There’s no denying the immense popularity of Irish Whiskey, a spirit that has a lot of flavor but manages to be light and affable. Irish Whiskey mixes well (especially with ginger ale) but is also quite easy to enjoy all on its own.
Over the past few years, we at Drink Spirits have done extensive Irish Whiskey tastings all with one goal: to find the very best in Irish Whiskey. Here’s our list of the Top 10 Irish Whiskies for you to seek out this St. Patrick’s Day.
- Red Breast Single Pot Still 21 Year Old Irish Whiskey
- Bushmills 21 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
- Jameson 18 Year Blended Irish Whiskey
- Bushmills 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
- Greenspot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
- Michael Collins Single Malt Whiskey
- Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
- Power’s Gold Label 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey
- Tullamore Dew 10 Year Blended Irish Whiskey
Here are my tasting notes on all the Irish Whiskies we tried (a ton more Irish Whiskey Reviews Here too):
- Bushmills Blended Irish Whiskey – a nice Irish Whiskey blend with a light golden color. It’s got some corn grain and vanilla on the nose which gives way to a pear, apple and vanilla taste. This whiskey is very soft and easy and fairly drinkable.
- Bushmills Black Bush – a step up from Bushmills base blend, and at only $5 or so more a bottle, it’s a no brainer to start any Bushmills journey here. Light amber in color, Black Bush has a sweet, fruity nose with bright sherry notes, pear, banana and a very subtle, earthy undertone. The entry is very smooth and yet has a nice a burst of flavor. The opening notes are sweet with the fruity, sherry characteristics clearly present. Things stay very solid through the mid-palate where the flavors transition from more fruity to more earthy and salty. The mouth feel is excellent, almost buttery, and very smooth. The finish is solid with some subtle sherry notes, a little earthiness and just a touch of wood.Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey manages a careful balance of being a spirit that is both eminently smooth and drinkable while still maintaining a high level of flavor and complexity. Most of the other Irish whiskeys we’ve tried at this price point have been better suited to mixing than sipping, but the Black Bush delivers such a fantastic Irish whiskey, it’s an absolute pleasure to sip
- Bushmills 10 – A little thinner than the other Bushmills’ whiskey, it’s got a green apple taste on the front, opening up to more vanilla on the back with a little salt. It’s missing something and didn’t deliver like the Bushmills Black Bush.
- Bushmills 16 Year Single Malt Irish Whiskey - here’s a nice funk on the nose combined with sweet sherry notes, caramel, vanilla, apricot, port, brown sugar, a hint of salt, and a hint of chocolate. There’s a lot going on in the nose, much more than most Irish whiskeys in this class. The entry is smooth and sweet to start with vanilla and sherry flavors and then it unfolds beautifully in the mid-palate. There’s a very high level of complexity here with notes of oak, spice, grape jam and milk chocolate. The fruity notes lead the finish as the port and sherry notes linger on with just the right amount of spice and heat, and the slightest suggestion of milk chocolate. After a long finish it leaves your mouth nice and cool, finishing a wonderful journey with an excellent mouth feel from beginning to end.
- Bushmills 21 Year Single Malt Irish Whiskey - One of our absolute favorite Irish Whiskeys. Triple distilled and then aged for 21 years, Bushmills 21 is finished in Madeira casks before it’s bottled and laid to rest in a beautiful wooden locker. This whiskey has deep rich malty notes that border on chocolatety with a boldness and complexity of flavor you don’t typically see in Irish Whiskey. Even with a rich, bold and complex flavor, the Bushmills 21 Year Old Single Irish Malt Whiskey finishes cool and clean, leaving you eager to take the next sip.
- Connemara Peated Single Malt – If you’re going for a peated single malt you may as well be drinking scotch. This whiskey has a nice peat and sweet flavor with small fire and a medium sweet finish, but I can’t help but feel it’s missing something. A better bet is to hop over to Ardbeg 10 and go full tilt into the world of peated single malt whisky.
- Connemara 12 year – This has less fire than the standard Connemara and its nice and sweet, but what’s missing with Connemara is missing more here. It’s light, thin and easy drinking, but it just never wins me over.
- Connemara Cask Strength – A bigger fire upfront masks some of the peat smoke and sweet back. Loses some of the flavor to give fire and that’s not a good thing. Of the three Connemara, the Peated Single Malt is your best bet; this one is only Mildly Recommended.
- Greenore Single Grain 8 yr – 93% corn. Grainy and thin without a lot of upfront flavor. Some heat and sweet on the back. Very one dimensional by design, but I’ve had American corn whiskey that blows this one out of the water.
- Jameson Blended Irish Whiskey - light gold in color, with a fairly light nose, there are notes of vanilla, subtle honey, and a hint of the smell of a pencil eraser. There’s a slight edge to the nose. The entry of Jameson is actually a little more flavorful than you’d expect. Although the whiskey has a very light and thin mouthfeel, you get hit with some sweet vanilla right out of the gate and this transitions to a milk chocolate note with a slightly salty undertone. Unfortunately, before you really get a chance to lock into the flavor of this whiskey, it dissipates very quickly into a short finish. There’s a touch of heat that comes on in the mid-palate that persists through the finish, so the thing you’re most left with is the heat.
- Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey - has a decidedly rich and sweet nose. The lush, ripe fruit from the sherry is front and center, then mixes with the bourbon barrel notes of oak, marzipan, cinnamon, and oak. The entry is packed with flavor but not overly aggressive. Clear sherry fruit notes mix with the vanilla and soft oak. It’s evenly balanced and the flavors come together very well. A slight spice joins the mix in the mid-palate along with a subtle, salty grain note. The finish on the Black Barrel is flavorful and easy, fading out at a perfect pace and leaving the mouth fairly clean.There’s been a real trend in the whiskey space to put out flavorful and unique blends that don’t have an age statement on them, and for some reason many of them are called “Black”. Johnnie Walker has been very successful with Johnnie Walker Double Black and we think Jameson is going to be equally as successful with Black Barrel. Well priced, Jameson Black Barrel is an extraordinarily affable, flavorful, and easy to drink Irish whiskey that is a clear upgrade from the standard blend.
- Jameson Gold Reserve Blended Irish Whiskey – The top note on the nose is a nice light oaky/woodsy tone that’s backed up by a nice sweet undertone of vanilla and caramel. The nose on the Gold Reserve is decidedly sweeter and thicker than either the 12 year or the blended version of Jameson. The entry is sweet and easy, and smooth, and unfolds well towards the mid-plate. Midway through, the flavors of subtle oak, vanilla, salted caramel and a very light smokey ash tone come through. It’s a very pleasant combination, but it doesn’t stick around too long, as the finish is relatively short. There’s a slight bit of heat that gets picked up from the mid palate through the finish.Jameson Gold Reserve Irish Whiskey is smoother with more flavor than the standard Jameson Blend, a clear step up in many ways. Jameson Blend fans who seek out the Gold Reserve will find a spirit that is sweeter and heavier but still extremely smooth and drinkable. Jameson Gold addresses many of the things we don’t love about the base blend, but the price tag on it is so high for an Irish of this kind that it narrows its potential audience
- Jameson 12 Year Blended Irish Whiskey - The nose is pretty thick with notes of brown sugar, vanilla, sawdust and a slight banana undertone. The entry is very easy and sweet with a nice light brown sugar and vanilla flavor in its core. In the mid-palate the brown sugar is joined by a salty note and the slightest hint of funk. As with the blend, there’s a little bit of heat that emerges in the mid-palate and stays along through the finish. The finish is fairly short with a slight bit of cooling.Jameson Special Reserve 12 Year Irish Whiskey is a nice and easy Irish whiskey, but ultimately fairly unremarkable. It’s sweeter and heavier than the standard blend but it doesn’t bring a lot more to the table. The mouthfeel on the Special Reserve is nice but it’s not enough to really elevate this as a significant step up from the base blend.
- Jameson 18 Year Blended Irish Whiskey – Sweet vanilla caramel nose with lots of vanilla. It’s much oilier and thicker than the 12 year and it’s got some nice woodsy notes. There’s some nice heat on the finish and it’s head and shoulders over the regular blend or the 12 year.
- Kilbagen Blended Irish Whiskey – The Kilbeggan blend is a mix of Cooley’s Greenore, a single grain whiskey and Tyrconnel, the companies signature malt whiskey. I had the opportunity to taste both the Greenore and Tyconnel separately and really felt that the Kilbeggan was greater than the sum of its parts. I really didn’t care for the Greenore which is a 80 proof 93% corn whiskey. It’s billed as the only single grain Irish whiskey . I found the Greenore to be very grainy and thin without a lot of upfront favor with some heat and sweet on the back.I liked the Tyrconnell much better, it’s also a fairly light whiskey at 90 proof it has some nice fire on the front and a nice sweet and slightly oaky finish. The Tyrconnell is also sold in three different finishes, a sherry, midera and port. While I wasn’t crazy about any of the three finishes the port finish seemed to compliment the sweetness of the Tyrconnell the best. Yet when you put the Greenore and Tyrconnell together they seem to really compliment each other well and the result is Kilbeggan, and unexpectedly delightful and extremely affordable Irish Whiskey. While Kilbeggan won’t win over hardcore scotch fans, it is an excellent entry point for someone who wants to start exploring whiskey. It’s a fantastic ‘starter’ whiskey and one which I’d happily stock in my liquor cabinet.
- Knappogue Castle 1994 Distillers Private Select Single Malt Irish Whiskey – Smooth and sweet with fruity herbal notes. It’s got a lighter, more spirity sour end. Lots of raves online for this whiskey but I just can’t find enough to love. It’s not bad, but doesn’t live up to the hefty price tag.
- Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey – The nose is very soft and slightly muted with a front note that reminds us of cardboard, supported by some light, sweet vanilla and a hint of funk. The entry is sweet and very light, filling your mouth with flavor without being overwhelming. Michael Collins is less sweet than Jameson but brings along some nice flavor notes including some smoke, a little wood, an undertone of raisin and a hint of white pepper. The mid-palate is very short and the finish is extremely quick and fairly cool. Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey – seems to be an ideal candidate for a mixing whiskey. Since it’s double distilled, it’s not quite as silky soft as some of the other Irish whiskeys we’ve tried, which means it should perform better when mixed. Although it isn’t as soft, it’s still not overly aggressive and it manages to maintain the easy drinking quality that most come to expect from Irish whiskey. Combine all that with the reasonable price and it’s an Irish whiskey we recommend.
- Michael Collins Single Malt 10 Year Whiskey – The nose is lightly smoky with a grassy, moss-like note. Underneath there’s a nice sweet tone, a little of the cardboard that we saw in the blend, and a nice chocolate note. The nose also has a faint mineral quality about it. The entry is soft, sweet and full with vanilla, caramel and light smoke . Things quickly ramp up to an explosive mid-palate with very pronounced peat and smoke flavors that are backed by the slightest bit of sweet and spice. The finish is nice and cool, leaving just a faint reminder of the taste explosion that you get from the middle of this spirit.Michael Collins Single Malt 10 Year Irish Whiskey – is clearly different from other Irish whiskeys in this class. The way it delivers its flavor is outstanding and the overall mouthfeel of the spirit is just divine. The peat and smoke notes give the spirit a nice complexity and depth that makes it a perfect sipping whiskey. It may not be exactly what people are expecting from an Irish whiskey, but we think those who do venture out and try it will be pleasantly surprised
- Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey – Generally sweet, the Powers nose is very inviting with light wood tones, vanilla, slight spice and an undercurrent of brown sugar. The entry is flavorful for an Irish whiskey but doesn’t overwhelm. Powers is instantly heavier in the mouth than Jameson with sweet vanilla, chocolate , a slight wood taste and the slightest herbal undertones. By the time we get to the mid palate things soften out considerably, almost to the point of dulling, and the finish just peters out.Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey - an extremely affable Irish Whiskey that is slightly heavier with a slightly deeper flavor than Jameson. Although there’s more flavor here, there isn’t a tremendous amount of complexity. Powers is an excellent pick for an affordable, easy drinking Irish Whiskey
- Powers Gold Label Special Reserve 12 Year Irish Whiskey - is ever so slightly darker than the Powers Gold Label Standard. The nose is much more wood forward and has a deeper, richer caramel note on the nose. The entry is lovely, with much more depth than the standard gold; it’s hard to believe they are so closely related. The entry has notes of salted caramel, wood and a small amount of smoke. There’s the slightest element of funk that supports all this and ties everything together. The blockbuster opening carries very well to a strong mid palate and through to a strong finish where the salted caramel notes persist. There’s a little cooling to the finish – more than the Powers standard but not quite as much as Jameson.
- Tullamore Dew Blended Irish Whiskey - Nice sweet nose lends itself to a hot briney iodine taste. The finish is fast and clean and almost not there. It’s really lacking depth and complexity. It has a sour aftertaste. Not a lot to love.
- Tullamore Dew 10 Year Blended Irish Whiskey – Big caramel on the nose with a sweet and almost briney taste. Light spice at the end. Medium finish with some light smoke oak.
- Tullamore DEW Phoenix Limited Edition Irish Whiskey - – a blend of golden grain, malt, and pure pot still whiskey, finished in Oloroso sherry casks, this whiskey is dark gold in color. The nose on Tullamore D.E.W.’s Phoenix is a blend of fruit and grain with apricot, apple, raisin, and honeysuckle combined with malt, cereal grains, caramel, and sherry. All this is backed by clove and solid oak which act as unifying factors for the aromas. The higher proof of Phoenix is pretty apparent on the nose which is slightly vapory and a little too acidic. The entry for Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix is flavorful but shares some of the acidic qualities of the nose and tracks a similar path, leading with apricot, pear, aromatic grapes, and honeysuckle before moving on to the midpalate, which is defined by oak and clove spice with a touch of caramel. In the midpalate, before we get a heat spike, the flavors all come together quite nicely, but there isn’t much time to enjoy them, as at the end of the midpalate Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix gets hot and sharp. This heat spike leads a medium length and overly dry finish which clears out a lot of what we liked about the whiskey. Adding some water to Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix (and we recommend quite a lot of water) does a lot to help round things out, as well as boosts the oak notes in the midpalate, but it’s no match for the spike in heat at the end of the midpalate.
- Tyrconnel Single Malt – Light sweet nose with caramel and vanilla, some nice fire up front and oak in the back. On its own it’s not a fantastic whiskey but the cask finishes you can get it in (port, madera and sherry) all add some needed layers of complexity. Mildly Recommended unfinished but Solidly Recommended in the 3 finish options.
Be sure to also check out over a dozen more Irish Whiskey Reviews all updated since this list first ran including: Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey Review, Bushmills Irish Honey Whiskey Review and Bushmills 16 Year Single Malt Irish Whiskey Review.
Top 10 Irish Whiskey Picks for St. Patrick's Day by Geoff Kleinman