Whisky might make you think of Scotland but Ireland has a rich history of distilling and produces world class drams, as this best Irish whiskey guide showcases.
In fact, Ireland was the first place in the British Isles to distil, and Irish whiskey was once the most popular spirit in the world. The word 'whiskey' (let’s not get into the whisky without an ‘e’ debate here) comes from ‘uisce beatha’, meaning ‘water of life’ in Gaelic.
UPDATE: We've added three new whiskies to our best Irish whiskey guide. Bottles from Kinahan's, Sailor's Home and JJ Cory have all made the list!
Following a huge decline in the late 19th century, to just three distilleries, Irish whiskey has been on the up. It is the fastest growing spirit in the world, well-known for its smooth and creamy taste - typically due to being triple distilled.
This rise isn’t just due to big names like Jameson and Bushmills, although they deserve a lot of credit. There’s a lot of choice now, whether you’re wanting something special or to sip on a regular basis.
Best Irish whiskey
1. Sailor's Home - The Haven
With a far bigger mouth feel than we were expecting, Sailor's Home - The Haven is a joy of a whiskey. It's a single pot still Irish whiskey, made with malted and unmalted Irish barley and oats, which gives it a really distinctive taste. There's a good dollop of cream that is peppered with subtle spice. We taste tested this, virtually, while catching up with Conor Foley who owns the newly refurbished Kelly's Dispensary in Liverpool. The bar will be using the whiskey for its pre-prepared cocktails - so an essential visit then once the pubs are back up and running.
2. Redbreast - 12
As featured in our main best whisky list, Redbreast 12 is a classic in the world of Irish whiskey.
It’s an example of a smooth triple distilled single pot whiskey but packs in all kinds of flavour, partly thanks to a finishing combination of bourbon and sherry casks. Think Christmas cake with spice, dried fruit, marzipan and lots more.
3. Yellow Spot
Green Spot might be a classic but Yellow Spot is a special expression following 12 years of maturation in a combination of bourbon, sherry and malaga casks.
The result is a sweeter dram with a fuller body, plenty of peachy tropical fruit flavour balanced with woody spices like nutmeg and liquorice. Easily one of the most interesting Irish whiskeys around.
4. Bushmills - 16
Busmills still makes small batch whiskey after 400 years of history. This one is aged in three different types of wood to explore the influences of cask maturation.
The combination of bourbon, port and sherry is unusual and at 16 years old this is both dark and rich. Layers of flavour bring spices, dried fruit, honey, peaches and pine for something quite special.
5. The Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey
Made by the folks behind The Dubliner Irish Whiskey, Dead Rabbit is a great blend of 5 year old whiskey that's been matured in ex-bourbon barrels, which has then been finished in 'half-sized' virgin American oak barrels. The result is a really well-balanced whiskey that has vanilla notes and ends with a black pepper heat
6. Jameson - Caskmates Fourpure Edition
Typically it’s beer you find being aged in whisky barrels but this is the reverse. The infamous Jameson distillery has pulled it off, where Glenfiddich didn’t quite manage it.
This triple distilled whiskey has been finished in barrels seasons by Fourpure's Shapeshifter IPA. You get the well-known smoothness of Jameson and a genuine fruity aroma of hops with some impact on the taste, too.
7. Teeling - Small Batch
An initial smooth vanilla profile common among Irish whiskeys gives way to more complex notes of salted caramel and spices while remaining creamy and moreish. This is thanks to a combination of bourbon and rum cask maturation.
Teeling's Small Batch tastes great neat, but make sure you try it in cocktails and things like Irish coffee.
8. Tullamore DEW - Rum Cask
If you also like rum, get your taste buds round this edition of Tullamore DEW. The original blend of pot still, malt and grain Irish whiskies has been finished in first fill Caribbean rum casks.
There’s a lot going on with flavours of mango, pineapple, spice, oak and caramel.
9. Kinahan’s - The Kasc Project
Spirits are typically aged in casks of the same wood but The Kasc Project aims to push the boundaries by maturing the whiskey in a ‘hybrid cask’ made of five different types: Portuguese, American, French and Hungarian oak, along with chestnut.
These different barrel staves contribute a wide range of flavours from vanilla to nutmeg. The result is a 43% whiskey that comprises complex deep amber nectar with a fruity nose, syrupy but charred taste with a spicy finish.
10. JJ Cory - The Gael
The Gael, named after the bicycle JJ invented, is something of a precursor for what Chapel Gate aims to offer with its own whiskey once it’s ready as it looks to bring back the lost art of ‘whiskey bonding’.
This is a blend made up of rare mature Irish Whiskey up to 26 years old (60% malt, 40% grain) and delivers a smooth and sweet dessert-like experience. It’s like eating a bowl of peaches covered in honey, biscuit crumbs and cream finishing with citrus and spice.
11. Midleton - Method and Madness Single Grain
You might know Midleton’s single pot whiskey, but the Method and Madness series provides a chance for experimentation.
This single grain edition is aged in bourbon casks followed by virgin Spanish oak. Sweetness and woody spices interplay with zesty grapefruit peel with a hint of mint on the finish. Something unusual if you don’t want a classic example.
12. Roe & Co
This blended whiskey, named after Irish Whiskey pioneer George Roe, hails from Dublin and we love the stylish bottle, complete with wooden top.
It’s made from a range of Irish malt and grain whiskeys and aged in bourbon casks. The result is a moreish sweet dram with a big hit of vanilla, notes of apples, pears and a hint of spice.
13. Connemara Peated
A whiskey roundup wouldn’t be complete without something for the peatheads out there. Named after the area where it’s made, Connemara is a great example and won’t break the bank.
You get plenty of smoke on the nose with a hint of heather but the taste is thick like syrupy honey, almost like a liqueur. Sweet and smokey from start to finish, Islay fans will not be disappointed.
14. The Sexton Single Malt
If we were judging on bottle alone, then The Sexton Single Malt would win hands down, but it's obviously the liquid we are interested and we're pleased to tell you that this is the full package. It hits you with caramel and marshmallows, then a citrus zest takes over the mouth, finishing with a honey sweetness. Alex Thomas is one of only a few female master blenders in the industry - to the industry's shame - and she's created something special here.
15. The Pogues - Single Malt
The first whiskey from The Pogues (yes, the band) was a blend, and now we have this single malt edition distilled in collaboration with West Cork Distillers.
Striking red bottle aside, this is an excellent value for money single malt with an intensely raw aroma and a taste to match. It’s quite dry and savoury with a biscuity flavour along with nuts and spice.
- Get more recommendations in our best whisky shortlist, which also includes Scottish whisky and bourbon.