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Single pot still is the only kind of whiskey that is made solely in Ireland and is unique to the Emerald Isle. The key point that differentiates it from single malt whiskey is the type of barley that is used in the distillation process. Rather than using 100% malted barley in the mash, a combination of malted and un-malted barley is utilised to produce a rich, cereal flavoured whiskey that envelops the mouth in a luxuriously silky texture. Single pot still whiskey also possesses a certain spicy quality that is widely regarded as the symptomatic characteristic of this unique category and those combinations of traits are oft referred to as the ‘pot still character’. Single pot still whiskey is distilled by a single distillery and in a copper pot still. Up until a few years ago, 2011 to be precise, this category of whiskey was known as pure pot still but had to be amended to comply with newly introduced labelling laws.
Midleton is the only distillery that is currently producing this type of whiskey and it’s a predominant ingredient in Jamesons, the company’s most popular blended whiskey. Originally, only Redbreast and Green Spot were sold as single pot still whiskeys in their own right but consumer interest in the category convinced Midleton to add Powers John’s Lane 12 Year Old and Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy to their portfolio as well as the Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength.
So why is this category unique to Ireland? Back in the 1700’s the tax on malt liquor was an ever increasing overhead for the Irish distillers. To combat this, the distilleries started to use unmalted barley in the production of Irish whiskey, thus cutting down on the amount of tax they were required to pay. After the adverse effects of US prohibition, civil war and the damaging trade embargo imposed by the British, many distilleries were forced to close. By 1960 there were only 3 distilleries left (Powers, Cork Distilling Company and Jamesons) and they merged under the name of Irish Distillers Ltd. After closing their individual premises, they amalgamated under the roof of the brand new Midleton distillery which was kitted out with the latest continuous grain stills as well as the old style copper pot stills. Thus began the story of modern blended Irish whiskey, created from grain whiskey and single pot still malt.
Luckily, the tradition of bottling and consuming the single pot still whiskey, then known as pure pot still, was not lost thanks to a couple of local merchants who had created brands (Redbreast and Green Spot) using whiskey they had purchase straight from the distillery near the beginning of the century. This ensured the continuation, and eventual return to prominence, of single pot whiskey.