Whisky Advocate

“Pure” Pot Still Irish whiskey is now “Single” Pot Still

January 26th, 2011

In case you missed it.  Pure pot still Irish whiskey is now being described at single pot still Irish whiskey. (See the label on Redbreast 15 year old.)

I used the old term during a recent issue of WhiskyNotes and Brendan Buckley, Category Development Director for Irish Distillers, was kind enough to remind me in an email he sent me. I’m posting it below because he explains why the change was made.

Hi John,

Just perusing the latest newsletter and I noticed that you described the latest Midleton releases as ‘pure pot still’ in your byline.

While the term ‘pure pot still’ has been the custom and practice of the Irish whiskey industry for, oh let me see, 200 odd years, it would appear that the TTB has taken umbrage with usage of the term ‘pure’ as it pertains to food and beverages.

This came to a head a few years back when we introduced Redbreast 15 to the US at which time we were obliged by the TTB to drop the prefix ‘pure’.

Arising from this, we opted to use the more industry (and arguably consumer) friendly prefix, ‘single’ to designate that the whiskey was a pot still whiskey from a single distillery.  Therefore, if you pick up a bottle of Redbreast 15 you will notice that the label reads ‘single’ rather than ‘pure’.

As a consequence, all of our new pot still releases are now described as ‘Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey’.

Redbreast 12 is still marketed in the US as a ‘pure pot still’ but this has been permitted under a grandfather ruling.  I should note that as part of a packaging upgrade project currently underway on Redbreast 12, we will in time transition all labels over to the new descriptor ‘single pot still’.

In truth, the TTB may have done us a favour by encouraging us to adopt a more widely recognised frame of reference and indeed this will be enshrined in new industry regulation which in underway under the auspices of the Irish Spirits Association.

Brendan Buckley

Thanks Brendan for the update and clarification!

35 Responses to ““Pure” Pot Still Irish whiskey is now “Single” Pot Still”

  1. mark davis says:

    I love red breast I try and give it to everyone I know that likes Irish whiskey. I don’t care what they call it or why it’s great whiskey.

  2. joe hyman says:

    does this just confuse things more? was it NOT ‘pure’ before? ‘single’ pot still, but ‘triple’ distilled…and as opposed to ‘single malt’…if they can put their egos aside, maybe the ttb and swa should get together and make some standard.

  3. JC Skinner says:

    No equivalent of the SWA in Ireland, Sam. And with the Bushmills issue (in another jurisdiction), it would be very hard to set one up that would have authority to legislate.
    IDL being owned by Pernod Ricard, and Bushmills by Diageo doesn’t help, insofar that the denomination of Irish whiskeys isn’t top of either multinational’s agenda.
    I believe the potstill issue has gone to Europe in order to become a DOC, and I know both IDL and Cooley have made submissions to the definition. Hopefully we’re coming near closure with this.

    • sam k says:

      Thanks JC, I appreciate your perspective on the question, though I thought that was probably the case. Man, I still want to know who trained your palate!!

  4. Erik M says:

    Wait a minute… I thought that RB 12 was being discontinued and replaced by RB 15. Now there’s just a packaging update?!? I’m so confused.

    • JC Skinner says:

      RB 12 isn’t being discontinued. Trust me, there’d be civil unrest in Ireland if they tried!
      The RB 15 was a one off for a French retailer, and it went viral, so to speak, and became really in demand. To fulfil the demand, IDL produced a second run of it, and it has been so popular that it looks like RB 15 is here to stay.
      Word on the street is that IDL are beginning to appreciate the interest and demand for PPS, and there may be some interesting developments forthcoming from them.
      Certainly the single cask Midletons emerging recently could be just the start of something wonderful for PPS fans.

      • Erik M says:

        Good! I’ve only seen the RB 15 in one liquor store so far and it’s almost double the price of the 12 yo so it makes me happy to hear that I don’t have to feel like I’m splurging every time I want a bottle of good Irish whiskey. Do you know if the folks at Midleton plan on increasing the strength and/or dropping chill filtration with the repackaging of the 12 yo?

