Irish whiskey is often referred to be the "lightest and smoothest whiskey" by whiskey connoisseurs. It's quite light and has a wonderful flavor, and because it's so easy to drink, it's ideal for those just getting started with whiskey.
Irish Whiskey is one of the earliest whiskeys to be distilled, dating back to the 12th century. It regained popularity in the 19th century after a period of decline.
In the past few years, Irish whiskey sales have been greatly increasing, making it now one of the best-selling spirits in the world. Cases sales in the United States totaled 4.7 million in 2018.
A Brief History of Irish Whiskey
The oldest known record of Irish whiskey goes back to 1405, roughly 90 years before the first known record of Scotch whiskey was written.
While traveling 1500 years ago, Irish missionary monks developed the process of distillation. When they returned to Ireland, they put their newly acquired skills to the test by distilling alcohol.
As far back as the 16th, 17th, 18th, and up until the 19th-century, Irish whiskey was one of the world's most sought-after beverages. At its peak, the island had 88 licensed distilleries. Dublin was a whiskey metropolis in the nineteenth century, producing ten million gallons of whiskey per year, making it five times more popular than anything made in Scotland at the time.
However, the twentieth century posed several challenges to the category. When the world was at war, it was forbidden to use barley or coal for non-military purposes. As a result of these tough times, Irish whiskey producers and drinkers in the United Kingdom were classified as "rebels" by the British people, resulting in a decline in whiskey consumption across the British Empire.
Then came Prohibition, enacted in 1919 and lasting until 1933, eliminated our greatest export market. Then came WWII and a devastating trade war with Britain that practically shut down the whole British Empire, including India, Canada, and Australia as a market. A Scotch whisky boom was the final nail in the coffin.
Back then, nothing good could be said about Irish whiskey. In addition, only the distilleries of Jameson, John Powers & Sons, Paddy Irish Whiskey, Tullamore DEW, and Bushmills survived.
They realized they couldn't accomplish it alone and had to stop competing and start collaborating. In 1966, they established the Irish Distillers Group, resurrecting Irish whiskey.
Pernod Ricard acquired the Irish Distillers Group in 1988 and undertook a big marketing and sales push to bring Jameson back to prominence. At the same time, John Teeling opened Cooley Distillery on Ireland's north coast, creating two major players in the industry.
Things have changed dramatically since the late 1980s when there were just two large whiskey makers. After a downturn over the 20th century, Irish whiskey has recently received much interest. The number of distilleries in the US is increasing. Every month it seems a new distillery opens, making its own unique brew. We believe that a real renaissance is taking place right now, and it's a great time to discover what Irish whiskey you like.
What should you expect from Irish Whiskey?
Irish whiskey must meet certain criteria before it can be labeled "Irish Whiskey," in addition to the fact that it is made in the country of Ireland. First and foremost, it must be made in Ireland. Second, it must contain at least 40% alcohol by volume. As a final step, it must be matured for at least three years in oak barrels with a volume of 700 liters or less (185 US Gallons).
Although it is most recognized for its smooth taste, which includes undertones of vanilla, Irish whiskey has a distinctive flavor profile. In general, it is described as light and fruity, with a characteristic cereal grain flavor. Being aged in oak barrels also adds the distinctive whiskey oakiness and caramel flavor that has come to be associated with it.
Knowing the different types can also help you determine the ones you like.
Types of Irish Whiskey:
- Blended: Blends account for 90 percent of all Irish whiskey production. They are, by far, the most popular. These are a blend of at least two different whiskey types sourced from Irish distilleries. Blended whiskey is available from a variety of brands, including Jameson, Tullamore, and Bushmills.
- Single Malt: This whiskey is made from 100 percent malted barley and is distilled in a pot still by a single distillery. In Ireland, it is typically, but not always, triple distilled. After distillation, whiskey is matured in barrels such as ex-bourbon, sherry casks, and virgin oak to generate most of its flavor.
- Single Pot Still: This whiskey, once known as "pure pot still," is a distinctively Irish whiskey produced in a single distillery in a pot still from a mash bill of malted and unmalted barley. As a result, the whiskey has a spicy flavor and a somewhat slick mouthfeel.
- Single Grain: Single grain whiskeys, or simply grain whiskeys, are prepared at a single distillery using continuous column stills with a blend of grains. These grains may contain up to 30% malted barley, corn, wheat, or unmalted barley. The ultimate result is a whiskey that's a tad sweeter but also more versatile in cocktails.
