Catching up to their neighbors from across the pond, the Irish whiskey industry is growing fast.
Compared to Scotch whiskey, the Irish spirit is smooth and silky, but surprisingly still underrated even today.
With a delicate palate and light hues, top rated Irish whiskies are catching up to their Scottish neighbors.
Considered the fastest growing spirit on the planet, it has increased in popularity worldwide in the last three decades.
Uisce Beatha, or Water of Life in Gaelic, has some unique characteristics that sets them apart from other whiskies. Difficult to reproduce elsewhere in the world, Irish whiskey is easy on the throat and has less of a burn than
the Scottish whiskey, for example.
What is Irish Whiskey?
All spirits must abide by strict laws and regulations, and the Irish whiskey is no exception. First things first, and that goes without saying, it has to be distilled and matured in Ireland.
Then it has to come from a mash made of malted cereals, which has been fermented and transformed into yeast.
After that it has to be distilled at the most 94.8% ABV, and the aging process has to be a minimum of three years in wooden casks. The end result has to contain a minimum of 40% ABV.
Irish Whiskey History
Legend has it that whiskey was first introduced in Ireland by traveling monks, who apparently then brought the production of whisky to Scotland. We don’t know for sure, but we do know that it dates back as far as the 17th and 18th century. During those times, Irish whiskey was considered superior to the Scottish one, and they had over 1,000 distilleries in Ireland.
But in the early 20th century, the production diminished tremendously due to many factors such as two world wars, a great depression, and so on. It got so bad that by 1975 only two distilleries remained.
Thankfully, Jameson distillery was still going strong. By exporting their products to the US and international markets Irish whiskey grew back in popularity. By the beginning of the 21st century, the production of whiskey picked up again, and it is predicted it will surpass sales of Scotch by 2030. That remains to be seen.
Single Malt Vs Blended Whiskey
There are a few types of Irish whiskies, but the two main ones are single malt, and then there’s the blended varieties. To be more precise, there are four categories:
- Single malt Irish whiskey is made from malted barley in a pot still at one single distillery.
- The single pot still is made using a mix of unmalted grain and malted barley.
- Single grain whiskey is made from continuous distillation in a coffee still or a column.
- Blended whiskey is a mixture of those types, the most affordable, and the most popular category.
That’s the short version. We won’t go into the long version, but we will add that the majority of Irish whiskies are made from a variety of grains and are generally triple distilled. Now, there are always exceptions to the rules, but they rarely use peat during production, so their spirit does not contain any smoky elements.
Some distilleries will play with the flavors, but Irish whiskies are generally grainy and nutty, a little bit sweet, but also very smooth. And it has a lighter hue that is closer to a pale straw color or a light amber.
Now, let’s take a look at the top 20 best Irish whiskey brands you can find today.
20. Celtic Cask
The Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin started bottling their own premium whiskey after years of selling liquor. Established in 2003 by Ally Alpine, they use veteran distilleries to release some pretty amazing expressions.
Give the Ocht 8 Single Malt 1991 or the Cuig Deag a try, you’ll understand what we mean.
19. The Irishman
Easy enough to drink for newbies, this expression is complex enough for the whiskey connoisseurs. It is a triple distilled liquor that is soft, sweet, and it comes with all kinds of notes that are pleasing on your palate.
Heavy on fruits, you will mostly notice the apricots and mangos. Great for sipping, it’s also good for mixing cocktails.
One of the best new distilleries around, they released a few Single Farm Origin Series single malts that are a must try. The company focuses on terroir while producing their whiskey, something not many other brands do.
Each expression is made using barley that was grown at one farm, and they analyze the way the terroir affects the whiskey’s taste. Then the spirit is aged in American and French oak casks.
17. The Dublin Liberties
A newcomer to the urban distilling scene, they source their liquid while the distillery awaits for their own spirit to mature. Carefully selected, it is finished in a variety of casks that give it unique characters, unlike any others.
