What makes Irish whiskey different?

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Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Can’t tell the difference between Irish whiskey and bourbon and Scotch? Here are a few ways that the spirits are similar yet different.

MAGIC SPELL The spelling of the word whiskey is a dead giveaway. The Scots and the Canadians drop the letter “e,” spelling theirs “whisky” instead of “whiskey.” American bourbon makers spell theirs with an “e,” just as the Irish do.

THE SAME . . . In some ways, all whiskeys are alike. All are distilled beverages made from a combination of grains, water and yeast. Most are aged in charred American oak barrels.


. . . BUT DIFFERENT The main ingredients in Irish whiskey are barley, malt (sprouted or germinated barley) and water.

Bourbon is made mainly with corn; Canadian whisky is commonly made with a blend from wheat, corn, barley and rye.

Scotch has similar ingredients to Irish whiskey, but it is often dried over a peat fire. The smoke from the peat fire affects the smell and taste of Scotch.

WHAT’S COOKING? Bourbon and Scotch usually are distilled twice. Irish whiskey generally is distilled three times. The more distillations, the lighter and cleaner the spirit.

SLEEPYTIME All whiskeys “sleep,” or rest in casks, until they have matured, meaning after distillation, they’re put away for years in dark aromatic cellars or warehouses. Bourbon matures in new charred, American oak barrels. Most makers of other types of whiskeys reuse American barrels for their products. Some premium Irish whiskeys begin their aging process in American barrels and are then later transferred to used port or sherry casks for “finishing.”