You're undoubtedly eager to start your journey into Irish Whiskey. Onto the list!
Best Irish whiskey for beginners
Because there are so many options and distilleries releasing newer, younger variations, it may be hard to select the right whiskey to start with. So, with that in mind, here are ten Irish whiskeys you can enjoy at a reasonable price and be proud to have in your collection.
Teeling Whiskey Small Batch
This familiar bottle comes from a resurrected legacy brand that is also Dublin's first new distillery in 125 years.
Walter Teeling founded a small artisan distillery on Marrowbone Lane in Dublin's industrial area in 1782. In 2015, Jack and Stephen Teeling proudly built the new Teeling Whiskey Distillery just down the road from where the old family distillery once stood.
This Irish Whiskey defies the accepted definition of what an Irish Whiskey should be like, thanks to unconventional cask aging processes. First, grain and malt whiskeys are aged in hand-selected ex-bourbon barrels before being combined for up to 12 months in Central American Rum casks for a unique, dried fruit flavor, a woody aroma, and a hint of spice on the palate.
At just $40, it’s a great place for beginners to start yet delivers a ton of flavor and quality for the money.
Jameson Irish Whiskey
A great choice for beginners and whiskey enthusiasts, Jameson Irish Whiskey is a smooth whiskey with a perfectly balanced combination of spices, nuts, and vanilla.
Jameson doesn't scrimp on quality ingredients, sourcing only the best for its whiskey's three essential components. They use flowing water from the Dungourney River, barley cultivated by local farmers for decades, and maize that’s been grown in the Bayonne region of southern France. Before bottling, it is triple distilled and aged in white oak barrels for at least five years.
It is also one of the few whiskeys produced from a combination of malted and unmalted barley. The use of unmalted barley is a long-standing Irish tradition that Jameson believes contributes to the smooth taste.
As one of the most well-known names in Irish whiskey, you'll find this recognizable green bottle in practically every bar and liquor store throughout the world. It's also reasonably priced, making it an excellent choice for those who are just starting out. Whether you mix it into a cocktail or sip it straight, this one will not disappoint.
Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
Green Spot has been a wonderful introduction for so many to the pot still whiskey and continues to be many whiskey connoisseurs’ first choice. It was created in the 1800s, when Mitchell & Sons, a Dublin-based wine merchant, launched Green Spot as an independent bottling.
The Mitchell family's practice of noting the ages of their whiskey barrels inspired the name "spot." A barrel with a green spot signifies a certain age, whereas a barrel with a blue spot suggests a different one. The green-spotted barrel has clearly stood the test of time, and it today preserves its legacy as a blend of single pot still whiskeys aged in both ex-bourbon barrels and sherry casks.
A bourbon-style spirit with a lighter body, it's practically made for easy drinking. There are notes of pears and green apples on the palate, as well as vanilla, honey, and caramel on the nose. Sip it with a single large ice cube to amplify the crisp, fruity aromas of the spirit, and turn it into a refreshing cocktail.
Redbreast 15 Year Old Irish Whiskey
On the higher end of the spectrum is the Redbreast 15-Year-Old Single Pot Still. We promise that this is one of the best rish whiskeys you'll ever try, with a range of complex flavors you'll enjoy experiencing.
It's made using malt and unmalted barley in a single pot still, and it's aged in oak barrels for at least two years. Afterward, it goes through three stages of precipitation in a copper container, and then 15 years of fermentation.
Although it has a high alcohol concentration of 46 percent, Redbreast 15-Year-Old nonetheless has a charming flavor that spans from malty to caramel. In addition, there are fruit flavors that vary from drinker to drinker, making it an enjoyable experience for rookies.
Redbreast 15-Year-Old is very vibrant and refreshing. On the nose, you might also detect honey and vanilla and fruits like peaches and nectarines in addition to green spices and peppers in the aroma. Others might detect traces of cucumber, green melon, or kiwi which goes to show how complex it is.
Another option that is easier to drink but still excellent is the Redbreast 12 Year Old Scotch Whisky. If you're a whiskey novice searching for a bottle to drink neat and are seeking the best next step in your Irish whiskey adventure, Redbreast 12 Year Old is a terrific option from the same distillery. Comforting, with a hint of fruit, and flecked with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, it's a flavor that's easy to enjoy.
Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey
One of the more intriguing whiskeys out there, Bushmills Black Bush is a unique smooth blend from malt whiskey aged in ex-Oloroso Sherry barrels paired with a sweet, batch-distilled grain whiskey. From the first sip, you'll note the deep amber hue that comes from the whiskey's seven-year maturation in Spanish oloroso sherry casks and sweet bourbon casks.
