The most frustrating thing about Irish whiskey is that people who know better lazily compare it to scotch. “Irish whiskey is so much easier to drink,” they say, “because it’s fruity and light, while scotch is smoky and harsh.” They might also add that all Irish whiskey is triple distilled, which makes it super “smooth”—an overused adjective that doesn’t say a whole lot. I’ve literally heard this repeated on an Irish distillery tour and at a whiskey tasting at a historic bar in Dublin, where the perpetrators certainly knew better. So let’s deconstruct those myths: The majority of scotch is not smoky, there is indeed some peated Irish whiskey, and no law requires it to be triple distilled.
Misinformation does a disservice to both the history and future of Irish whiskey, a spirit defined by its flavor nuances, differing mash bills, and interesting cask finishes. And here in the States, Irish whiskey is one of the fastest growing spirits categories, which presents opportunities for both the old and new guard distilleries. “I see Irish whiskey a little like the Wild West for whiskey drinkers,” says Teeling Whiskey founder and managing director Jack Teeling, “as there is still so much to discover, particularly in the U.S.”
The hot topics in Irish whiskey these days are cask finishing, single malts, and single pot still whiskey. None are new concepts, but after decades of mediocre blends, distilleries are reinvigorating the category by releasing whiskey in these styles. Single pot still in particular is a tradition that can be traced back to the late 1700s, according to Kilbeggan brand ambassador Michael Egan. The British levied a tax on the Irish (as they were wont to do at the time) on the use of malted barley, so Irish distillers started combining malted and unmalted barley to save money. Today, a single pot still whiskey means it’s made at one distillery and distilled in a pot still from a mash bill of malted and unmalted barley, with up to five percent of other grains allowed.
Both Egan and Teeling also note that one of the most important ingredients in Irish whiskey is the climate, which differs from Kentucky, Tennessee, and even neighboring Scotland. “If you take an Irish distillery and place it in Kentucky or in the Highlands of Scotland, you could run [it] in a similar way and have a similar base spirit,” says Teeling. “But it is during the maturation phase in these different climates that the resulting whiskey would become very different.” This unique character makes Irish whiskey appealing to drinkers of all types: casual bar-goers looking for a shot of Jameson to go with their beer, whiskey fanatics looking for the next age statement single malt finished in a wine barrel, and bartenders coming up with new cocktails.
With that in mind, here are 13 excellent Irish whiskeys to drink now—or in the near future.
Kilbeggan Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
Kilbeggan has a long and storied history dating back all the way to 1757. It’s had its ups and downs over the years, with the stills going silent from the 1950s until restarting again in 2007. By 2010, the distillery was once again fully operational, and it has released a few whiskeys over the years since then—some sourced, some distilled and matured onsite. The latest falls into the latter category. Kilbeggan Single Pot Still ($45) has a mash bill that includes 2.5 percent oats, imparting this fruity and light whiskey with a slight creamy texture and flavor. The limited release is bottled at 86 proof.
Shop Kilbeggan drizly.com
Glendalough Pot Still, 17 Year Old, and 25 Year Old
Glendalough has been releasing excellent sourced whiskeys (said to be from Cooley Distillery) for a few years now; last year’s 13-year-old single malt finished in Japanese mizunara oak was a particular standout. There are three new releases this year. The first is a contract-distilled Pot Still whiskey ($55) aged in ex-bourbon barrels for three years, before being finished in virgin Irish oak for a year. These casks were made with sustainably harvested trees from the mountains surrounding the distillery. Next up is a 17-year-old single malt ($299) that builds on the aforementioned 13 year old. This whiskey spent 15 years aging in first-fill bourbon casks, then another two in Japanese oak to give it aromatic flavors of sandalwood and spice. Three thousand bottles are available here in the U.S. Finally, there is a 25-year-old single malt ($499) consisting of liquid matured in ex-bourbon barrels for 15 years and Oloroso sherry casks for 10 years, with a finish in virgin Irish oak for three months. There are five casks total, with 752 bottles coming to the U.S.
Shop Glendalough drizly.com
Dingle Single Malt Whiskey, Batch No. 4
The single malt whiskey coming out of Dingle is a work in progress, and that’s not meant in a pejorative way. Each batch changes up the types of casks used and the age of the whiskey (and also comes in 93 proof and cask-strength versions). The latest, batch number four ($100), is made up of whiskey that was matured in bourbon barrels, PX and Oloroso sherry butts, and port casks before being blended together. It’s light and fruity on the nose, with a pleasing hit of dried fruit and nutmeg on the palate. Dingle is one of the few newer Irish distilleries that has always distilled its whiskey instead of sourcing, and the results are consistently good.
Shop Dingle drizly.com
Teeling Single Pot Still
Another new single pot still whiskey comes from Teeling, which was the first distillery to operate in Dublin in over a century when it opened in 2015. Its core range consists of a few different sourced whiskeys, but the latest release was distilled onsite. The mash bill is half malted and half unmalted barley, and it was matured in ex-wine, ex-bourbon, and virgin oak barrels for a minimum of three years. The Single Pot Still ($65) has actually been available at the distillery in Dublin for a few years, but this is the first time it’s in the U.S.
Shop Teeling reservebar.com
The Tyrconnell 16 Year Old Oloroso & Moscatel Cask Finish
The Tyrconnell is double distilled, proving for those who didn’t already know that Irish whiskey does not have to be triple distilled. The brand also uses a lot of cask finishes to augment the flavor of its already-good single malt whiskey, with each age statement expression having its own unique character. The most recent was last summer’s 16-year-old single malt finished in Oloroso and Moscatel casks. The whiskey ($100) was matured for 16 years in ex-bourbon barrels before spending an undisclosed amount of time in wine casks from the Andalucía region of Spain. These casks were double seasoned, first with Oloroso sherry and then with Moscatel wine. The resulting whiskey is bright and vibrant, with floral, vanilla, raisin, and unsweetened dark chocolate notes on the palate.
