Like most countries with a rich history of whiskey-making – whether it’s America, Scotland, Japan or further afield – Ireland has its own traditional ways of doing things, with the classic approach deriving from the use of a single pot still. Purists might also demand a triple distillation from a combination of malted and unmalted barley, and request that the still is made from copper.
These methods and ingredients tend to produce smooth whiskeys with a lighter flavour than a typical Scotch, making them popular with those looking to try whiskey for the first time.
But Irish distillers aren’t restricted to this style and, in line with producers from around the world, they’re increasingly willing to experiment with production methods and the all-important profiles of casks used to age their whiskeys.
If you’re looking to purchase a new bottle of Irish whiskey – perhaps to see how the traditional style compares with your favourite Scotch, or to find a new drink with which to celebrate St Patrick’s Day – then we’ve put together this list of ten top tipples.
We spent a few weeks sampling whiskeys, comparing our old favourites with releases we had not previously tried. We were looking for drinks that exemplify the easy-sipping qualities that Ireland is known for, and those that are taking the product in an exciting direction.
Among them you’ll find some of the most famous names in the whiskey world, producing great-value and style-defining classics, alongside producers eager to push the whiskey boundaries. We’re confident that, whatever your preferences, there’s at least one bottle here that will give you a taste for Irish whiskey.
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Method and Madness single pot still, 46%
There’s nothing unusual about the casks used to mature this whiskey – sherry and bourbon – but the French chestnut used to finish it is certainly a rarity. It’s a richly fruity drink, with stewed apple and booze-soaked raisins in the mix, all dusted with vanilla sugar. Let it swirl around in your mouth and you will experience enlivening tiny prickles of spice before some satisfying tannic wood flavours reveal themselves at the finish. An outstanding whiskey.
Writers' Tears copper pot whiskey, 40%
If you’re new to whiskey then Ireland is a great place to start, with this blend of pot still whiskey and single malt being a prime example of the light and easy-drinking style the country excels at. It’s soft and sweet, with a brief swell of stem ginger heat that fades to leave some subtle flavours of lightly toasted nuts.
The Dublin Liberties copper alley, 46%
This is the second release in the Dublin Liberties Irish whiskey range, which sees a 10-year-old single malt finished in oloroso sherry casks. It follows Ireland’s theme of quaffable whiskey, but with a few richer, deeper flavours poking their way in. In particular we noticed some nutty, chocolatey hints joining sweeter notes of honey, orange and vanilla, with the darker shades of the chocolate lingering at the finish.
Redbreast 27 year old, 54.8%
Irish single pot still whiskey doesn’t come much better than the Redbreast range and, with a 27-year maturation, this reaches the heights of luxury. The casks used are a combination of bourbon, sherry and ruby port which impart a figgy, fruity richness and a warm, leathery spiciness. It’s a lavishly jammy beast, loaded with overripe cherries and plums that also feature some juicy, tropical heat which helps keep the flavour alive on your tastebuds for a long while.
Bushmills black bush, 40%
Hugely popular, easy to find and sold at a bargain price – if you ever need a crowd-pleasing whiskey in a hurry, you can’t go far wrong with black bush. It’s a blended drink and the first thing you notice is a sweet aroma from the maturation in sherry casks. The taste is similarly sweet and smooth with cinnamon and vanilla spice adding to the rich fruitiness, while some grain and tannic flavours add to its warmth and depth.
Green Spot chateau montelena finish, 46%
This pot still whiskey has been finished in casks that previously contained red zinfandel from the Napa Valley – and it certainly has a sunny, Californian disposition to it, from the orange glow of the liquid to the warming white pepper and ginger spice to the taste. Initially creamy with sweet vanilla, those spicier notes soon appear with some sharper lemon and berry flavours brightening it up before a dry finish.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company Irish single malt #1 14 year old, 46.6%
Independent bottler That Boutique-y Whisky Company has got its hands on an excellent unnamed source of Irish single malt which it has been releasing in limited-edition batches to much acclaim. There’s a splendid sweet citrus lightness to these whiskeys that works in harmony with deeper flavours of milky coffee and pecan nuts, with the latest 14-year-old release developing some richly sweet notes that shine throughout.
Connemara peated single malt whiskey, 40%
Peated whiskey isn’t as common in Ireland as it is in Scotland, but fans of smoky booze will be pleased to know that Connemara is easy to track down and offers a suitably peaty sip. The smoke is of the kippery kind and, although it announces itself in a flash, it never overpowers the light, honeyed, floral notes of the whiskey. There’s an extra lick of hot smoke at the finish which helps those sweet peat flavours linger on.
Glendalough double barrel single grain, 42%
This is a single-grain whiskey from Wicklow that has been introduced to two barrels – bourbon initially, before being finished in an oloroso sherry variety. It’s a creamy drop featuring a fine array of flavours, with the peppery grain and bourbon-cask ageing edging it towards American whiskey territory. Meanwhile, the sweet dried fruit and sherry notes pull it back closer to home. This is a distinctive drink that would be comfortable served neat or as part of a cocktail.
Kinahan’s the kasc project Irish whiskey, 43%
Kinahan has injected a myriad of flavours into this whiskey by crafting casks from five different types of wood – American, French, Hungarian and Portuguese oaks, along with chestnut. The result is an outstanding whiskey that could instigate a game of flavour bingo: cinnamon, nutmeg, sweet pastry, apricot and herbs are just some that will fill your card, while a load of woody notes steadily percolate and bristle throughout. A highly successful whiskey experiment – and great value too.
The verdict: Irish whiskeys
From Bushmill’s black bush bargain to the luxuriously expensive Redbreast 27, Ireland offers a full range of whiskeys for all tastes. But for our best buy, it's the Method and Madness single pot still – an outstanding Irish whiskey that has been elevated to new levels through an interesting choice of casks.
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