Bushmills Black Bush's rich fruit flavors and deep, powerful character are complemented by a remarkable smoothness thanks to this remarkable recipe's unique ingredients. This 80 percent malt whiskey glides down your throat with rich, velvety fruit overtones. On the nose, Bushmills Black Bush gives you aromas of dried fruit, raisins, and Christmas cake to fill the air, with a lingering sweetness from the Sherry.
Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey
Tullamore Dew is the world's second most popular Irish whiskey after Jameson. It’s a citrus-forward whiskey that makes it a great option for novices who want a fruitier drink. Try it with ginger or even paired with Irish coffee. Either way will be enjoyable. It’s got 40% alcohol, is very accessible, and is relatively low priced. With its smooth taste and affordable price, you might just make this your everyday whisky.
Using a combination of ex-sherry and bourbon barrels, this one is matured to perfection. This procedure imparts a particular smoothness to the whiskey, contributing to its global acclaim. It gives off a pale amber color with an orange tinge. It’s got a mild blend of spicy, lemony, and malty notes with charred wood undertones. It’s warm on the palate and finishes smooth.
Tullamore D.E.W. Caribbean Rum Cask Finish Irish Whiskey
If you want to explore something a little bit more fun and fresh on the palate, the Emerald Isle’s distinctive spirit explores a unique combination of fruity flavors in the Tullamore D.E.W. Caribbean Rum Cask Finish. Aged in demerara rum barrels gives it a distinctive Caribbean island aroma, signature tropical fruit, and toasty spice flavors.
On the nose, it’s very pleasant with notes of ripe pineapple, bananas, chocolate, and caramel coupled with a tinge of coconut to bring the image of the Caribbean islands home. This is still an Irish whiskey, though, with its cereal backbone, sharp, crisp flavors, and toasted finish.
You’ll be sure to enjoy a unique experience with this eccentric whiskey that even works in cocktails traditionally made with rum (such as a Piña Colada or a Mai Tai).
The Irishman Small Batch Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Going back to your more conventional Irish whiskey, The Irishman Single Malt is your classic, smooth Irish Malt that's been triple distilled and aged in both Sherry and ex-Bourbon barrels, giving it an exceptional flavour and complexity.
The whiskey is light and fruity on the nose. There are notes of sugar, honey aromas as well as some vanilla. On the palate, there is an abundance of peaches, crumbled biscuits, and almonds. There's definitely some bourbon influence, bringing some of those peppery notes to the whiskey. The finish is very lengthy and concludes with a lovely wood flavor.
With a reference to its artisan origins, The Irishman Single Malt comes from a small batch production, with each batch being limited to a maximum of 6,000 bottles. You'll know you're receiving one of the finest Irish whiskey there is, as each bottle of The Irishman Single Malt carries a batch number and signature as a symbol of the highest quality.
How to Drink Irish Whiskey
When it comes to drinking Irish whiskey, just about anything goes because of its smoothness and drinkability.
Whiskey novices may want to consider diluting it first though. Either a few drops or asking for half water, half whiskey can do. Drinking whiskey with water enhances the flavor by releasing scents and flavors you wouldn't receive from drinking whiskey straight. With time, you'll learn how much water you prefer, or you may end up going neat or with just a few drops of water.
For more seasoned drinkers, it's perfect to drink neat or on the rocks. If you prefer your drinks chilled, use only high-quality ice to prevent the flavor from being tainted.
In Irish Coffee
Make your own Irish coffee by combining the Irish whiskey of your choice with coffee, sugar, and cream.
As A Cold Remedy
A supposed cure-all for the illness, the hot toddy is a drink that’s mostly made out of whiskey. Add some honey, herbs, and spices, and serve it steaming hot. On a cozy rainy day, it makes for the perfect drink to sip.
As Part of a Cocktail
Whiskey, as you may know, may be used in a wide variety of cocktails. Classic drinks such as the Manhattan, Whiskey Sour, and John Collins are amongst many drinkers’ favorites. But there are other options as well such as an Irish Pickleback or a Mint Julep.
Obviously, it goes well with food, particularly traditional Irish fare but you can also explore different combinations such as a cheese board with the Teeling Single Malt for a lot of character and flavor, or The Irishman Single Malt with Smoked Salmon.
The options are unlimited when you have a fine bottle of Irish whiskey on hand.