Their ten year-old blend, named Copper Alley, for example, is a single malt that was finished in Oloroso sherry casks. Others worth noting are their 5-year old release, Oak Devil, along their 13-year-old single malt, Murder Lane.
16. Grace O’Malley
Another Irish blend that is fairly new to the scene, this blended whiskey is named after a pirate queen. Not only does the bottle carry an interesting history, but the quality of the spirit is also top notch. Their core expression was aged between three and ten years in French oak casks, but a few different varieties as well.
This blend contains 46% malt and 54% grain whiskey. Some of their other blends used cognac casks and ex-bourbon barrels for the aging process.
15. Blue Spot
Blue Spot is one of the newest distilleries that produces single pot still whiskey cask-strength bottled at 58.7% ABV. A reimagined 60 year old expression is matured in bourbon, madeira, and sherry casks for about seven years.
Their other offerings use a combination of wine or fortified wine barrels, which add a nice fruit flavor and spiciness to their spirits. All in all, it is a new release that is high proof with notes of black pepper, almond and mango.
14. Green Spot
A single pot still Irish whiskey that is made from the same distillery as Jameson, it has its own distinguished accord. Green Spot’s releases are aged and matured in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks.
From those casks, the whiskey gets a fruit-foward taste filled with dense aromas of toffee and vanilla. An all-around great offering that is produced for and sold by an independent wine merchant.
13. West Cork
This new independent distillery on the map was founded by Denis McCarthy, Ger McCarthy and John O’Connell in 2003, in West Cork, Ireland. They already become worthy of notice with impressive statements the likes of a 10-year-old Single Malt that is sweet, toasty and warm on the palate.
The Cask Strength blend, coming in at 124 proof has strength and strong flavors. Or the Stout Cask Irish Whiskey is another interesting combination.
This brand sources malt and grain whiskey from other reputable operations, while they do not have their own distillery. It’s still worthy of a mention though. Give the Vintage Grain a try, you’ll probably enjoy this single grain whiskey that was aged in bourbon barrels.
Among other popular statements you’ll find the Legacy Reserve lll, a 17-year-old single malt, which was finished in Cadillac casks.
For the gentlemen who love to drink their whiskey straight, this release from Tyrconnell is highly recommended. One of the most interesting whiskies you will ever try, the Madeira cask-finished bottle offers you a great finish.
You will mostly notice the prominent golden raisin and walnut notes, and you will get hints of caramel and spice as it goes down. The Portuguese sweetness is noticeable from all the years it spent in its casks during the aging process.
10. Midleton Very Rare
If you have some extra money for a splurge, this expression from Midleton is one of your best bets. An annual release, they differ in taste from year to year. With notes of ginger, baking spice, tobacco, and vanilla, the 2021 release is a blend of grain whiskey and pot still that was aged between 13 and 35 years.
For sure, the aging process has an impact on the price, but its special qualities also make it a great whiskey for sipping.
9. Tullamore Dew
The Original Tullamore Dew can be described as light and sweet, a spirit that’s filled with biscuit and fruity notes. This blended whiskey is a lighthearted, enjoyable sipping drink. Its prominent characteristics include blackcurrant, pear, and vanilla.
The flavors blend well together to give it a silky finish. Known for its rich aroma, it’s best when you add a few drops of water to it in order to bring out its flavor.
After 125 years away from operations, Teeling reopened its doors in Dublin back in 2015. They release a variety of excellent in-house distilled whiskies. Their main expression is Small Batch, but they also offer Single Pot Still, Single Grain, and Single Malt whiskies.
Let us just talk about the Small batch for just a second. The blend of malt and grain are aged in ex-bourbon barrels, then they are transferred to rum casks for an additional year.
7. J.J. Corry
Founded in 2015 by Louise McGuane, J.J. Corry is a whiskey bonder. Just in case you’re not sure what that entails, let us explain. The company sources freshly distilled whiskey from a few different distilleries, as well as some mature whiskey.
