The Irish whiskey renaissance has been a long time coming. With so many new products vying for your attention, the hardest part is sorting through the clutter to find the cream of the crop. To help, we enlisted two whiskey pros.
Chad Berkey is a partner at San Diego’s Cordova Bar and formerly helmed Aero Club, which had a whiskey list pushing 1,000 strong. At his newer spot, Berkey pared the menu down to a fraction of what he’d been used to. “Choosing just the essentials is basically what we did,” he says. “Everything was handpicked for a reason.”
Brett Pontoni is the spirits buyer for Binny’s, a Chicago chain that’s also respected as a leading online liquor store. He knows exactly what an Irish-whiskey drinker needs to have on hand.
Here are their picks for the five essential Irish whiskeys for your home bar.
“Green Spot takes you for a ride, and you get the full flavor profile,” says Berkey. “This is one of the most balanced whiskeys out there. I’ll do a blind tasting, I’ll put the Green Spot in there, and more often than not, people will pick it as their favorite. The word sexy comes to mind here. Certain whiskeys just hit that sexy note.”
You didn’t think we’d omit Jamo, did you? “It’s obviously the most popular,” says Berkey. While the brand has expanded its lineup to include a wide variety of offerings, such as beer-barrel finishes, Berkey likes classic Jameson. That’s because, while patrons at his bar frequently order Jameson as a shot, he deploys it in numerous cocktails. “Some people don’t realize it’s good in cocktails, too,” he says.
Berkey and Pontoni each chose Redbreast 12 Year Old for their shortlist.“It’s a classic example of pure pot-still style, with loads of apples and pear fruit character, and an oily, almost buttery palate,” says Pontoni. The pot-still style of production is characterized by a mixture of malted and unmalted barley in the mash bill, and pot-still distillation.
“Redbreast 12 straddles the line between the light, fruity style most people associate with Irish whiskey and the richer, more layered style of scotch single malt,” he adds. “This is a great example of the quintessential Irish style of distillation.”
“Grain can be the lightest style of whiskey but not here,” says Pontoni. “It’s slightly floral with complex layers of apples, and apricots with baking spice. It’s oily on the palate, and the use of ex-cabernet barrels makes this unique and has to be a main contributor to the complexity.”
“We need more high-quality grain whiskeys from Ireland and Scotland,” he adds. Sip this over ice to reveal its creamy sweetness and the fruit influence from the wine barrels. It’s also a natural choice in cocktails.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
“Tyrconnell 15-year-old is a splurge, but well worth it,” he says. “And actually, it can be difficult to find older Irish bottlings that aren’t extremely spendy, so this is a relative bargain.” It’s aged for a full 15 years in ex-bourbon casks before spending an additional three months in Madeira wine casks from Portugal. “It’s a single malt with no doubt to its Irish heritage,” says Pontoni. “This is a malty, fruity, richly textured whiskey balanced by spicy wood and honeysuckle notes thanks to the Madeira cask.”