Malt; depending on ones TASTE. I’m going to be enjoying some Irish Readbreast Whiskey in Honor of ST PATRICK!
      For the Love of MARY , ENJOY!!

    • Hi Kenneth
      I just ran into this blurb and accidentally peeked at the comments bc I usually don’t scroll all the way down. My next move will be to check out your website. Thanks for the thorough info.

    • This was a great comment, Kenneth! Thanks for offering up your expertise! I’m about to head over to your site now!

    • Thanks for the great discussion everyone. One thing I wanted to point out about the issue of using peat (turf). The Connemara Distillery makes a Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey that I believe uses the peat/turf method. Wondering if it tastes more like Scotch because of this? The few times I have tasted Scotch I didn’t like it. However, having visited Ireland this summer I have developed a taste for Irish Whiskey. Currently drinking Bushmills in my coffee, and Tullamore Dew 12y/o and the Connemara on the rocks.

      Thanks again for your posts.

      • And I’m an American who’s delving into all of them. I try to NOT be too nostalgic, but you CAN appreciate the sentiment and passion that goes into each “spirit.” Please don’t be disdainful UNLESS you note a lack of either patriotism to family or love of constituency–that flows into America, I promise, although, as an American, I try to appreciate all that each culture can add to our “melting pot.” BUT, always revering our contributing ancestry and their “true-to-race” values, as well.I cannot apologize for loving my U.S.A. full of so many wondrous peoples from all over God’s beautiful Earth, however difficult to live together in harmony.

    • So what are the key differences of these two different whiskies produced in two different countriea!!!

  2. Hi Kenneth

    As you do not see many older whiskeys (particularly Irish ones), do they deteriorate after 12 or 18 years or any other time?


  3. Hi

    Further to Kenneth’s corrections, legally the whisky in Scotland MUST be matured for a MINIMUM of 3 years before it can be called Scotch. As you correctly said it must be matured in Scotland and it has to be in oak casks.

    The article does confuse the issue a little by switching between grain and malt and not alway’s comparing like for like.



  4. I’ve drank Jim Beam (bourbon) for years, and now find that I also enjoy a cheaper drink….Keesler Whiskey.

    Good times all around!

  5. Ralfy (of Ralfy.com) mentioned that the Auchentoshan Distillery produced tripled distilled spirits for the Irish immigrant labor, coming into Glasgow, many years ago.

  6. I just rang in the new year by finishing off a bottle of 12 year old Glengoyne I purchased at the distillery some 15 years ago. Ahhh it brings back such sweet memories of that visit to Scotland and to the distillery. Life has been exceptionally fine for these 81 years and I am about to purchase another Glengoyne whiskey to bring in many more new years and celebrate our “special” occasions. Hope to visit beautiful Scotland soon.

    • Hi Albert, what a lovely comment! Hope you enjoy your trip and next bottle with similar gusto!

    • Blessings to you and your family from an American “rogue” as my grandmother called us! I praise God and ask Him to make me thankful for my heritage and all sacrifices made by those before. Much love.

  7. I would love to learn more. I first discovered Black Bush in Boston. I have since met Red Breast and Yellow Spot (my wife says there some kind of message there). Also have recently met Sexton which has the most Blarney filled label but is very tasteful.

  8. Just give me a bottle of Bushmills and I’ll be happy. Thank you.

  9. Ive just found a scotch I can finally drink, The MacAllen 12 is awesome, but pricey. In my younger years, my dad knew I would not touch scotch, so he bought only Johnnie Walker. Still can’t handle that stuff.

    But I do notice that it gives a wide hangover than good old bourbon. Maybe I’m just not used to it.

  10. Great article and brilliant information from the knowledgeable Kenneth.
    Did you know before Prohibition in the USA in the 1920’s Irish Whiskey was the best selling and most expensive whiskey in the world. During prohibition the cheaper Scotch Whisky was marketed heavily in the USA and the rest is history !!!

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