        • EricH says:

          I’m not sure when it happened here but Redbreast 12 and 15 have gotten new packaging (announcement was around April) so they are both here to stay. Now IDL already announced earlier the launch of two new “Single” Pot Still whiskies earlier this year so it was a big shock when they announced yesterday the launch of Redbreast 12 CASK STRENGTH… at 57.7%. Now they are just spoiling us.

          • John Hansell says:

            If you look at more recent posts and reviews, we discuss this. And yes, we know about the cask strenght Redbreast. It is supposed to be here in February in the U.S.

  5. Gary says:

    Either way it stills tastes real good!

  6. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 is the cornerstone of truth-in-labeling legislation in the U.S., but since its passage the relevant regulatory bodies have frowned on the use of the word “pure” by anyone else. Whiskey labeling was one of the main drivers of that law and both distiillers and rectifiers wanted to call their product “pure.” Solomonically, it was decided that neither would be allowed to use it.

    • sam k says:

      Excellent point Chuck. “Pure” ryes and bourbons were everywhere before that legislation was enacted (even some from legitimate producers), and many “distilleries” (read: rotgut rectifiers) closed once those regulations began to be enforced.

      Solomonically? You are my vocabulary hero of the day!

  7. The Bitter Fig says:

    Single just seems like the wrong word, to me. It’s made from a combination of malted and unmalted barley, right? Traditional might work, but there would no doubt be someone complaining that the Middleton production methods are too modern, or some other nonsense.

    Out of fairness, I’ll point out that this isn’t directed only at the Irish, and I’m mildly annoyed by how the term “single malt” can sometimes be stretched by Scottish distillers. You can put something together which is chemically more like a vatted malt (different barley preparations, different stills, differently distilled), but because of being geographically bound, it’s a “single malt.”

    The stuff is all whisky, and I’d rather have a proper list of ingredients than all the marketing terms they’ll throw at us.

  8. JWC says:

    “Pure” or “single”, both the 12 yo and 15 yo are fantastic – everyone I’ve introduced them to love them.

  9. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    the French call a horse a “cheval” we Germans call a horse a “Pferd” – and it is a Pferd!

    Goodness how far does political correctness reach – not only in the land of the Free.

    Pure pot still Irish whiskey is a generic name which indicates a certain way and philosophy of making whisky.
    It is true that it is distilled in pot stills and is a “single” in the sense that it does come from one distillery.

    That distillery is Midleton and who knows how many stills are working in that distillery and how much sense does calling Midleton products “single” make???

    The SWA does not rule into Irish whiskey affairs but they might take notice of the way the word “single” is used now for pure pot still whiskey in the US.
    They tried to keep the Canadians from using the word “Glen”!

    Then there is the Bushmills issue. Irish single malt from Bushmills is a single pot still Irish whiskey as well but made from 100% malted barley. It is tripple distilled which sets it apart from most Scottish single malts. It is distilled in Ireland of course which draws a distinctive line to Scotland as well.

    Irish pure pot still whiskey is tripple distilled as well in pot stills but it is made from malted barley and un-malted barley grains which sets it apart from single malts. That is the generic part of the issue.

    And there is Cooley. They produce Irish single malt from 100% malted barley and distill only twice. They are known for calling those malts “pure pot still Irish whiskey”.

    They are right of course but misleading. Their malts are purely made in pot stills distilled twice without using un-malted barley grains. They are single as well coming from one distillery only as they are single malts – and not pure pot still whiskies.

    “Pure pot still whiskey” until now helped you to know what you have in your bottle. I do not believe that the new term ‘Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey’ will be of great help in any respect.

    But on the other hand I am not American.


    • George Jetson says:

      Sorry to disagree kallaskander, but Bushmills *is not* distlilled in Ireland. As the son of Ulster parents, I can assure you the distillery is located in the U.K.

