Factors - Natural, Human and Extra
Natural factors have a significant effect on the quality and characteristics of Irish whiskey. This applies whether the distillate is Irish pot still, Irish grain whiskey or Irish malt whiskey.
Water quality and quantity play an important role in the character of Irish whiskies. The naturally occurring mineral composition (hard or soft water) of the local water supply to the distillery will impart a particular flavour.
Peter Mulryan, in his book “The Whiskeys of Ireland” reports that climate plays an important part in the maturation process. Generally the warmer the weather the faster the spirit will age. Therefore, in Ireland, which is effected by the mild and damp Gulf Stream, whiskey matures at a slower pace than in other European countries. The Gulf Stream currents help keep Irish winters milder and Irish summers cooler, which means Irish whiskeys’ avoid temperature extremes during storage.
Like all stages of the distilling process, malting barley requires the skill of an expert. In this case the Maltster is the person who ensures that the barley is properly malted. There are many variables at work here: get any of them wrong and the malting process will be ruined. The length of time it takes to soak the barley so as to begin germination and the knowledge needed to know when to stop the process is a skill required over time. It is reported that an experienced malster can tell whether the barley has been soaked enough by pressing it between his thumb and forefinger (Daiches, 1976)
The distillers manage the whole whiskey production process. This is where science and art combine and it is the personal but yet traditional touch of the master distiller that is needed to produce the perfect Irish whiskey. The entire distilling process must be directed with instinctive skill and judgment. The Legendary Tullamore Dew carries on the centuries-old traditions and heritage of distilling whiskey in Ireland to this day.
It is upon the skill of the Stillman to decide the appropriate point to switch between spirit cuts as the sequence proceeds. Different parts of the sequence impact different flavourings to the whiskey. The Stillman can produce a heavy whiskey by capturing a greater portion from the latter part of the distillate. Lighter spirit comes from the more central portion of the run. The Stillman has to be satisfied by sight and test before switching the runs.
Blending is a skill that requires the person to know how whiskey smells, tastes and how the flavours all work together. Whiskeys vary from cask to cask therefore it is important for consistency that the blender has sufficient knowledge to achieve the perfect blended whiskey.
The Extra Factor
Irish genius conspires with geography, history and heritage to make Irish whiskey more than its constituent parts – truly one of our greatest gifts to mankind.