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A question about potstill

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A question about potstill

Postby Simplicio » Mon Sep 04, 2006 8:52 am

I recently tried some Irish potstill for the first time (Redbreast 12) and found it to be remarkable :mrgreen: - it certainly belies the stereotype of Irish whiskies being light. And it is definitely different enough from malt whisk(e)y to be interesting.

But this has led me to wonder about the historical orgins of potstill. Supposedly this is the "echt" style of Irish whiskey. But why? In other words, why did the Irish use a mixture of malted and unmalted barley (I am thinking of this rather than the use of peat or the number of distillations), but the Scots only malted barely? Is there some reason why they couldn't kiln enough of the barley?, (assuming that they wanted to). Or perhaps the question should be why the Scots used only malted barley. Surely there must be some other reason than as grist for marketing departments two centuries later.

Also, why don't Bushmills and Cooley's make any?
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Postby Aidan » Mon Sep 04, 2006 9:00 am

It was originally because the malted barley was taxed, so unmalted barley was used. This is also the reason that the Irish used much larger pot stills - because there was a tax on the number of spirit passes, rather than the volume of spirits.

These techniques continued beyond the tax schemes because it produced very good whiskey.

I believe that there was pure pot still produced in the lowlands of Scotland too at one stage.
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Postby Simplicio » Mon Sep 04, 2006 9:12 am

A tax on malted barley? I guess there is no point in asking why. Or was this just another way of taxing liquor as there was only one use for malted barley? I wonder if this led to malt smuggling? Illicit maltings?
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Postby Aidan » Mon Sep 04, 2006 9:29 am

Well, we were occupied by the British at the time, and they wanted money to build ships etc, I suppose. It deffinitely led to smuggling and illegal stills.

It was the whiskey to drink at the time, though.

I think, but I'm not sure, this is how dry Irish stout came into being too, as Arthur Guinness used unmalted barley in his brew.
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Postby Simplicio » Mon Sep 04, 2006 12:27 pm

Aidan wrote:...this is also the reason that the Irish used much larger pot stills - because there was a tax on the number of spirit passes, rather than the volume of spirits.


I see. But wouldn't this mean that triple distilling would render more tax to be paid? But I suppose that potstill somehow had to be triple-distilled.
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Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Mon Sep 04, 2006 2:08 pm

Aidan is correct about tax on Malted barley. However at times it was not just Barley that was used. Distillerys also used oats using up to about 10% of it in the mix. This however is not done now eventhough I'd like to see an expermint with that again.


Basically your talking about a couple of hundred years of penal laws. Similar laws were enforced on the Scots during these times but both industries used different methods to try and by pass these laws. Just to give you an idea of the frivolity of these laws, there were also taxes on windows in Tennants houses so this should give you an idea of the thinking of the era. No reason to try and understand it unless you what a long history lesson :wink: .

Potstill is a wonderous drink and may not be favoured by all but you certianly can't call it light. Cooley are hoping to re-open the Kilbeggan distillery and make potstill there again.

Cooley originally called their Tyrconnell a pure pot still whiskey but also called it a single malt. It was a single malt but they tried to use the reasoning that it was made in a potstill to call it potstill but now have reversed that thinking thankfully.
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Postby Aidan » Mon Sep 04, 2006 5:05 pm

Simplicio wrote:
Aidan wrote:...this is also the reason that the Irish used much larger pot stills - because there was a tax on the number of spirit passes, rather than the volume of spirits.


I see. But wouldn't this mean that triple distilling would render more tax to be paid? But I suppose that potstill somehow had to be triple-distilled.


I'm guessing that one pass goes through three stills, but I'm not sure. Also, I think pure pot still has to be triple distilled, because it would be too flavorsome if it was just double distilled. I think I heard that from Barry Walsh.
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Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Mon Sep 04, 2006 6:15 pm

Simplicio wrote:
Aidan wrote:...this is also the reason that the Irish used much larger pot stills - because there was a tax on the number of spirit passes, rather than the volume of spirits.


I see. But wouldn't this mean that triple distilling would render more tax to be paid? But I suppose that potstill somehow had to be triple-distilled.



Whether it is tripple distilled or double distilled it is just a process for one batch.

Okay a brief history lesson.

In 1661 taxation was brought in for Irish Whiskey. This was calculated by the volume of spirit that each distillery sold. This method was very hard to police as an unscrouplous distillery manager or workers could run an operation at night outside the books so to speak or just ignore the books all together and the higher the tax was increased the more prevelant that bootlegging was practiced.

In 1779 the Government decided to tax the still instead and the idea was that a certian sized still would produce a certian amount of whiskey in a year. So they taxed projected output instead. This of course backfired also as some stills were in use more than others and a distillery with a small seasonal output but used a large still was crucified financially. Basically this lead from 1228 to 246 working distilleries within a period of just one year, of course alot of these operations just went underground to avoid tax which put the legit distilleries under even more pressure. By 1821 there was only 32 distilleries left. However the ones that were left were some of the biggest distilleries in the world. Jameson officially the biggest distillery in the world at the time and the newly opened Midleton in 1825 built the biggest potstill in the world. They dwarfed the biggest still of the time (750 gallons) by building a 31,500 gallon potstill :shock: (and to this day is still the biggest in the world eventhough it is not used to produce any more).

