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Prep For St. Paddy’s With Our Irish Whiskey Blind Taste Test

Irish whiskey is an interesting beast. It’s very unique — triple distilled and often a blend of grain and malt spirits — while somehow still feeling familiar to lovers of other whiskey styles. Some Irish whiskeys taste like a bridge between Ireland and Scotland. Others seem to span Ireland and Kentucky. Of course, there are plenty of Irish whiskey expressions that speak for themselves and feel truly one-of-a-kind, but you’re still dealing with recognizable flavor notes.

To help you better understand the wide-ranging style that is Irish whiskey, I decided to blind taste test 12 distinct bottles from around the Emerald Isle. Yes, several of these are from Midleton Irish Distillers. That distillery is very hard to get away from when it comes to Irish whiskey. That being said, I tried to make this as wide-ranging and complete as possible. I even included a Poitin (Ireland’s answer to a white dog or un-aged whiskey).

This blind tasting is very simple. It’s all about the taste. Yes, some of these bottles have an advantage because I know them well, but I haven’t really tasted them side-by-side like this before — a blind taste test is always good for surprises.

Click the prices to order the expressions that look best to you!

Part 1: The Taste

Zach Johnston

Taste 1:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

There’s a dark chocolate note that leads to clear vanilla and toffee. This feels very sherried with notes of holiday spice and nuts leading towards an almost cedar note. The end is creamy and smooth.

It’s really nice.

Taste 2:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This greets you with a fragrant perfume next to rum-soaked oak. There’s a fruitiness that feels like … banana? A light maltiness dominates the taste with hints at rummy spice and rum-soaked raisins.

In the end, my note was “nice and light.”

Taste 3:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Woah. This is a departure. You’re greeted with a wet leather that’s almost like raw steak (it reminds me of Buffalo Trace, actually). That gives way to maltiness and vanilla that builds towards vanilla ice cream with a touch of spice and dark chocolate malt.

This is, by far, the most interesting dram so far.

Taste 4:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a spicy stewed apple that leads toward Maraschino cherry stems. The taste is so soft with hints at nuts, Christmas cake spice, and dark fruits with a touch of black pepper. The end is surprisingly short but full of spice and apple peels.

This is very good. I want more.

Taste 5:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Ah-ha! A little smoke. Hello, Connemara. The smoke here is earthy — like a light, wet moss — with hints of apple pie underneath. The taste is honey-laden, with a crisp smoke reminiscent of a cold fall day and wet leaves burning. There are clear vanilla and dark spice notes under the smoke.

In the end, this was a really nice change of pace and surprisingly subtle, for a peated whiskey. Would it stand up to a Scotch from Islay? I’m not so sure. It’s light.

Taste 6:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This is thin on the nose and palate. There’s a note of spicy rum that’s slightly woody and vanilla-forward. The end is malty more so than anything else, with a hint more of rum raisins, rum-soaked cellar wood, and a wisp of dry tobacco leaf.

This felt thin and a bit … singular.

Taste 7:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a clear dose of Christmas spices, nuts, and red berries with a dash of creamy vanilla. The taste is sherry plum that’s almost jammy and spiced with cloves and cinnamon. The end is long, velvety, and full of that sherry.

Classic.

Taste 8:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Wow! Apple candy dominates the nose on this one. It’s almost like a bright green apple Jolly Rancher. The taste veers completely away from that vibe, with a dark chocolate maltiness with hints of creamy honey. The end is short but sweet with a return to that apple candy.

Was this aged in apple cider barrels?

Taste 9:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Apple again. But this time it’s more muted and kind of like apple cores or seeds with a malty edge. The taste is like malt grains soaked in an egg custard with a touch of vanilla and nutmeg. But it’s really those malts that come through, with a slight alcohol burn and a mineral water feel.

This is unaged whiskey, so it’s no surprise it’s very malty.

Taste 10:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This is spicy/sweet like stewed pears with a touch of vanilla pod. The vanilla is super creamy and that spicy stewed pear note carries on in the taste with dry cedar end and a touch of tobacco chew and buzz.

This is the good stuff!

Taste 11:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted with the clearest sense of pencil shavings with a hint of the lead in there. That refines to a dry pine note next to a slight dried floral note and some citrus pith. The spice gets woody like cinnamon sticks or clove buds next to a sweetness I can’t quite put my finger on.

This is really interesting and enticing.

Taste 12:

Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

There it is! Citrus, wet malts, and super light. Hello, Jameson. I missed you. There’s light vanilla to the body with a hint of spice and sherry oak. The end is short and sweet and leaves me wanting more.

It’s surprising how thin this is, compared to everything else.

Part 2: The Ranking

Zach Johnston

12. March Hare Poitin (Taste 9)

Mad March Hare

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $30

The Whiskey:

This unaged whiskey is 100 percent malted barley. It’s produced according to a century’s old recipe and cut with local water to cool it down and make it drinkable.

Bottom Line:

I mean, was anything else going to be last? It’s not that this is undrinkable in any way. It’s just not for me and tastes like a distillery smells. Not a bad thing, if you’re into it.

11. Jameson (Taste 12)

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $30

The Whiskey:

This is a classic Irish whiskey. Triple distilled. Blended from barley and grain whiskies. Aged for at least four years. That makes this the gold-standard of entry-point Irish whiskey.

