Emails with the subject line ‘What is the best Irish whiskey?’ hit our inbox every week, without fail.
And it’s a very tough question to answer, as taste is subjective. So, treat any guide to the ‘best Irish whiskey brands’ with a hint of caution (even this one).
So, why should you read on? Well, below I’ve chopped up our guide into the best Irish whiskeys for those completely new to the drink and placed lots of recommendations for those of you well used to whiskeys, Irish or otherwise.
Below, you’ll find good Irish whiskey brands to try if you’re a first timer to top shelf Irish whiskeys for those of you looking to add to your collection.
The best Irish whiskey brands to try if you’re new to whiskey
The first section of our guide is for those of you that are looking for Irish whiskeys that are a good first-time-tipple option.
These are Irish whiskey brands that tend to have a less severe taste, and that those new to Irish whiskey tend to find more palatable.
1. Redbreast 12 Year
This is the smoothest Irish whiskey, in my opinion. With multiple awards to its name, you’re going to be in safe hands with Redbreast 12 Year Old if you’re new to whiskey! This single pot still whiskey has been in existence for over 100 years now and, while Redbreast offers a range of styles, the 12 Year Old is the one you should go for.
Often referred to as ‘Christmas Whiskey’ because of the fruit sherry casks that it is kept in, its tasting notes include hints of marzipan, dried fruits and spices and is perhaps one to save for the festive season.
This is a good Irish whiskey for first timers as it’s smooth and has an almost vanilla or caramel-like taste. This is regarded as one of the best Irish whiskey brands by many for very good reason!
2. Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey
Created in 1829 and later prospering under general manager Daniel E Williams (hence D.E.W. in the name), Tullamore D.E.W is the second largest selling brand of Irish whiskey globally.
That popularity makes it pretty accessible for those new to whiskey and the triple blend is known for its smooth and gentle complexity. Expect a good body with notes of sherried peels, honey, grains and vanilla cream with a caramel and toffee finish.
This is a good Irish whiskey to drink straight as it’s smooth, sweet and doesn’t have the harsh finish that comes with some Irish whiskeys. It also tends to be pretty cheap (in Ireland, for example, it retails at around €30 for a 700ml bottle).
3. Jameson Irish Whiskey
Even the most uninitiated of whiskey newcomers will have heard of Jameson, and may even have tried it during their life at some point. Ireland’s most famous whiskey has been going since 1780 and is a perennial fixture among the spirits behind most bars.
The body has notes of orchard fruits, both fresh and cooked with a little vanilla cream and the finish is medium-length with spice and honey.
Although you can of course drink it straight, this is one of several Irish whiskey brands that’s often dressed up a dash of ginger and lime.
Established in 1757, Kilbeggan claims to be Ireland’s oldest licensed distillery and, after battling through a painful closure in 1953, it was revived by locals 30 years later who’ve kept it going ever since.
Based in Kilbeggan in County Westmeath, their double-distilled blended whiskey features a good body with honeyed sweetness and malt while the finish is short with oaked dryness. It’s a fine complement to a Coke or a soda, though we’d recommend drinking it neat to truly understand its nuances.
5. Roe & Co.
Situated inside the imposing former Guinness Power House in Dublin’s Liberties district, Roe & Co. is named after legendary 19th-century whiskey pioneer George Roe and only began distilling in 2017.
Go for their 45% blended Irish whiskey with its palate of velvety texture and sweet flavours including spiced pears and vanilla. This gentle introduction finishes with a light creaminess that’s very pleasant for any whiskey newcomer and it goes great in Irish whiskey cocktails.
Popular Irish whiskies for the experienced palate
The second section of our guide looks at some of the best Irish whiskey brands for those that are accustomed to the amber fluid.
Below, you’ll find some good Irish whiskeys to sample if you’re looking to extend your collection or if you want to buy a particularly good bottle as a gift.
1. Green Spot Irish Whiskey
There was a time when this single pot still Irish whiskey was only available from Dublin grocer Mitchell’s. Part of Mitchell’s ‘spot’ range, it’s been on sale continuously since the early 1900s but now its reach is global and thus (thankfully for us!) far more widely available.
The nose features hints of peppermint, malt, sweet barley, creamy vanilla and citrus, while the palate is spicy and soft. Enjoy its creamy long vanilla finish.
2. Bushmills 21 Year Single Malt Irish Whiskey
On the wild north coast of Ireland, the Bushmills Distillery has stood proud for over 400 years. Established in 1608, it claims to be the oldest licensed distillery in the world. With water sourced from the River Bush and named after the mills that made the Barley, Bushmills is an Irish whiskey icon.
Aged in Oloroso sherry and bourbon-seasoned casks, the 21 Year Single Malt Irish Whiskey is Bushmills’ pièce de résistance. With a nose of rich toffee, honey, spiced fruit notes and dark mocha, followed by a chewy palate and sweet syrupy finish, you can’t go wrong with this one.
You’ll see many describe Bushmills 21 Year Single Malt as the best Irish whiskey for those that have developed a taste for whiskeys. This one’s well worth a try!
3. Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey
The first new distillery in Dublin for 125 years, the Teeling Whiskey Distillery is only a stone’s throw from where the original family distillery stood. Located in the heart of the Golden Triangle, Dublin’s historic distilling district, Teeling opened in 2015 and is part of the area’s vibrant whiskey revival.
