What’s in a day? Do you know the real minimum age requirement of Irish whiskey?

How long does spirit have to age for in casks to be considered “Irish Whiskey”? Many of you will instantly know that the answer is simply 3 years, although, some of you out there will clearly remember being on a tour in Ireland and being told that it was 3 years and a day. Unfortunately, I am here to explain why that is wrong.
You see in Ireland we have a strange facination with this erroneous 3 year and a day rule. This lovely piece of misinfomation shows up in news articles, tour scripts and communications directly from brands and distilleries themselves. So honestly, I don’t blame anyone who was lead to believe that the extra day is what makes Irish whiskey.

But, if it’s not correct, then where did it come from?

The short answer is, we’re not sure. If you read the two legal documents pretaining to Irish whiskey (Irish Whiskey Act 1980 & Technical File 2014), you will see that the minimum required age is exactly 3 years old. And it isn’t a historic law either. Previously, Irish whiskey had no age requirements, then 3 years minimum, then a minimum of 5 years and then back to 3, so it didn’t come from previously laws either.

There do seem to be two annecdotal origins of this story, the first that is rooted in the poor record keeping of old Irish distilleries. According to one tale, these hapless record keepers often forgot when they filled their barrels, leaving them for an extra day just to be sure they met the threshold. The other origin appears to be rooted in an apparent one up’man ship with the Scottish, claiming that the Irish leave whiskey for an extra day to ensure their product is better than the Scottish.

Unfortuantely, regardless of its origins, this erroneous “fact” continues to show up in the modern distilling industry in Ireland. On four different occassions in 2019, different established distilling companies sent me correspondences enclosed with this incorrect information touted as law. And on three different distillery tours I encountered this three years and a day rule crowbarred into the script to showcase this apparently one upmanship.

While I am aware that this is a trivial point but we owe it both to ourselves and to our consumers to diseminate factual information. Quite frankly its embarrasing reeciving correspondences or going on tours in brand homes and being faced with incorrect information. From a consumers’ point of view the worst it could do is to demolish the varacity of the tour script, and the best it can do is misinform the consumer completely. In-fact, I have witnessed countless engagements online and in person where people fight tooth and nail to showcase the fact that X distillery told them this erroneous fact so how could they be wrong? But of course they are, and they are then left to be either slightly embarrassed or completely questioning of the distillery’s information.

It’s quite frankly something small and trivial but it has knock on effects, even if those effects are small. As an industry we should be doing better, and not misinforming people as to the age requirements of Irish whiskey.

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