In 2021 submissions were made to the Irish Department of Agriculture and the Marine by multiple Irish whiskey industry groups, to amend the definition of Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey as it is defined in the Geographical Indication, protected by the European Union.
According to these submissions, the current definition, which was written in 2014, does not accurately reflect the last two hundred years of distilling history in Ireland, nor does it reflect the culinary inclusion of grains such as oats, wheat and rye, in meaningful quantities. The submissions made in 2021 sought to amend the Technical File definition of Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey to include up to 30% adjunct/other grains outside of barley. It also sought to restrict the other grains that can be used to just oats, wheat and rye, to accurately reflect the last two centuries of Pot Still production in the country.
Peter Mulryan, Founder of Blackwater Distillery, explains “Proposed increases to the quantity of ‘other grains’ , specifically Rye Wheat & Oats in Pot Still Irish whiskey to 30%, as this is more in line with historic best practice. As this precedent is where the GI gets its legitimacy, redefining Pot Still Irish whiskey would strengthen the category and allow us to compete with other countries producing pot still whiskeys with zero restrictions. Having the proposed changes put to a national debate and public consultation would be a positive next step in achieving these and other changes we are seeking to the overall technical file.”
In 2020 historian and PhD. Candidate, Fionnán O’Connor shared an incredible wealth of knowledge from the national private and public archives to support the 30% inclusion of other grains and even outlined how there have been “non-compliant” (as per current definitions) Single Pot Still whiskeys released in every decade over the last hundred years. If you would like to read through his justifications and list of releases, click here.
Despite having mass industry support and Fionnán’s archival data and modern chemical analysis of these spirits, the Irish government have undertaken a very lengthy deliberation process regarding the proposed changes.
Thankfully, the process has progressed past internal deliberations and the public are now being asked for their voices to be heard in an impending Public Consultation Period. While the official launch date of this period has not been set, it is expected to be opened sometime in the next 30 days.
It will be incredibly important for the court of public opinion to rally behind the support of this change to ensure that the definition of Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey is accurately portrayed in Irish and EU law.
Daithí O’Connell, Founder of W.D. O’Connell Whiskey Merchant and Co-Founder of the Irish Whiskey Guild explains that, “Changes are not being requested for the sake of change but for the long term future of our industry in Ireland. The resurgence of Irish whiskey is still in its infancy and largely driven by one producer and Pot Still within the overall category makes up such a very small % overall sales volumes that it is now that is the ideal time to make these proposed changes as it will allow pot still to show its true potential on the global whiskey stage.”
GIs are awarded for having the “historic remit/traditional process to prove the “product’s particular quality, reputation or
other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.” Fionnán’s work has shown, the current Technical File definition of Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey does not accurately reflect any period of Irish distilling history, nor the broader culinary history of the island either.
Fionnán’s own distilling and chemically analysed research also explains that the inclusion of adjunct grains, in percentages higher than 5%, fall more in line with the Technical File’s own definition of Single Pot Still as “..giving both a distinctive spicy flavour to the whiskey and influences the texture by giving the whiskey a distinct creamy mouth feel.” When adjuncts are reduced below 5% or removed all together, the characteristics of maltiness, and sweetness are exemplified, which by the Technical File’s own definition are the standards of Malt Irish Whiskey.
This comparison of flavours helps to highlight that the traditional style of inclusion of these grains greats whiskeys more akin to the definition of “Single Pot Still” than not.
More articles will follow as the Public Consultation Process draws closer, but it is up to every motivated whiskey enthusiast, distiller, farmer, brand ambassador, society and store to let their voices be heard in this consultation period for real change to happen.