Irish whiskey is some of the best whiskey in the world. There’s a straightforward reason for this: It’s triple distilled. The Irish started this practice way back in the 1800s, to differentiate their spirits from the Scotch and American whisk(e)ys, which were a lot dirtier and less refined at the time. More distillation meant cleaner booze. Add in a great aging regimen with bourbon oak or used sherry casks — or both — and you have a fine spirit that’ll warm you down to your very soul.
This tradition of great whiskey making has taken some serious hits over the last 100 years, thanks to unfair British trade tariffs, American prohibition, and the resurgence of Scotch after World War II. But as whiskey became more popular in the last decade, so did Irish whiskey. And, now, stills are expanding and reopening. One of the most remarkable among these came when the Teeling Brothers brought whiskey distilling back to Dublin after a 100+ year hiatus — officially marking a renaissance (whiskeyaissance, if you will).
With St. Paddy’s day here, Christopher Osburn and I decided it was high time to pool some of our favorite Irish sips into one spot. Below are some of the best bottles you can buy for under $50, just in time to celebrate. Sláinte!
THE SEXTON SINGLE MALT
Broadly speaking, Irish whiskeys tend to be blends (often of maize and barley). So Irish single malts are something to be revered. The Sexton is one worth getting excited about.
This little bottle was just released through the Bushmills still up in Northern Ireland. It’s aged for four years in sherry casks, which imbue a sweetness that leans towards toffee. There’s a real sense of the Spanish oak underpinning the bite of alcohol with echoes of chocolate in the background. It’s a real delight and a steal price-wise. A single malt for under 30 bucks? Sign us up!
REDBREAST 12 YO
Redbreast (part of the Midleton distillery down in County Cork) is the gold standard of great Irish whiskeys on the market today. The blend of single pot distillates are aged in Oloroso sherry oak until a bouquet of winter spices starts to emerge — with a sweetness that feels almost like soft molasses. If you love Irish whiskey, this bottle needs a prominent spot on your shelf.
JAMESON CASKMATES – STOUT EDITION
Sticking with the Midleton distillery, Jameson is probably the most popular Irish whiskey on the market. Since head distiller Brian Nation took the reigns, they’ve been innovating and taking Irish whiskey to new heights with fascinating barreling experimentations. Their “Caskmates” series utilizes maize and barley triple-distilled spirits, aged in bourbon and sherry casks and then finished in either stout or IPA beer barrels.
In this case, we’ve picked the Stout Edition because nothing says Ireland more than stout and whiskey. The sip has a real burst of a spring apple orchard on the nose that’s followed by the spice and florals that Jameson is so famous for. That’s followed by a chocolate and almost butterscotch sweet finish that’s oh so pleasant.
BUSHMILLS BLACK BUSH
Back up in Northern Ireland, Bushmills triple distills some great whiskey. The pour is floral forward with a nice bite of alcohol that’s mellowed by the sherry cask aging, adding a caramel sweetness on the backend.
Overall, it’s just a smooth and satisfying spirit. There may be cheaper bottles of Bushmills on the liquor store shelf, but this one is 100 percent worth the extra sawbuck or two.
TEELING SPIRIT OF DUBLIN IRISH POITIN
The Brothers Teeling are instrumental in bringing whiskey distilling back to the streets of Dublin. They’re young and at the forefront of a distilling revolution in Ireland. Their classic whiskey is below. But, for a real Irish experience, we’d be remiss not to include their Poitin.
Poitin is an unaged distillate that’s close to what we call white dog or moonshine over here in America. It’s what whiskey used to be across the board, before cask aging became the standard. This bottle is a great time machine to the past that has a serious alcohol bite that’s very cereal/grain forward.
KNAPPOGUE CASTLE 12 YEARS OLD
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This offering is the flagship whiskey from Knappogue Castle. This single malt Irish whiskey is made with only malted barley before being triple distilled in a traditional copper pot still. Afterward, it’s aged in American oak bourbon casks to give it a smooth and spicy flavor. Overall, this is a great place to start a journey along the path of single grain/single still Irish whiskeys to get a great sense of the process.
TEELING SINGLE GRAIN
The Teelings started distilling whiskey back in the 1700s. By the time American prohibition rolled around, they were insolvent and had to shutter their shingle in Ireland. Decades and decades later, two Teeling descendants took matters into their own hands and reopened their family business in 2015. In the short time since, the distillery has made a name for itself in the world of Irish Whiskey.
One of Teeling’s best offerings is its award-winning Single Grain. It’s spicy with floral bursts, oaky and sweet, and gets an added kick from being matured in red wine barrels from California (a nice innovation where Irish whiskey is concerned).
SLANE IRISH WHISKEY
This new take on Irish whiskey recently launched in America. The whiskey is named for the tiny village of Slane that sits 45 minutes north of Dublin, but this whiskey’s flavor is anything but tiny. It’s matured three times: First in virgin casks, then seasoned casks, and finally in sherry butts.
It’s a process of love and precision that makes for a rich, spicy, and devilishly complex whiskey.
TULLAMORE D.E.W. XO RUM CASK FINISH
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The folks at Tullamore D.E.W. aren’t content with just making high-quality classic Irish whiskeys (which they’re great at by the way). They’ve proven that with their newest and maybe boldest offering to date: XO Rum Cask Finish.
It’s made by maturing the distillery’s blend of pot stilled, well-aged grain whiskeys for three months in XO rum casks from Guyana. This gives the spirit a sweet, tropical fruit flavor on top of the classicly smooth, rich, and spicy whiskey below. It’s a treat for the senses that’s a truly delicious outlier in the world of Irish whiskeys.
GLENDALOUGH DOUBLE BARREL
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Glendalough is another distillery that is fairly new to the Irish whiskey scene. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t crafting great whiskey. This single grain whiskey is first matured in American bourbon barrels and then finished for 6 months in Oloroso sherry butts. The maturation imparts an extra sweetness of toffee, dried fruits, and subtly spicy flavors. It bridges the world of classic and modern Irish whiskey in every sip.