These are the Top 12 Irish Whiskeys You Need On Your Shelf
At one time, Irish whiskey ruled the drinks empire as the most widely consumed spirit in the world.
Here’s a fun fact to store away for your next quiz night: in the mid to late 1800s, Ireland was the world’s biggest whisk(e)y producing nation. Much to the Scots’ disgust, the Irish claim to have invented the stuff, too.
What’s that? You want another fun fact? At one stage, the Scots were drinking more Irish whiskey than Scotch.
But as they say, what goes up…
An intense period of economic decline during the early 20th century doused the industry and all but decimated Ireland’s distilleries.
So, why did the Irish Distilling Industry Collapse?
- In 1916, the Easter Rising saw the beginning of the Irish’s fight to become independent from Britain. This meant the screeching brakes were put on trade between Ireland and the UK — a massive market.
- The grim period of prohibition in the USA put a pin in the Irish whiskey balloon. Kicking off in 1920 and lasting for a thirsty 13 years, the prohibition wiped out another one of Ireland’s biggest whiskey markets.
- The Anglo-Irish Trade War in 1932 delivered yet another blow for the Irish. The English introduced colossal taxes on goods imported from Ireland. A trade was ensued for five years and hit the whiskey industry big time.
In 2010, a mere 4 distilleries were operating in Ireland. These days, there’s around 42 operating distilleries — and counting. And global sales have soared from 60 million bottles in 2010 to 168 million bottles in 2021.
Why? In 2012, the world cottoned on to what we knew all along. Whisk(e)y is delicious. And it went from being an ‘old man’s drink’ to a bustling craft spirits industry. Hooray!
Check out the top 12 Irish whiskeys that need to grace your Glencairn at least once in your life.
12. Redbreast 21YO
Regarded as the pinnacle of the Redbreast range, and distilled at the New Midleton Distillery, Redbreast 21 is full of spiced fruit, honey and hay. This rich and chewy Single Pot Still whiskey is made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley, triple distilled in copper pot stills, then let rest for 21 years in American oak ex-bourbon barrels and first fill Spanish Oloroso sherry butts. Bottled at 46%, it opens up splendidly with a few drops of water.
11. Green Spot
Another Single Pot Still whiskey produced at the New Midleton Distillery, Green Spot is made for independent wine merchants Mitchell & Sons who used to age the spirit in ex-Sherry barrels. With sherry casks being so hard to come by these days, currently the sherry casks only make up around 25% of the blend with the rest being American oak ex-bourbon. Why is it called Green Spot? Mitchell’s used a colour coding system to identify the age of their casks and dabbed a splash of paint in the appropriate colour on the casks to indicate their age
10. Midleton Dair Ghaelach
Midleton Dair Ghaelach is the first Irish whiskey in recent history to be matured in virgin Irish oak. After spending 15 to 22 years in mostly American oak barrels, the whiskey is finished for around a year in virgin Irish oak hogshead casks. These casks were made from nine 130-year-old trees from Grinsell’s Wood on the Ballaghtobin Estate that were selected and felled in April 2012. Each bottle of Midleton Dair Ghaelach shows the number of tree from which its cask was made.
9. Powers John’s Lane Release 12 Year Old
James Power founded John’s Lane Distillery in Dublin back in 1791, and despite the distillery closing more than 40 years ago Powers is still regarded by many as “The Irish the Irish prefer”. Now produced at the Midleton Distillery, the John’s Lane release is mostly aged in American oak bourbon, with a little Oloroso added in for good measure, for 12 years and bottled at 46%.
8. Method and Madness Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Every now and then, the master distillers at Midleton are allowed off the chain and given the chance to get a little experimental. The result of this is the Method and Madness range, released just last year. Their Single Malt is aged 14 years in American oak bourbon barrels and finished in French limousin oak casks, which are normally used to age Cognac. The result? A lighter, floral and herbal note with malt, peanut, biscuit, and even ice-cream cone notes.
7. Bushmills 21
With its license to distil issued in 1608, Bushmills is the world’s oldest whiskey distillery. Their 21 Year Old is a Single Malt made up from two whiskies – one from Oloroso sherry casks and the other bourbon – matured for 19 years then vatted and married for two years in Madeira casks. This is a very limited release, with only 900 casks produced each year.
6. Connemara Cask Strength
Unique for Irish whiskey, Connemara Cask Strength is bottled at the strength it comes out of the cask, typically between 57% and 60%, meaning each batch is a slightly different ABV and requires its own label. Connemara Cask Strength is mildly peated at 20PPM, using Scottish peated malted barley. Matured in American oak ex-bourbon casks, it combines the typical Irish smooth sweetness with an Islay style smoky punch.
5. Teeling Whiskey Single Malt Aged 26 Years
Since 1782, the Teeling family have been making whiskey, with a brand new distillery being opened in Dublin in 2015. This 26 year old was double distilled in 1987 then laid up in ex-bourbon barrels, but what makes it unique is that it’s been finished in White Burgundy wine casks. This is the first time White Burgundy wood has ever been used in the Irish whisky industry, making this very limited release of only 1,000 bottles rather special indeed.
4. Jameson The Distiller’s Safe Whiskey
Jameson have paid tribute to their craftsmen with the Whiskey Makers Series. Each of their whiskey makers have created their own whiskey highlighting their craft. Distiller Brian Nation showcases his mastery of the Irish pot still, capturing the unique personality of the distillates before they show too much influence from the casks. The Distiller’s Safe has a smooth mouth feel, and features the soft buttery sweetness and gentle fruit notes of grain whiskey.
3. Bushmills 2012 Burgundy Cask
The finale in the legendary Bushmills Heritage Casks trilogy, our Bushmills 2012 Burgundy Cask has taken the world by storm. It’s in such high demand that whiskey lovers overseas are paying silly money to get their hands on a bottle. One recently went under the hammer at auction for $2,000! It took the Club by storm, too — our Members voted it 2022's Whisky of the Year.
Distilled in 2012, the spirit was first laid down in Bushmills’ trademark Oloroso Sherry and Bourbon casks before a luxurious three-and-a-half-year maturation in Burgundy red wine casks. Then bottled this year, non-chill filtered and non-coloured, at natural cask strength, 51.8% ABV. Bushmills Master Blender Alex Thomas calls "one of the best whiskeys that Bushmills have produced to date."
2. Bushmills 2011 Banyuls Cask
Made by multi-award winning Master Blender Helen Mulholland, it was distilled in 2011 and initially matured in Oloroso Sherry and Bourbon casks, before a final maturation in fresh Banyuls dessert wine casks, AKA 'French Port.' This is a rich and triumphantly delicious malt masterpiece from one of the pre-eminent whiskey makers of the modern era.
Not only was it the biggest Irish single malt to ever hit Australian shores at cask strength, but our Bushmills 2011 Banyuls Cask was also the last Bushmills release with Helen’s name on it.
1. Bushmills 2006 Marsala Cask
The history-making Bushmills 2006 Marsala Cask, made exclusively for Whisky Club Members, sent a massive KABOOM through the whisky world. The first release from Bushmills’s brand-new range of curated limited-edition single malts, our Marsala Cask made its way onto auction sites across the globe demanding up to $2500. This bottle became an instant Club legend. We still get people asking us about it. Those of you lucky enough to try it know why: it was a luscious feast of raisins, cinnamon and delicate toffee apple that made you tingle with every sip.