Shop Tyrconnell reservebar.com
Redbreast Small Batch
Redbreast is a favorite of many Irish whiskey drinkers, because the brand, owned by Pernod Ricard and produced at the giant Midleton distillery where Jameson and Powers are also distilled, is a single pot still whiskey with age statements and a complex flavor profile. The latest limited release from Redbreast is the Small Batch collection, a series of four whiskeys ($100 each) aged for 14 years and bottled at cask strength between 57 and 59 percent ABV. According to the master blender, each batch varies a bit in its flavor profile—A focuses on wood and vanilla, B on sherry cask influence, C on exotic fruit notes, and D on raisin and dark berries. Also, look out for an extra mature Redbreast expression coming out this spring.
Shop Redbreast reservebar.com
Writers’ Tears Double Oak
Walsh Whiskey’s Writers’ Tears Double Oak came out last spring, a new addition to the brand’s core range of whiskeys. Double Oak ($65) is an unusual blend of single pot still and single malt whiskey that was aged in both American and French oak, the latter of which came from the Legaret family in Cognac, France. French oak was once much more common in Irish whiskey maturation, but fell out of favor in the 19th century when American oak became cheaper. The combination of whiskey styles and cask types creates a complex and balanced whiskey with vanilla and spice in equal proportions. Also, U2’s Larry Mullen Jr. is rumored to be a fan.
Shop Writers’ Tears drizly.com
The Irishman Vintage Cask 2019 Edition
This is Walsh Whiskey’s 11th edition of The Irishman Vintage Cask ($140) since the series began in 2008. Like Writers’ Tears, this whiskey is a blend of single pot still and single malt, but it was aged entirely in first-fill bourbon barrels and bottled at 108 proof. Only 2,346 bottles are available globally, making this one a tough release to get your hands on. If the name reminds you of a certain Netflix movie, just remember that the whiskey came first. In fact, the founder of the brand, Bernard Walsh, sent Martin Scorsese and the cast of The Irishman 30 personalized bottles of The Irishman Cask Strength last year as a promotion.
Shop The Irishman drizly.com
There have been a few recent developments going on with Jameson, perhaps the best known and certainly the best selling Irish whiskey around the world. Two new Caskmates were released in early fall: Topcutter IPA Limited Edition, a collaboration with Bale Breaker Brewing Co.; and Revolution Brewing Limited Edition, a collaboration with Revolution Brewing ($30 each). Both breweries season casks with their beer, which Jameson then uses to further mature its whiskey. Another new release is Jameson Cold Brew ($25), a mixture of Irish whiskey and cold brew coffee flavor. This was released in Ireland in 2018 but is now available here. Finally, Jameson will unveil a limited edition bottle close to St. Patrick’s Day designed by Irish designer and illustrator Hephee.
Shop Jameson reservebar.com
Northern Ireland’s Bushmills is probably the second best known Irish whiskey out there, mostly for its signature blend. But the distillery’s age statement single malts—10, 16, and 21 year olds—are good choices for anyone interested in exploring the category further. Bushmills held a tasting last fall during which three variants were unveiled to positive acclaim, and the word is that these could be released as limited expressions sometime in the near future. They are as follows: 11 Year Old Crystal Malt distilled in 2008 using crystal malt (barley with crystalized sugars), 18 Year Old First Growth Bordeaux Cask, and 27 Year Old Cognac Cask. The three whiskeys truly represent a departure from what you’ve come to expect from Bushmills, especially if they become widely available soon.
Shop Bushmills reservebar.com
J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey The Chosen
J.J. Corry is not a distillery but an Irish whiskey bonder, which means the company sources new make spirit from different distilleries and matures it in its own warehouse. While it waits for this whiskey to reach its proper age, it also buys and blends whiskey for its own releases. The Chosen (£6,500) is a luxury expression that came out this past fall, a 27-year-old single malt presented in an elaborate crystal decanter designed by J. Hill’s Standard and a wood cabinet from John Galvin Design. Next up from J.J. Corry is a whiskey that commemorates International Women’s Day and a private client bespoke offering for Asia.
Shop J.J. Corry thewhiskyexchange.com
Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey’s Marchesi di Barolo Cask
The latest cask-finished whiskey from Knappogue Castle was this single malt ($80) finished in French wine casks from the Marchesi di Barolo winery, after 12 years spent in bourbon barrels. This finish gives the fruity whiskey notes of berry, ripe apple, and white pepper, and is a testament to the effects of carefully thought-out barrel finishing. Castle Brands, which owns Knappogue, was recently acquired by industry giant Pernod Ricard. Though it’s not entirely clear what its future will be, hopefully it’ll stick around for more releases like this.
Shop Knappogue Castle reservebar.com
Powers Irish Whiskey
There wasn’t a new release from Powers this year, but there was a complete and dramatic redesign of the brand’s flagship blend, Gold Label. It looks like the label isn’t actually so gold anymore, instead switching to a large, red and white diamond with a P. According to the brand, this is an image and concept that has been part of the Powers identity since the days when it was distilled in the heart of Dublin (it’s been produced at the Midleton distillery for many years now). The labels of Powers’ pot still whiskeys, Three Swallows and John’s Lane, remain the same for now, but will also switch over sometime later this year.
Shop Powers reservebar.com
Source : Esquire