The way the women's menfolk have panned out, at the tail end of a sociable evening there is often an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman left at the table, like an old joke. And we are each loyal to our roots in our choice of nightcaps. Whisky for me. Irish whiskey for Mick. And Irish Whiskey for Keith, because the English don't have their own aqua vitae, unless you count French brandy. And it is about then that I most feel myself a minority, as the two of them pay effusive homage to Tullamore Dew, or Jameson, or Powers, or whatever Fenian brew is tickling their fancies at the time.
It makes me defensive. To my mind, although once a great tradition, the list of Irish whiskeys is now a bit like the list of famous Belgians. There are only three distilleries in Ireland; Bushmill in Northern Ireland; Midleton in Cork; and Cooley in Louth. Cooley, originating in the late 1980s, is the only independent one, and the only one that is Irish-owned. All other labels are produced by the Irish Distillers Group, mainly in its vast Midleton plant, which was built in the mid 1960s when Jameson, Powers and Cork distillers combined as IDG.
In contrast, there are around 125 distilleries in Scotland, spread throughout Speyside, the Highlands and Islands.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Whisky and Irish Whiskey is that the latter hardly ever uses peat in the malting process, so that the rich, earthy, smoky overtones evocative of peat smoke drifting across a Hebridean bay are almost always absent. Also, most Scottish whiskies are distilled just twice, because they are required to retain the taste of their original ingredients.
Here is a list of Irish single malt peated whiskeys:
Here is a list of Scottish single malt peated whiskies:
Aberfeldy, Aberlour, An Cnoc, Ardbeg, Ardmore, Arran, Auchentoshan, Aultmore, Balblair, Balmenach, Balvenie, Ben Nevis, Benriach, Benrinnes, Benromach, Bladnoch, Blair Athol, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Cardhu, Clynelish, Cragganmore, Craigellachie, Craigellachie, Dailuaine, Dalmore, Dalwhinnie, Deanston, Drumguish, Dufftown, Edradour, Fettercairn, Glenburgie, Glen Deveron, Glendronach, Glendullan, Glen Elgin, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Glen Garioch, Glengoyne, Glen Grant, Glen Keith, Glenkinchie, The Glenlivet, Glenlossie, Glenmorangie, Glen Moray, Glen Ord, Glenrothes, Glentauchers, Glenturret, Glen Scotia, Highland Park, Imperial, Inchgower, Inchmurrin, Isle of Jura, Knockando, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Linkwood, Longmorn, The Macallan, Mannochmore, Miltonduff, Mortlach, Oban, Old Pulteney, Royal Brackla, Royal Lochnagar, Scapa, Singleton, Speyburn, The Speyside, Strathisla, Talisker, Tamdhu, Teaninich, Tobermory, Tomatin, Tomintoul, Tormore.
It is this variety - each from a different distillery with distinctive character drawn from the taste of the local water, the barley malting process, the peat used to dry the malt, the sources of the barrels for maturation (sherry, bourbon, port, cognac, calvados, rum), exposure to the salty air of the Hebrides - it is this variety that makes single malt whisky the subtle adventure that it is.
And another thing; I like to take my uisge-beatha with water. I find it draws out the flavour in a magical, almost homeopathic way. It lasts longer as well. I have had people chide me for this, suggesting that the water adulterates the spirit. They have invariably been English, because the Scots know better. So there.