Then they blend it and age it in their own facilities. Their flagship blend has a rich fruitiness, with notes of herbs, pepper and vanilla. The average age of the blend varies between 7 and 26 years.
Offering a complex palate, this double-barrel whiskey from Gelndalough was first aged in American bourbon barrels and to finish off the process, it ended in Spanish Oloroso Sherry casks.
That gives it a memorable flavor, and the notes of buttery fudge, white chocolate, and vanilla are noticeable. First, you will take notice of the butter and caramel notes, and finish with marmalade and blackberry hints.
Probably the most ubituquos distillery to come from Ireland, Jameson is the one that stood the test of time. Their offerings are varied, but they are very accessible. You can try a few of their expressions, such as the Caskmates Editions por Black Barrel, both so different from each other, but so delicious.
Then there’s the Jameson 18, which can probably be considered their flagship spirit. Aged for almost two decades in European and American oak barrels, they are finished in first-fill bourbon barrels.
4. The Devil’s Keep
This single malt Irish Whiskey from The Devil’s Keep is an ultra premium bottle of spirit. The distillery only released 333 bottles of this release, making it all the more special. The 29-year-old age statement was aged in a combination of different casks, from ex-bourbon barrels, to French oak, and to finish the last stretch, virgin Hungarian wine barrels.
The expensive price tag is justified, but the packaging is also responsible. It comes in a locked case along a carafe of water that comes from the region the whiskey was distilled at, along with a few other accessories.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get great quality Irish whiskey. Appealingly rich with a warming taste, this blended whiskey has elements of vanilla and fresh fruits. The finishing hint of sweet honey will appeal to your taste buds as it goes down smoothly.
Produced in Northern Ireland, Bushmills also offers a variety of single malts in their repertoire. The Original is their flagship spirit, with a core range that consists of 10, 16, and 21 year-old whiskies that were aged in different cask types.
One of the best single pot still Irish whiskies on the market, Redbreast is a shining example of excellence. Their 12 year old expression was aged for 12 years in a combination of bourbon barrels and Oloroso sherry casks. Made from a mash bill of unmalted and malted barley, it is distilled at a single distillery in pot stills.
The resulting taste is their trademark dried fruit and Christmas cake profile. The spirit’s creaminess, fruitiness and spiciness makes it one of the favorites of many. It is great neat, but you can also enjoy it on the rocks, or even mixed in cocktails.
1. Knappogue Castle
Knappogue Castle might be the distillery that produces some of the best 12, 12, 16, and 21 year-old expressions on the market. If you don’t take our word for it, just try it for yourself. They are all matured in bourbon barrels, although they differ in the combinations of the sherry casks the company uses for their different years. Let’s take their 16-year-old, for example.
It is intriguing with its no peat flavor, triple distilled, and aged in sherry and bourbon barrels. The result is a well-rounded whiskey that has a slight sweet aroma and a creamy finish. It is smooth and complex, with a deep amber-gold coloring.
This sums up our version of the top 20 best Irish Whiskey brands out there. You can find amongst those some whiskeys for every taste and budget. Do you have any that you prefer from this list?
- What is Irish Whiskey?
- Irish Whiskey History
- Single Malt Vs Blended Whiskey
- 20. Celtic Cask
- 19. The Irishman
- 18. Waterford
- 17. The Dublin Liberties
- 16. Grace O’Malley
- 15. Blue Spot
- 14. Green Spot
- 13. West Cork
- 12. Egan’s
- 11. Tyrconnell
- 10. Midleton Very Rare
- 9. Tullamore Dew
- 8. Teeling
- 7. J.J. Corry
- 6. Glendalough
- 5. Jameson
- 4. The Devil’s Keep
- 3. Bushmills
- 2. Redbreast
- 1. Knappogue Castle