glass whiskey decanter

American Whiskey vs. Irish Whiskey

While Americans across the country will raise a glass—or two—on St. Patrick’s Day, you might be wondering whether you should be drinking Irish or American whiskey on this high-spirited holiday. In fact, you may wonder what the difference is between the two as well as which one might be the best to keep in your glass whiskey decanter.

If you think that drinking American whiskey ruins the spirit of the holiday, you’ll be pleased to know that the Irish in America started new traditions in this country after fleeing theirs for religious freedom and freedom from hunger. Their uniquely American traditions for celebrating this holiday and their flight for freedom make American whiskey the perfect spirit to honor their—well—spirit, but Irish whiskey has a body and a taste all its own. Its unique qualities make it a great choice as well.

Whether you have Irish in your blood or not, feel free to fill your whiskey glass with something special from across the pond or closer to home, and if you’re not entirely sure which whiskey to select, this post walks you through the differences between the whiskeys and helps you decide which you might enjoy the best when reveling on St. Patrick’s Day.

glass whiskey decanter

What’s the Difference Between Irish and American Whiskey?

If you’re new to whiskey, you may not realize that these delicious amber spirits have some distinct qualities, and if you’re preparing to have some fun on St. Patrick’s Day, you may believe you can only choose Irish whiskey.

However, St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t always the energetic and animated party atmosphere that is celebrated today. In fact, the lack of solemnity is a purely American trait as the Irish in America celebrated in high spirits compared to their families back home.

So you don’t have to choose Irish whiskey simply because it’s an Irish holiday. Americans added the party atmosphere you experience today, which means you can certainly keep the spirit of the holiday no matter which you choose.

Since you have a choice, you can decide which one will look and taste best from your glass whiskey decanter after you understand some of the differences between each type of whiskey:

  • Ingredients: The most obvious difference between Irish and American whiskey is the main ingredient. Irish whiskey uses barley while American whiskey uses rye, corn, or wheat. While the early colonists had access to English barley as easily as they did rye, the rye took to the soil quicker and flourished. On the other hand, barley took a while to acclimate to the conditions of the New World. So rye became a distinctly American ingredient that separates it from other whiskeys. In fact, it was using rye that led to so many uniquely American types, such as bourbon.
  • Time for aging: Some believe that the longer whiskey ages the better it becomes, and if you follow that line of thinking, then Irish whiskey should be your drink of choice. Irish whiskey ages longer than American whiskey. The Irish age their whiskey for three years, but Americans age it for about two years. After all, when they stepped foot onto the New World, they brought a limited supply of ale with them. When that ran out, we’re guessing good ol’ American ingenuity and self-reliance kicked in, which caused them to create their own version. If so, they may not have wanted to wait long to raise a glass!
  • Different types: Irish whiskey only has a few different types based on its distillation process. From single malt, single pot, and blended, Irish whiskey has fewer types than its American counterpart. On the other hand, the various American types are a picture of the unique ideas and independent spirit that founded this great nation. From bourbon whiskey to Tennessee whiskey, you see variations based on the landscape from which it is produced. Many American whiskey types, including rye, corn, and wheat whiskey were variations that flourished because of the natural resources available in particular locations.

glass whiskey decanter

While many consider Irish whiskey the classic whiskey, Americans have put their stamp on the whiskey business, offering a different process as well as ingredients that make it distinct from other whiskeys from around the world.

Does American or Irish Whiskey Taste Better?

If you’re still undecided based on aging or ingredients, it comes down to taste. Each type of whiskey has a distinct flavor, but if sales are any indicator, American whiskey tastes the best. Here’s what makes them different:

  • Irish whiskey: Irish whiskey, with its long aging process, produces a smoother taste. Irish whiskey is also aged in old barrels, sometimes even old whiskey barrels, and many think this gives the whiskey a sweeter profile and lighter flavor than its American counterpart.
  • American whiskey: American uses charred barrels to age whiskey, and that gives American whiskey a slight sweetness but a distinct smokiness not found in other whiskey types. Since many also “taste with their eyes,” they enjoy the flavor of American whiskey because of the clear, new look it has when poured.

Regardless of whether you prefer the smooth, slightly sweet taste of Irish whiskey or crave the unique, smoky flavor of its American counterpart, the perfect pairing goes a long way when complementing a meal. While some experts say you should only drink whiskey straight, you can’t go wrong if you pair whiskey with just the right food:

  • Light whiskey pairs perfectly with spicy seafood as the tangy seafood complements the sweetness of the whiskey.
  • Medium whiskey works wonderfully with grilled meats, so think bourbon for your next barbecue.
  • Full-bodied whiskey blends best with rich, fatty meals, such as duck and salmon

From searching for religious liberty to seeking freedom from hunger, the Irish know a thing or two about how precious freedom is. So toasting your friends on St. Patrick’s Day gives a nod to those who love and appreciate the freedom America has to offer. As we draw closer to St. Patrick’s Day, you can fill your glass whiskey decanter with either Irish or American whiskey and enjoy the lively revelry we know today that celebrates this traditionally Irish holiday in a uniquely American way.

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