Unburdened by the nerdery that surrounds bourbon, free of the regional knowledge requirements of Scotch, and generally more affordable than both categories, Irish whiskey is an easy-drinking spirit perfect for both whiskey beginners and experts alike.
Generally known as a lighter whiskey without heavy notes of smoke or oaky vanilla, there is nonetheless a wide and diverse range of Irish whiskeys to be sampled and enjoyed. Some are more suited for cocktailing, and others can be sipped solo just as you might a fine scotch or bourbon.
And, lucky for us, the category keeps growing, with more examples available in the U.S. every year. It probably wasn't too long ago that the Irish whiskey section at your liquor store was limited to just three or four big brands, but now it’s likely overflowing with bottles marked with different age statements and barrel finishes. Of course, there’s always space on the bar for the old standbys, too.
Our top pick is the Knappogue Castle 12 Year Single Malt because it's affordable enough to be your everyday whiskey yet still luxurious enough to sip for special occasions.
According to our research, here are some of the top Irish whiskeys to drink right now.
Knappogue Castle 12 Year Single Malt
Region: Ireland | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Apples, baking spices, toast
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 Irish Whiskey
Region: Ireland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Roasted fruit, grain, honey
Easy to identify, The Sexton boasts a unique, black-and-gold, angular bottle. This Irish whiskey is triple distilled in copper pot stills and 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.
In a category long dominated by men, the Sexton is one of the few Irish whiskeys to be crafted by a female master distiller. Additionally, the bottle is fairly easy on the budget, so you can feel free to mix away—utilizing it in cocktails like the hot toddy, the whiskey smash, or even a simple whiskey & Soda with a long twist of lemon.
Slane Irish Whiskey
Region: Ireland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, vanilla, dried fruit
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.
Related: The Best Whiskey Glasses, According to Experts
"I'm a big fan of Slane Whiskey. It's really lovely on its own, but because of its soft and approachable profile, it works well in lighter whiskey cocktails. And you can't beat the price point." — Prairie Rose, Editor
Best Under $50
Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey
Region: Ireland | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Baking spices, vanilla, dried fruit
The first whiskey distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years, Teeling launched in 2015 with this bottle as its flagship offering. 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.
Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Region: Ireland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Honey, toasted nuts, dried fruit
Aged for a minimum of 14 years in bourbon barrels and finished in Oloroso sherry casks (thus resulting in a minimum of 16 years total aging), this rarefied 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
West Cork 8-Year Single Malt
Region: Ireland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Dried apples, honey, baking spices
While single-malt Scotch has become increasingly expensive in recent years, there are a number of single-malt Irish whiskeys that still represent terrific values. West Cork produces a gorgeous single-malt that sees Irish barley and local spring water going into a hand-built copper pot still, with the resulting distillate matured for eight years in first-fill, flame-charred bourbon barrels. This leads to far more depth and character than fans of single-malt Scotch may typically associate with Irish whiskey. The well-balanced palate features pretty notes of dried apple and honey segueing to a baking-spice finish—all at an approachable 80 proof.
Best for Sipping Neat
Redbreast 12 Year
Region: Ireland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Baking spices, roasted fruit, nuts
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. “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.
Light, fruity, and flecked with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, this is also a comfort whiskey for many bartenders. “Redbreast was the first Irish whiskey that I had that wasn’t Jameson,” says Josh Jancewicz, bartender at Gold–Diggers in Los Angeles. This now iconic bottling represents a great way to begin to explore the complexity of the category.
Runner-Up, Best for Sipping Neat
Writers' Tears Copper Pot
Region: Ireland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Baking spices, pear, vanilla
It may have a gimmicky name, but this whiskey is no joke. A blend of pot still and single malt whiskeys, it’s triple distilled for smoothness.
“I’m a big fan of this whiskey because it was produced in the classic way—high amount of grain in the mash, and distilled in a copper pot,” says bartender Anthony Baker (aka “the Professor”). “I feel as though you can taste the historical way Irish whiskeys were originally made. And that is why I like to have this either neat or on the rocks: every sip allows me to sit back and imagine myself back in the 1500s when Irish whiskey was so delicious that even Queen Elizabeth I had it as her drink of choice.” Pour yourself a dram and think about that novel you're definitely going to get around to finishing one of these years.
Best for Sipping on Ice
Green Spot Irish Whiskey
Region: Ireland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Green apple, apricot, honey
This cult favorite was 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.
Related: The Best Ice Cube Trays
Best for Hot Toddies
McConnell’s Irish Whiskey
Region: Ireland | ABV: 42% | Tasting Notes: Pear, cinnamon, orange zest
Though it may seem new to you, the distillery was actually founded in 1776. But the whiskey only recently made its way back to U.S. shores after being banished to the Emerald Isle during Prohibition. While it is extremely sippable on its own, this rounded whiskey plays well with a touch of citrus and can handle the heat of a Hot Toddy (or an Irish Coffee, for that matter).
“It’s smooth, bold, and has notes of citrus,” says Baker. “It actually reminds me very much of a scotch with its high amount of malted barley. This is why I use it to make my homemade Penicillin cocktails as well as a good Hot Toddy. The underlying citrus notes go so well with the honey from both cocktails.”
Related: The Best Whiskey Decanters
Best for Whiskey & Gingers
Jameson Irish Whiskey
Region: Ireland | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Grain, lemon, honey
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.”
Tullamore D.E.W. Caribbean Rum Cask Finish
Region: Ireland | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, pineapple, cocoa
In this bottle, the Emerald Isle’s signature spirit gets some flavor contributions from an island chain halfway across the world. 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, it might not be a bad idea to experiment with this oddball whiskey in drinks typically made with rum, such as a Piña Colada or a Mai Tai.
Though each of these whiskeys deserves a place on your bar, our overall favorite remains Knappogue Castle 12yr Single Malt (view at Drizly) due to its versatility. Perfectly at home in a tumbler over ice, it’s also great sipped neat by a fireplace or stirred into a sophisticated cocktail. It’s a great upgrade for those looking to expand their palates beyond the usual suspects.
What's the difference between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey?
The primary difference between Scotch and Irish whiskey is geography: Scotch can only be made in Scotland, and Irish whiskey can only be made in Ireland (encompassing both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland). Of course, there’s also the spelling of the word. Irish whiskey is spelled with an “e,” while the Scots leave the “e” out and call it whisky. Aside from those two identifiers, there’s little official difference between the two categories, though you’ll certainly see stylistic distinctions. Scotch is often (but not always) peated, leaving it with a smoky flavor and aroma. Irish whiskey, on the other hand, is typically very bright and crisp, but as always, there are exceptions.
How is Irish whiskey made?
According to the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980, Irish whiskey must be made from a mash of malted barley along with other optional cereal grains. It is then fermented and distilled to 94.8 percent ABV at most and aged in wooden casks for a minimum of three years. Irish whiskey can be distilled in a pot still or a column still. It can be blended or sold as a single malt—coming from only one distillery.
What's the best way to drink Irish whiskey?
Irish whiskey is often sipped straight—either neat or over ice—in a lowball glass. It is also great for whiskey cocktails such as Irish coffee, whiskey & soda, whiskey sour, whiskey & ginger (aka an Irish buck), and an old fashioned.
Why Trust Liquor.com?
This roundup was updated by Jesse Porter, who finds that keeping a bottle of whiskey on his desk next to his computer helps improve his overall workflow and thus writes it off monthly as a business expense.
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.
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