Matured in Californian Cabernet Sauvignon casks, Teeling’s Single Grain Irish Whiskey is sweet and fairly light but packed full of flavour. The beautifully presented bottle also makes it the perfect gift.
If you’re looking to sip some whiskey in Ireland during your visit, I’d recommend giving Teeling’s a try. This distillery is going from strength to strength.
4. Powers Gold Label
Powers Gold Label is a historic Irish whiskey that goes back over 200 years! First introduced in 1791 by John Power & Son, it was originally a single pot still whiskey but eventually evolved into a blend of pot still and grain whiskeys.
Enjoy its buttery shortbread palate with hints of cereal, pears and a little milk chocolate. The finish is short but spicy with honey lingering to the end and it goes really well in Irish cocktails.
5. Yellow Spot Single Pot Still 12-Year-Old Irish Whiskey
Discontinued in the 1960s before a great revival in 2012, Yellow Spot Single Pot Still 12-Year-Old Irish Whiskey is also part of the old Mitchell’s ‘spot’ range (see Green Spot above).
Matured in American bourbon casks, Spanish Sherry butts and Spanish Malaga casks for a sweeter flavour, its nose and palate is fruity and sweet with a velvety texture. The finish is long and sweet with notes of marzipan and dried apricots.
6. Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey
With an evocative name inspired by the creative thinkers and artists that defined Irish culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey is a fine drop in a cool bottle.
Crafted and bottled by Walsh Whiskey Distillery, it’s aged in American bourbon barrels, producing a light, smooth flavor profile that’s extremely easy to drink.
7. Midleton Very Rare
Produced at the New Midleton Distillery east of Cork, Midleton Very Rare is matured for about twelve to twenty years in ex-bourbon American Oak barrels and is one of the most expensive whiskeys regularly produced by Irish Distillers.
One of the coolest things about this lesser-spotted drop is that each bottle is individually numbered and signed by the Master Distiller, and sold in an accompanying wooden display case. Enjoy its ever-changing flavours ranging from fruity to tangy to spicy, with a very long finish.
If you’ve cash to splash (the 2021 vintage is €199 a bottle!) this a top Irish whiskey to add to even the most finely-stocked collections.
Lesser-know Irish whiskey brands that are well worth trying
The final section of our guide to the best Irish whiskey brands takes a look at some lesser-known Irish whiskeys that pack a punch.
Below, you’ll find everything from the excellent West Cork Whiskey and the popular Slane Whiskey to some often-missed brands.
1. Slane Irish Whiskey
Often associated with epic gigs and huge crowds, Slane’s whiskey is big on taste too (although an enormous concert probably isn’t the best place to appreciate all its notes and nuances).
The Boyne Valley’s clear water and lush soil provide a fine base for Slane’s triple casked whiskey.
Made using whiskeys drawn from virgin oak casks, seasoned casks (which previously contained Tennessee whiskey and bourbon) and Oloroso Sherry casks, there’s a ton of flavour in their whiskey and is well worth checking out.
2. Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Not all peaty whiskeys come from Scotland, you know! Inspired by the 18th-century art of drying malting barley over peat fires, Connemara is the only Irish Peated Single Malt Whiskey widely available today.
Unsurprisingly, the nose is well-smoked and peated, and features floral notes with a honeyed sweetness and a little wood. Enjoy a full and smooth palate with a long, pungent finish full of honey and peat smoke.
All cards on the table, I struggle with peated Irish whiskeys, as the flavour and nose are so strong, but I know many that sip them on a regular basis.
3. West Cork Whiskey
I’d argue that our next whiskey is one of the most overlooked Irish whiskey brands on the market.
From a small distillery in Skibbereen, West Cork Irish Whiskey is now sold in over 70 countries. Triple distilled and carefully crafted using the finest of local ingredients, West Cork Irish Whiskey is matured in entirely in bourbon casks and is a fine single malt if you can get your hands on it.
A light blend of grain and malt whiskies with big vanilla notes and a fruity finish, there are plenty of reasons for seeking out a bottle of West Cork.
4. Knappogue Castle Whiskey
Named after historic Knappogue Castle (built in 1467) in County Clare, Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey is a brand of premium single malt Irish whiskey. Triple distilled and aged in bourbon barrels for 12 years before bottling, this stuff isn’t easy to find but it’s a cracking drop if you do seek it out.
The palate features gentle oak spice and vanilla with hints of cut grass, while the lingering finish has a touch of orchard fruits.
What Irish whiskey brands have we missed?
I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some top Irish whiskey brands from the guide above.
If you have a place that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below and I’ll check it out!
FAQs about the best Irish whiskeys
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What is the best Irish whiskey for newbie drinkers?’ to ‘What are some good top shelf Irish whiskey drinks?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What are the best Irish whiskey brands for newbies?
If you’re new to Irish whiskeys, Redbreast 12 Year, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Tullamore Dew are all excellent options, as they’re less severe tasting.
What is a good Irish whiskey to give as a gift?
Certain Irish whiskeys make great gifts. If you’re looking for a mid-range bottle, you can’t go wrong with Redbreast 12. If you have cash to splash try Midleton Very Rare.