      • kallaskander says:

        Hi there,

        coming form a once divided country I have a feeling there is a flaw in your thingking.

        But we discuss whiskey here. Sacrificing the term “pure” for Irish pure pot still whiskey is giving up the generic meaning as well I would say.


      • Of course this is all about how you define “Ireland”. You seem to deny that “Irleand” is also the geographical name of the island being occupied by both the Republic of Ireland and the UK. In your logic, there couldn’t have been any Irish whiskey before 1921 because it was all the UK.

        • JohnM says:

          It is distilled on the island of Ireland, the part of which is in the U.K. Why be petty about it?

          • George Jetson says:

            It’s not petty at all to the people living there… We should call Scotch, Great British whisky then by using your logic. The Island is called Great Britain.

          • Brendan says:


            My bottle of Bushmills 16 that I purchased at the distillery in County Antrim says “Product of Ireland.”

          • George, did you happen to notice that the official name of this part of the UK is “Northern Irleland”? Sounds Irish enough for me for the whiskey to be called Irish. Our should we settle on “North Irish” 😉

      • JC Skinner says:

        And as a proud Ulsterman, I am happy to accept that not only am I also Irish, being from the island of Ireland, but so is Bushmills, and they proudly proclaim so on every one of their bottles.
        We’re well past this sort of thing in Northern Ireland, so why perpetrate it elsewhere? Bushmills is Irish whiskey, always was and always will be, please God.
        I know from my many visits to the distillery that the proud British citizens whose Union flags fly high over the village have no problem whatsoever in describing themselves or their whiskey as Irish. Long may it remain so.

  10. George Jetson says:

    As long as the whiskey is still produced n the same way, I don’t really care what they call it. The term “pure” used to indicate that it is not a blend of barley and other grains. As long as the mash bill remains only malted and unmalted barley distilled in a batch pot still, I’m okay with that. It seems that the new moniker might open the door for other grains to be included as long as it is batch distilled in a pot from a single source.

    • JC Skinner says:

      I think the EU process will clarify that, George. The DOC is almost definitely going to specify malted and unmalted barley only as grain ingredients. If it doesn’t, I’d be amazed.

  11. I don’t get why someone could make a fuss about simple semantics. Nobody was unhappy when the term “pure malt” was abolished in Scotland because it could be used for vattings. I don’t see the problem when they want to avoid the same in Ireland.

  12. Oncho says:

    btw, there will be a new bottling of RB 15, which will be released in the next 4-5 months:)

  13. […] bottle of blended Irish whiskey. It is triple-distilled and is actually a blend comprised of pure (or single?!) pot still whiskey and a grain whiskey made from unmalted barley and other grains. The pure pot […]

  14. sam k says:

    John, Redbreast 15 has just been added in the People’s Republic of Pennsylvania as a special order item. NINETY TWO DOLLARS AND SIXTY NINE CENTS A BOTTLE!!!! Can’t wait for privatization.

  15. […] John Hansell pointed this out in a recent post on the always excellent What Does John Know, but it was something I also noticed right away upon opening my bottle of Redbreast 15 year old:  gone was the phrase “Pure Pot Still” that adorns the 12 year old bottle and in its place were the words “Single Irish Pot Still”. An ominous hush descended on the room, cold doubt gnawed me, a nameless fear gripped me…was this something different? I was so looking forward to a deeper, more mature version of the 12 year old, was the 15 year old not Pure Pot Still but just the usual “single malt” with some fancied-up text on the bottle? My world crumbled, expectations shattered, I turned to the only source of solace available to modern man, the internet. There I found my salvation, light filled the room and my spirit soared…oh elation, clutch me to your ample bosom! Redbreast 15 year old is indeed a pure pot still whiskey. But, then I thought, you know, what the hell, what gives with the wording change? Turns out it’s just another case of petty bureaucratic jockeying by the US Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB). Wait, you say, the TTB can be petty and bureaucratic? Shocking, I know, usually these government agencies run so reasonably and efficiently. […]

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