Bottom Line:

I couldn’t get past the thinness of this dram today. I really liked it, it just didn’t stand up to the other tastes.

10. Bushmills 10 Single Malt (Taste 8)

Casa Cuervo

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

Northern Ireland’s Old Bushmills is a legendary distillery. This whiskey is very similar to a Scotch single malt, in that it’s 100 percent barley whiskey that’s aged in a combo of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry. It’s then vatted, proofed, and bottled in Bushmill’s iconic square bottle.

Bottom Line:

It was really hard to get beyond that apple candy note. It was very saccharine and stayed on my senses for a while. Still, I can see how people love this for exactly that aspect.

9. Teeling Small Batch (Taste 6)

Teeling Distillery

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Teeling was the first distillery to reopen in Dublin after nearly a century of tough times for Irish whiskey. The craft distillery ages its juice bourbon barrels before transferring that whiskey to Central American rum casks. Those barrels are then batched, proofed, and bottled in Teeling’s big, dark bottle.

Bottom Line:

This felt like a very entry-level whiskey. There wasn’t a lot of “there” there, but it still tasted like something worth sipping in a highball or in a cocktail.

8. Tullamore D.E.W. Caribbean Rum Cask Finish (Taste 2)

William Grant & Sons

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $30

The Whiskey:

While a lot of Irish whiskey touches on bourbon and sherry oak, Tullamore takes that a step further by adding in some rum oak. This expression is finished in Demarara rum casks for a final nuance of flavor and depth.

Bottom Line:

I didn’t know where to place this. It was tasty and malty but sort of got lost in the shuffle. I definitely want to revisit it but maybe more as a cocktail mixer.

7. Jameson Black Barrel (Taste 1)

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

This is Jameson’s take on double barreling. The whiskey is first matured in old bourbon barrels. That juice is then transferred to another bourbon barrel that’s been doubly charred with a deep alligator skin char. Those barrels are then batched and proofed all the way down to 80 proof.

Bottom Line:

I went back and forth on this being in the top three or not. It really stood out but just didn’t shine as brightly as the next whiskeys on this list.

6. Powers John’s Lane (Taste 3)

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

This is a classic Irish whiskey. The juice is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks for at least 12 years. Those barrels are then married based on their distinct flavor profiles to create this special whiskey.

Bottom Line:

This is where things get interesting. This really stood out early and remained in my thoughts as I tasted the other whiskeys. That says something. It’s unique and very easy to drink.

5. Connemara Peated Single Malt (Taste 5)

Beam Suntory

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $45

The Whiskey:

Connemara is Ireland’s answer to peated single malt from Scotland. The base of Irish barley is malted with local peat, adding a distinctly Irish terroir to the whiskey.

Bottom Line:

This was such a nice departure. It was smoky, for sure, but really light and subtle. I’m curious to taste test this against some peaty scotch now.

4. Roe & Co. (Taste 10)

Diageo

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $35

The Whiskey:

This distillery was opened in the old powerhouse on the Guinness brewing campus. The whiskey is built with Guinness craft at its base. It’s then aged in ex-bourbon casks before those are married, proofed, and bottled.

Bottom Line:

Did this benefit from being tasted directly after the unaged whiskey? Maaaaaaaaybe. It’s still really well crafted. I tried it again a while later and it stood up as a solid on the rocks sipper.

Final answer: I stand by it ranking so high.

3. Method And Madness Single Grain (Taste 11)

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

This is Midleton Irish Distiller’s craft whiskey venture. The single grain spirit is matured in unused Spanish oak and old bourbon casks. That’s small-batched and proofed with that soft County Cork water and bottled in a throwback art-deco bottle.

Bottom Line:

Goddamn, this was interesting. This is one of those sippers that feels really unique to what it is and nothing else.

2. Redbreast 12 (Taste 7)

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $68

The Whiskey:

Redbreast 12 is a classic example of Irish whiskey. The juice is aged for 12 years in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry oak. It’s then batched, proofed, and bottled in an iconic stubby bottle.

Bottom Line:

This is a real quality sip of whiskey, in general. On this tasting, it reminded me of a really well-made bourbon in the ten to 12-year range.

1. Red Spot (Taste 4)

Pernod Ricard

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $140

The Whiskey:

This is a highwater mark of Irish whiskey distilling and blending. The whiskey is aged for 15 years in a combination of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and ex-Marsala casks. The spirit is then married and proofed down to a very approachable 92 proof.

Bottom Line:

There was just no getting past how beautiful this whiskey tastes. It’s complex yet welcoming. It’s subtle but bold in its flavors. This is the whiskey that, by far, I want to revisit immediately.

Part 3: Final Thoughts

Zach Johnston

I have to say, ranking basically ten through three was really hard. I went back and forth a lot. Each dram had its own unique moments that enticed me. All of that being said, the top two were super clear from the moment I tasted them.

I was surprised classic Jameson ended up so low. But, in the end, it was the lightest and offered the least in the taste department against all these other whiskeys.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Roe & Co. It’s a very approachable whiskey that keeps popping back into my mind, even a day later. I’ll definitely be trying it in a few cocktails as St. Paddy’s nears.


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