Can Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey Be Made In A Column Still?

While this might sound like the misconceptions of a novice to the category, the permitted use of column stills in the production of Single Pot Still Irish whiskey is one of the best kept open secrets of the industry.

Single Pot Still whiskey is heralded as the premium & indigenous style of whiskey that the Irish Whiskey industry can use to differentiate ourselves from the over looming shadow of single malt Scotch. Not only is Single Pot Still whiskey delicious and incredibly interesting to explore, but it is also one of the key cornerstones of most Irish whiskey distilleries’ production. So, think of the surprise when consumers and producers alike realise that this premium whiskey category, that goes toe to toe with Single Malt Scotch, in terms of reputation, can be made even partly in a column still.

According to the Irish Whiskey Technical File (now renamed ‘Product Specification Sheet‘) practices to retain the “uniformity of flavour characteristics” (of single pot still Irish whiskey) can be taken to “address the residual alcohol on completion of the standard distillation sequence. Still residues may be collected and redistilled in column stills with the resulting feints subsequently distilled along with recycled pot still feints in a pot still.

Obviously, not all Single Pot Still must be made this way, but it is interesting that this is an optional production operation. There are (relatively) few accounts of this production process in use, but those that we were able to find, are outlined below.

According to Jim Murray’s Irish Whiskey Almanac (1994) the column stills in a large Irish distillery are “fascinating as they are linked to the Pot Stills so that some of the impure spirits, called ‘low wines’, which run off from the wash still, is fed through both columns before being pumped back into the second (intermediate) pot still and then into the final single pot still.”

According to Inge Russel’s Whisky: Production, Technology & Marketing (2014) “when stronger low wines are produced… residual alcohol left in the spent wash is recovered using a two-column unit to produce a lightly flavoured feints stream.” (This doesn’t actually say where these are recycled into put it appears to be the low wines receiver.)

Interestingly, the accounts above highlight two different practices of utilising pot ale and alternatively low wines in the column still distillation. From the definition, it doesn’t appear that the practice of distilling low wines, as documented in 1994, would be permitted today, although, it is interesting to see the lack of definition in the Technical File for what else is and is not permitted when utilising this technique.

For instance, are there any limits to the alcohol percentage that can be recycled back into the pot still system? 94.8% alcohol is the highest ABV that is permitted to be made in a column still in Irish whiskey, so would spirit up to this ABV permitted back into the pot still system? Furthermore, is there a specific still that this column spirit has to be fed back into or can high strength grain spirit go straight into the spirit still (with the addition of pot still feints)?

It is evident from above, that this practice has been utilised in Irish whiskey to increase efficiencies in spirit reclamation for nearly 30 years, at least. What I think most consumers will be surprised about is that these feints are recycled back into the pot stills, rather than just funnelling into grain whiskey production.

That said, this production option is certainly unexpected for most, especially when looking at a category that is building a premium profile, indistinguishable from that of Single Malt Scotch whisky.

So, the next time someone asks you “Can Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey be made in a Column Still?” you know that the answer is “technically, yes!…. well part of it can be.”

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