Irish Whiskey


Irish whiskey is one of the fastest growing whiskey categories. It is generally lighter and altogether more approachable than other whiskies a great introduction to the whiskey category at large.


Irish Whiskey Basics:

  • Irish whiskey utilizes barley as a dominant flavoring grain, like scotch and other malt whiskies, but what is unique is the barely is not always malted.  

  • The Irish don't traditionally use peat, so their whiskies generally don't share scotch’s smokiness.  Though there are some peated Irish whiskies - Connemara for example.

  • Irish whiskey is often distilled three times, while scotch is only two.  But not always!  As is often stated.

  • Irish whiskey aging laws are similar to scotch.  It must be aged for a minimum of three years and any kind of oak barrel can be used.  Ex-bourbon is typical, but sherry and others are used. For more in depth details check out the scotch aging section.

  • The most popular and familiar Irish whiskey brands are blends - Jameson, Bushmills, Powers, etc.  But there are other categories, see across.


Mixing with Irish Whiskey

While it is a cornerstone of pubs and the ultimate drinking holiday, Irish whiskey is not usually the first choice for cocktail whiskey.   There aren’t as many classic cocktails that call for Irish whiskey, outside of the Irish Coffee, a seminal classic. The Emerald is another, which is an Irish whiskey manhattan with orange bitters.  I’d recommend using a single malt or pure pot still for that one.


Personally, I don't mix with Irish whiskey much.  I find it to be soft spoken in cocktails. It's smooth mellowness causes it's flavors to fade into the background, especially when compared to American whiskies, bourbon and rye, which have more a sharp spice note. So I opt for it served neat or with some ice.  But that’s just me.  Irish whiskey is definitely being used in cocktails more and more, particularly at one of the best cocktail bars in the world, The Dead Rabbit in lower Manhattan, NYC.  

Types of Irish Whiskey

While there are indeed different classifications used for Irish whiskey, there are no actual laws that specifically define the categories.  So you have to the labeling at the brand's word.  I, for one, do.  


  • Grain whiskey - Made mostly from corn, distilled in columns stills and typically only used for blends.

  • Pot Still - Made from 100% malted and un-malted barely, distilled in a pot still.  Unique to Irish whiskey.

  • Single Malt Whiskey - Made from 100% malted barely, distilled in a pot still.

  • Blended Whiskey - A combination of grain whiskey and either pot still or single malt whiskey, or both.  In some rare cases, a blend will have no grain whiskey, and be a blend of single malt and pot still, The Irishman Founder's Reserve is one example.

Recommended Brands

Irish whiskey’s range of flavors are narrower than scotch’s.  They’re closer to bourbon’s spectrum, varied but in a similar ballpark for the most part.  In general the pure pot still and single malt whiskies will be richer and fuller flavored, but still very approachable and easy drinking.  While the blends will be lighter and milder. As age increases, so will do the influences of the barrel, naturally.  As usual, any age statement on a blend will be of the youngest whiskey in the blend.  Each of these brands has multiple bottlings, follow each link to explore them on their site.

Blended Irish Whiskey

These are the Irish whiskies you’re probably most familiar with. The7 are about 30-40% pure pot-still or malt whiskey and the rest will be column distilled grain whisey.


Recommended brands:

  • PowersPot still and grain whiskey.

  • Jameson - Pot still and grain whiskey

  • Bushmills - Single malt and grain whiskey. The Black Bush has a more malt whiskey, matured in sherry casks, so it's a bit richer.

  • Tullamore Dew​ - Pot Still, single malt and grain whiskey.


Single Malt

Made form 100% malted barley, similar to single malt scotch.  Bushmills makes the classic version of this style.


Recommended brands:

  • Bushmills Single Malt - There's a 10, 16 and 21 years.  All with varying barrels and finishes.  The 16 year is a real treat.  Bourbon and sherry caskes, with a Port finish.  

  • Knappogue Castle (Nah' Pogue) - A rare example of an independent bottler of Irish whiskey.

  • Connemara - A rare peated Irish whiskey.  From the Cooley Distillery.



Pure Pot Still

100% Pot Still, as in malted and unmnalted barely.  As opposed to single malt, which is all malted barely.

  • Red Breast 12 - My, and many other's, favorite Irish whiskey. They also have a cask strength 12 year as well as 15 and 21 year bottlings.

  • Power’s John Lane 12 - No less than 12 years old, mostly bourbon casks.

  • Green Spot - 7-10 years old in bourbon and oloroso sherry casks. Also try it's 12 year old companion, Yellow Spot.

The Distilleries: Who Makes What?

There are only handful of major distilleries in Ireland, many of the most familiar brands are made in the same place, similar to the American whiskey model and different from scotch, wherein each single malt has it’s own distillery.   The primary example of this is the Midelton Disillery which makes Jameson, Powers, Red Breast and Green/Yellow Spot.  Others big ones are the Old Bushmills Distillery which makes all of the Bushmills’ line, and the Cooley Distillery, a relative newcomer that opened in 1987.  They produce a range of styles, Greenore (a rare single grain), Connemara (peated single malt), and Tyrconnel (single malt).  They’re also part of the same company that makes Kilbeggan, a malt/grain blend that just opened a distillery in 2007.


But there are a whole slew of new distilleries, at least 7 in the last five years, with more on the way.  So this category is sure to be reshaped in the coming decade. Stay tuned.

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