After all these laws failed they brought in the Corn laws of 1804 which were originally used to protect brittish grain farmers from imports but then also used to attack the whiskey tax (or lack of it) problem. This meant they could tax the raw materials before it even got to the distillery and turned into whiskey thus getting the tax. This was the most effective tax for Government but Irish distilleries tried out different formulae to avoid paying the highest prices for the malted barley. This is not to say it was not done previously but the potstill creation came into it's own during the 18th & 19th century and was the creame de la creame of Whiskey world wide. Previously Ireland had all forms of whiskey whether potstill, single malt and both peated and unpeated. The success of Potstill and soft smooth whiskey became know as typically 'Irish' and the big Irish distilleries concentrated on this liquid gold.

The big 4 as they were known were John Jameson, John Powers, George Roe & William Jameson all Dublin based and were the world leaders in Whiskey production by volume and quality. However they looked down their noses at the scotch industry which were now using the Irish invention of the Coffey or patent still. The Irish rejected the coffey still as being a maker of silent whiskey i.e. tasteless whiskey. This was probably the major mistake that basically started the downfall of Irish whiskey. As Irish whiskey was becomming more and more expensive the Scots were producing lakes of silent whiskey to blend with their single malt and there fore they produced a cheaper whisky and after world recessions, prohibition and wars like WWI the cheaper scotch became very popular and the Irish Industry nearly collapsed. So much so that by the 1970's they was only 1 company producing whisky in 2 distilleries :cry: It was only then that the Irish realised that the blend was the way to go and potstill nearly died out all together with Redbreast and Greenspot the only potstills available on a very limited basis eventhough it would always be produced to be used in blends.

And that in a big nut shell is the history of Irish Whiskey (with huge chunks left out of course :wink: )
Last edited by irishwhiskeychaser on Mon Sep 04, 2006 8:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Aidan » Mon Sep 04, 2006 6:24 pm

I'm looking forward to Kilbeggan repoening more than any other whisk(e)y event. I'm sure the pure pot still the produce will be extremely expensive.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Mon Sep 04, 2006 11:02 pm

Adrian: Very nice history lession! I should probably buy a book on irish whisky one of these days to learn more. Should make fascinating reading.
Oh, and got a note from the post office today - so tomorrow is going to be a very interesting day :D

Adain: Are you saying there will be more pure pot still whiskies/distilleries in the future?

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Postby Aidan » Tue Sep 05, 2006 7:16 am

Fingers crossed, Christian. The owners of the Cooley Distillery bought up a number of brand names, as well as an old distillery in Kilbeggan, where they used to produce Locke's whiskey. The distillery is almost in full working order (run by a water wheel, as well as a diesel engine). The old stills are gone, but they have been replaced with the stills from the old Tullamore Distillery. The plan is to get this distillery up and running again and producing pure pot still the way they used to.

I think the only thing stopping them at the moment is money, but the plan is to have it running by the end of the decade.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Tue Sep 05, 2006 6:16 pm

Aidan wrote:Fingers crossed, Christian. The owners of the Cooley Distillery bought up a number of brand names, as well as an old distillery in Kilbeggan, where they used to produce Locke's whiskey. The distillery is almost in full working order (run by a water wheel, as well as a diesel engine). The old stills are gone, but they have been replaced with the stills from the old Tullamore Distillery. The plan is to get this distillery up and running again and producing pure pot still the way they used to.

I think the only thing stopping them at the moment is money, but the plan is to have it running by the end of the decade.

That sounds great Aidan! Let's hope they can pull it off. A larger selection of pure pot still whiskies would be exciting!
I only wish there was more irish whiskies available in Norway (both pure pot still and blends) .

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Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Tue Sep 05, 2006 8:51 pm

In general there are not enough Irish Whiskies :cry: and even since Cooley attacked the Market with all sorts of ddifferent expressions Midleton has not really taken the bait. The stillseem willing t flog Jameson to every person on the planet and Market Midleton as teh best Irish whiskey in the world :x

Granted they are doing a good job of it but what about a bit of a change and up the Image of irish whiskey in general rather than just jameson.

Bushmills have started to come out with limited releases which is a start and with the new takeover they might have a few more tricks to play out yet as their 400th (cough, cough) anniversary is comming up... :roll:
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Postby Aidan » Tue Sep 05, 2006 9:13 pm

irishwhiskeychaser wrote:In general there are not enough Irish Whiskies :cry: and even since Cooley attacked the Market with all sorts of ddifferent expressions Midleton has not really taken the bait. The stillseem willing t flog Jameson to every person on the planet and Market Midleton as teh best Irish whiskey in the world :x

Granted they are doing a good job of it but what about a bit of a change and up the Image of irish whiskey in general rather than just jameson.

Bushmills have started to come out with limited releases which is a start and with the new takeover they might have a few more tricks to play out yet as their 400th (cough, cough) anniversary is comming up... :roll:


You're right of course, but things have improved a lot in the last five years or so. I think Jameson needs to release a standard Jameson bottling of a pure pot still whiskey. I think they might be releasing a 15 yr old pot still again, instead of the Redbreast 15, but I'm not sure.
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