The Best Irish Whiskeys You Can Buy in the U.S.
Irish whiskey production has been experiencing a renaissance over the past 20 years, with many historic distillers making comebacks after decades-long hiatuses. Explore some of the best Irish whiskeys and learn about their histories and tasting notes.
If there is one beverage that almost everyone in the world could associate with Ireland, it would have to be whiskey. In fact, the word "whiskey" comes from the Irish Gaelic term uisce beatha, which means water of life — kind of like aquavit in Scandinavia and eau de vie in France. Irish whiskey is smoother and not as smokey or earthy as Scotch whiskeys, making them an great introductory whiskey for newbies.
Once one of the most widely-consumed spirits in the world, the twentieth century saw a sharp decline in Irish whiskey production. Since the 90s, Ireland has been reclaiming its whiskey traditions, and we are presently very fortunate to have a wide array of Irish whiskeys to choose from. What’s best is that many varieties are available here in the U.S. Below are some of our best Irish whiskey recommendations.
This Irish whiskey has a long, winding history, and the company behind Redbreast, Gilbeys, actually got its start in England before establishing itself in Dublin, Ireland. It even had partnered with the Jameson distillery — a celebrated Irish whiskey producer — for a while. The Redbreast brand first appeared in advertisements in the early 1910s and since then has become an internationally renowned single pot Irish whiskey. It is made with a blend of malted and unmalted barley and water from Dungourney River. The 12 year Redbreast is celebrated for its subtle sweetness, smoothness and complexity.
Tullamore Dew is actually the second most sold Irish whiskey in the world. The distillery was established in Tullamore, Ireland in 1829. From the 70s until 2010, production moved to Midleton Distillery, which also makes Redbreast and Jameson whiskeys, before returning to its hometown under William Grant & Sons. Tullamore Dew is a triple-distilled whiskey made from three types of grain that give this tipple a complex nose with lemon, spice, and smokey notes. Connoisseurs remark on its buttery mouthfeel and light almost nutty flavors from the inclusion of malted barley.
Jameson is perhaps one of the most well-recognized Irish whiskeys in the world. It is produced by Irish Distillers, which is owned by Prenod Ricard, a French company that owns many globally famous liquor brands, such as Absolut Vodka. As such, it’s easier for this whiskey to end up on store shelves than bottles from Ireland’s smaller independent distilleries. Nevertheless, this doesn’t detract from Jameson’s dedication to Irish tradition. The whiskey is a blend of grain whiskey, which doesn’t include barley, and single-pot whiskey, the traditional Irish variety of whiskey that includes malted and unmalted barley. This whiskey is on the sweeter side with notes of marmalade, fudge and fruit cooked in cream.
This Irish whiskey is another single-pot style and is made by Irish Distillers, which produces Jameson. Red Spot was originally produced by Mitchell & Son in the late 1800s. However, the company stopped production in the mid 1960s, and it wasn’t until 2018 that it became available again through Irish Distillers with the full participation of the Mitchell family. Green Spot has a very floral personality with notes of ripe stone fruit, like plums and nectarines. It also includes just a hint of toastiness, which balances out the sweeter notes. Mitchell & Son also produces a Yellow Spot and Green Spot whiskey.
Kilbeggan is yet another Irish distillery that has a centuries-old history but had been out of production for decades. It only recently recommenced distilling in 2007 in its original facilities under Cooley Distillery. The original Kilbeggan distillery is a historical attraction as much as it is a site of production, boasting a restaurant and restored working waterwheel, as well as nearly 200-year-old pot still. This is a blended Irish whiskey, meaning that it contains mashes from other grains other than barley. One of its major distinctions is that it is only distilled twice rather than three times, which is the norm in Irish whiskey production. This makes it more similar to Scotch whiskeys and also presereves some of the more interested flavor notes, including a slight peatiness that isn’t typical in most Irish whiskeys.
Roe & Co is a modern Irish whiskey that took inspiration from one of the most famous distilleries in Dublin, George Roe & Co, which shuttered in the 1920s. It is a blended whiskey that combines malted barley and grain whiskies. It also has a little bit of an American flavor having been aged in bourbon barrels. Like most Irish whiskeys, this has a smooth, creamy mouthfeel that is on the sweeter end. if you are into caramel and spice, this may be an excellent addition to your collection.
Bushmill’s is considered the oldest whiskey producer in Ireland dating back to the early 1600s. The distillery makes a single malt whiskey using only Irish barley and water from the River Bush. In the middle of the 1800s, a British tax on barley sent to Ireland meant that many Irish distillers had to switch to cheaper grains, like corn, to remain in business. Bushmill’s, however, continued to make its whiskey only with barley. The distillery prides itself on doing everything onsite, from the mash to the bottling. This whiskey is very aromatic with an almost herbal and floral aroma that extends to the palate.