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The 12 Best Irish Whiskeys to Drink in 2020

The 12 Best Irish Whiskeys to Drink in 2020

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Try out this easy-drinking spirit.

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Generally more affordable and approachable than both bourbon and scotch, Irish whiskey is an easy-drinking spirit perfect for both whiskey beginners and experts alike. Known as a lighter whiskey without heavy notes of smoke or oaky vanilla flavors, there's a wide range of Irish whiskeys to be sampled and enjoyed. Some are more suited for cocktailing, while others can be sipped solo just as you might with scotch or bourbon. Plus, the category just keeps growing and becoming more available in the U.S. Only a few years ago, the Irish whiskey section of your liquor store may have been limited to just three or four big brands. But now, it’s positively overflowing with bottles marked with different age statements and barrel finishes. Of course, there’s always space on the bar for the old standbys. Here are the top Irish whiskeys to drink now.

Best Overall: Knappogue Castle 12 Year Single Malt

The signature, entry-level release from independent bottler Knappogue Castle is triple distilled in copper pot stills for a bright, clean start, then aged in bourbon casks for 12 years. The result is a platonic ideal of an Irish whiskey: incredibly sippable, yet nuanced with layered flavors of apples and cinnamon toast. “It is lighter than most and also sophisticated, making it refreshing to drink in the summer months neat, on the rocks, or as a foundation in a long cocktail where its delicate fruitiness and spice complement almost any flavor profile,” says Kenneth McCoy, chief creative officer at Ward III and The Rum House in New York City. Affordable enough to be your everyday whiskey, poured into a tumbler over a big cube of ice, this bottle is also worthy of special occasions when breaking out the specialty whiskey tasting glass and savoring it neat.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: The Sexton

Easy to identify, The Sexton boasts a unique, black-and-gold, angular bottle. Triple distilled in copper pot stills, this Irish whiskey is aged in ex-Oloroso sherry casks for a mellow, honeyed finish. It has tons of roasted pear notes on the nose, which follow through to the first sip. Earthier than many Irish whiskeys, it still has the category’s telltale crispness, making it perfect for sipping on its own either neat or with a cube of ice. This bottle is also easy on the budget, so you can feel free to mix away, pouring it into cocktails like Hot Toddys, Whiskey Smashes, or just a simple whiskey soda with a long twist of lemon.

Best Value: Slane

Slane hails from the Boyne River Valley, which was once home to many other distilleries, and is one of the few that has revitalized the tradition. Distilled on the grounds housing the old Slane Castle, this Irish whiskey is aged in a selection of three different casks: virgin oak, seasoned whiskey, and Oloroso sherry. It’s bold and layered with flavors of caramel, vanilla, and dried fruit. With its rich history, complex flavor, and pedigreed musical ties (Slane Castle has hosted performances from U2, David Bowie, and Queen), this affordable bottling is a steal. “It works in a variety of ways,” says Alicia Yamachika, lead bartender at Nobu Honolulu. “The three different casks it ages in all add a little something different to be enjoyed.” Tame the spice with an ice cube or use its heft to your advantage in a cocktail like an Old Fashioned or a New York Sour.

Best Under $50: Teeling Small Batch

The first whiskey distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years, Teeling launched in 2015 with this as its flagship bottling. Extremely smooth and rounded, thanks to some time spent in ex-rum barrels after initial aging in ex-bourbon barrels, this is the ideal whiskey for those who eschew spice in favor of a sweeter spirit. It has notes of baking spices and caramelized sugar on the nose, with flavors of vanilla and raisins on the palate. Typically hovering around $40, this Irish whiskey is a great buy, punching well above its price point. Try it in an Irish Coffee or sip it straight with some dark chocolate for a perfect, after-dinner treat.

Best Under $25: Paddy's

Made in Ireland’s County Cork since 1779, Paddy’s is a blend of three styles of Irish whiskey: column still grain, malt, and pot still. It’s a ubiquitous bar staple, and with good reason—light, easy, and grain-forward, it’s a solid workhouse to keep stocked at all times. Perfect for a Boilermaker paired with a lager, stirred with ginger ale, or simply poured over ice, its under-$25 price tag makes it a great house whiskey. If you happen to have a speed pourer on hand, this is the bottle you should use it on, since you’ll be pulling it out to mix with and serve to friends at parties.

Best Splurge: Knappogue Castle 16 Year Single Malt

Aged for a minimum of 14 years in bourbon barrels and finished in Oloroso sherry casks (aging the liquid for a minimum of 16 years total), this rarified Irish whiskey is luxury in a glass. With apricots, honey, and toasted nuts on the nose, it shows up soft and velvety on the palate with a long, lingering finish, and it certainly deserves to be enjoyed straight. Rivaling some of the top bourbons and Japanese whiskeys in quality, this is the bottle you break out after a successful dinner party. Plus, at around $100 (or sometimes less), it’s a splurge you can justify.

