People make a big deal out of their St. Patrick’s Day drinking. From green-dyed cheap-domestic-beer kegs & eggs at 8 A.M. to weird emerald-colored frozen concoctions, there are a lot of awful things people drink around the holiday. Instead, if you want to celebrate Ireland, I suggest choosing something made, y’know, in Ireland.
Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s and Magner’s would all be acceptable choices, too, but thankfully, there’s a wide world of Irish whiskey out there for you to try. Because the spirit is a bit softer and sweeter than its Scottish brethren, hardcore whiskey geeks tend to discount it, but Irish whiskey is booming, with new and interesting variations coming on the market all the time. Here are the bottlings worth searching out.
TEELING SMALL BATCH ($40)
The scion of a family that started distilling in the 1700s, Jack Teeling worked for years at the Cooley Distillery (which makes Kilbeggan and Connemara, among other brands). Now with his own brand, he’s bringing the American-style craft distilling ethos of creativity and experimentation to Ireland, opening Dublin’s first distillery in more than a century earlier this year. While that whiskey ages, you can enjoy this bottling, made from grain and malt whiskies sourced from Cooley and aged together in rum barrels for six months of extra aging, giving it a subtle tropical sweetness.
JAMESON SELECT RESERVE BLACK BARREL ($35)
If Jameson is your go-to Irish whiskey, take a small step up with this bottling instead. Like its little brother, it’s aged in a combination of sherry and bourbon casks, but the American oak barrels used are extra-charred. This gives it a more concentrated set of vanilla and spice notes on top of the fruitiness you expect from Jamo. You might even detect a faint hint of smoke on the finish.
TULLAMORE DEW PHOENIX ($55)
The central-Ireland town of Tullamore was the site of the world’s first aviation disaster in 1785, when a hot-air balloon crashed and ignited a devastating fire. After the town rebuilt, it adopted a phoenix rising from the ashes as its official shield. The local distillery decided to honor that history with this relatively new bottling. It’s a powerful 110-proof and is aged in oloroso sherry casks for some nice dry, nutty notes, along with a lot of spice and toffee.
BUSHMILLS 10-YEAR-OLD SINGLE MALT ($49)
Most Irish whiskies are a blend of malt whiskey (made from 100 percent malted barley) and grain whiskey (typically made from mostly corn), but this one ditches the latter category. That makes it a bit more Scotch-like, with less sweetness and more roasty, chocolaty notes. Bushmills bottles its single malt at 16 and 21 years old as well, but this younger version is actually your best bet—it has some sprightly spice and heat that the others lack.
REDBREAST 12 ($65)
There are essentially two different basic designs for stills: the pot still, which works in batches, and the column still, which can run continuously. Irish whiskey is typically a mix of spirits made in both, but pure pot-still spirits offer a special brand of funk, undiluted by the more mellow column-distilled whiskey. Redbreast 12 is the perfect first step into that world, with a deep complexity that’s well worth the price. You’ll get lots of spice, with a curiously creamy mouthfeel and long, long finish.
If you’re a budget-conscious drinker, Kilbeggan is probably the best value Ireland has to offer. It’s amazingly smooth, and dessert-sweet, with honey, caramel and butterscotch notes over a bready background. If you’re interested in trying some Irish whiskey cocktails, like the classic Irish Coffee or a Whiskey Sour, Kilbeggan is a great place to start. (And if you want to sip it neat, it’s tasty that way, too.)
YELLOW SPOT ($100)
When the delicious Green Spot came to the U.S. a little over a year ago, whiskey enthusiasts went nuts for its complex flavor. As of a couple months ago, its older brother is now here, too, and it’s just as obsession-worthy. Yellow Spot is a 12-year-old pot-still whiskey aged in a mix of bourbon, sherry and Malaga fortified wine casks. (Green Spot is 7 to 10 years old, aged in bourbon and sherry only.) You’ll get all kinds of fruits on the palate, from apples to peaches, along with honey, pepper, coffee, and custard.
CONNEMARA PEATED SINGLE MALT ($45)
Smoky peated whiskies are relatively common in Scotland, but they’re almost unheard-of in Ireland, despite the fact that peat bogs can be found just as easily on the Emerald Isle as in its neighbor. For an Irish whiskey that’s completely different, try Connemara, the only peated brand made in the country. It’s got lots of campfire, bacon-y smoke, backed up by Irish whiskey’s typical sweetness and honey. It’s not at all like an Islay Scotch, but if smoke’s your bag, it’ll tickle your fancy.