Best Single Malt: Tullamore D.E.W. 14 Year Single Malt

While the green-labeled Tullamore D.E.W. Original is the spirit of choice for the famed Irish Coffees at the Buena Vista café in San Francisco, the white-labeled single malt calls out to be sipped straight. Triple distilled and aged for up to 14 years in ex-bourbon barrels, the distillery finishes the spirit for a minimum of six months in four different cask types: Oloroso sherry, port, and Madeira. Unlike some other whiskeys in the market, this unique bottle includes some savory notes along with vibrant flavors of tropical fruits, tart apple, and vanilla.

Best for Sipping Neat: Redbreast 12 Year

“If I’m looking to sip it, I really love Redbreast because of the sherry notes it picks up in the aging process,” says Jena Ellenwood, bartender at Dear Irving and Sparrow Tavern in New York City. Extremely easy to drink with barely any burning heat, Redbreast’s 12 Year offering is great for whiskey beginners looking for a bottle to drink neat—and the perfect next step of your Irish whiskey journey. “Redbreast was the first Irish whiskey that I had that wasn’t Jameson,” says Josh Jancewicz, bartender at Gold–Diggers in Los Angeles. Light, fruity, and flecked with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, this is also a comfort whiskey for many bartenders.

Best for Sipping on Ice: Green Spot

Originally created in the 1800s for merchant company Mitchell & Son using distillate from Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery, the name “Green Spot” comes from the method in which the Mitchells would mark the ages of their whiskey casks. A green spot on a barrel would mean a certain age, while a blue spot would mean another, and so on. The green-spotted barrel won out, and today it lives on as a blend of single pot still whiskeys aged in both ex-bourbon barrels and sherry casks. “I am a big fan of Green Spot for its light body and delightfully fresh green apple notes,” says Yamachika. Pouring the spirit over a single large ice cube only enhances those crisp, fruity notes, transforming the Irish whiskey into a refreshing drink.

Best for Irish Coffee: Powers Gold Label

When it comes to Irish Coffee, you need a reasonably priced whiskey that can stand up to the strong flavor of the sweetened coffee. Powers fits the bill nicely with its slightly higher proof (86.4), zesty flavor, and budget-friendly price point. Paired with nutty coffee, Powers will show through with notes of honeyed cereal and spice (and, along with whipped or shaken cream, play those notes up by topping your hot-tail off with a shaving of fresh nutmeg). Of course, this bottle is also useful for other purposes—try it with spicy ginger beer or paired with a porter for a Boilermaker.

Best for Whiskey Ginger: Jameson

A Whiskey Ginger made with Jameson is so popular that it has become its own cocktail: the Jamo and Ginger. The Irish whiskey behemoth produces a spirit that’s light, fruity, and extremely accessible with just a hint of earthy cereal notes. It goes well with most mixers, but it’s particularly excellent with ginger ale or ginger beer for more spice. The spirit acts like a squeeze of citrus, bringing brightness to the drink. Plus, you can’t argue with the emotional pull of a classic like a Jamo and Ginger. “When it comes to Irish whiskey, all of my nostalgia goes to Jameson,” says Ellenwood. “For a long time, that was pretty much the only bottle we ever needed to make sure we had in stock at the bar; it was also the bottle we ran out of the fastest.”

Most Unique: Tullamore D.E.W. Caribbean Rum Cask Finish

The Emerald Isle’s signature spirit gets some tasty notes from a more southern island chain. This tropical whiskey from Tullamore D.E.W. is aged in demerara rum casks, giving it some unusual Caribbean island flavors. There are notes of ripe pineapple, cocoa, and caramel in this spirit, along with a hint of coconut to bring the concept home. It’s still undeniably an Irish whiskey, though, with its cereal backbone, bright, crisp flavors, and toasty finish. That said, feel free to experiment with this oddball whiskey in drinks typically made with rum, such as a Piña Colada or a Mai Tai.

Why Trust

Justine Sterling is an experienced spirits writer and cocktail recipe developer. She has been writing about the wide world of drinking—from new spirits to cocktail trends to wines and beers—for over a decade. Her home bar is always stocked with a range of spirits, from the staples to the downright strange, and she has serious opinions about Martinis.

Watch the video: Top 10 Irish Whiskeys for Advanced Whiskey Drinkers Crowd sourced From Whiskey Lovers (June 2022).


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