Top 10 Irish Whiskey Picks for St. Patrick’s Day

Top 10 Irish Whiskey
Top 10 Irish Whiskey

There’s no holiday where Irish Whiskey is more at the centerpiece than St. Patrick’s Day. Although the very popular Jameson 12 Year is a very pleasant product, there’s an entire world out there of interesting and unique Irish Whiskey offerings.

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 Whiskeys for you to seek out this St. Patrick’s Day, updated for 2015:

  1. Bushmills 21 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
  2. Red Breast Single Pot Still 21 Year Old Irish Whiskey
  3. Bushmills 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
  4. Red Breast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey
  5. Jameson 18 Year Blended Irish Whiskey
  6. Yellow Spot 12 Year Irish Whiskey
  7. Greenspot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
  8. Powers John’s Lane Release 12 Year Old Single Pot Still
  9. Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
  10. Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey

Here are my tasting notes on all the Irish Whiskeys we tried (and many 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 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 between 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 – There’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 chocolatey with a boldness and complexity of flavor you don’t typically see in Irish Whiskey. Even with a rich, bold, and complex flavor, 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 it’s nice and sweet, but what’s missing with Connemara is missing even 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.
  • Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey – Distilled in traditional copper coffey stills and then aged in both ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks, it’s reflected in the nose with deeply charred oak, blackberry, caramel, and cinnamon. On the palate the bourbon notes immediate do battle with the sherry. The barrel char is also hyper pronounced, which in itself is a nice flavor, but in the mix is just another loud voice trying to be heard over the cacophony of flavors. This whiskey never quite finds the kind of balance or integration that’s needed between the warring factions. The midpalate is quite spicy with white pepper and oak layered with a dash of heat. The finish is fairly dry and shows off some of the younger grain spirit in the mix. There are some nice ideas at work in this Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey, and even some nice flavors, but they just don’t come together well to form a complete idea.
  • Jameson Blended Irish Whiskey – Light gold in color, with a fairly light nose, there are notes of vanilla and  subtle honey. 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 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, easy, and smooth, and unfolds well towards the mid-palate. 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 with 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.
  • Kilbeggan Blended Irish Whiskey –  The Kilbeggan blend is a mix of Cooley’s Greenore, a single grain whiskey, and Tyrconnell, the company’s signature malt whiskey.  I had the opportunity to taste both the Greenore and Tyrconnell 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 an 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, with some nice fire on the front and a nice sweet and slightly oaky finish. The Tyrconnell is also sold in three different finishes: sherry, madeira, and port.  While I wasn’t crazy about any of the three finishes, the port finish seemed to complement the sweetness of Tyrconnell the best. Yet when you put the Greenore and Tyrconnell together, they seem to really complement each other well and the result is Kilbeggan, an 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 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey –  Bright gold in color, Knappogue Castle 12 has a light and sweet nose with honey, toasted malt, milk chocolate, and maple-covered Wheaties. The nose does an exceptional job of capturing the essence of malted barley with a nice level of intensity and complexity that’s often absent from many Irish whiskeys. The entry is flavorful with McIntosh apples and peaches combined with light honey and cereal grains. The cereal grains are really showcased in the midpalate where the maple-covered Wheaties from the nose is clearly on the palate. In addition to cereal grains, the midpalate has subtle milk chocolate, salted caramel, a touch of citrus, and some black pepper and oak spice. The finish continues showing the love of malt and is long and slightly dry with a light lager-like note to it. Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey is a perfect example of a great Irish whiskey that manages to capture a great deal of flavor and complexity from the malted barley and present them in a light and affable manor. The reverence for the malt here is unmistakable and the flavors are delicious. At $42 a bottle, you’re getting a solid bang for the buck and an Irish whiskey that has enough to impress even the most ardent Scotch whisky fan.
  • Knappogue Castle 14 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey  – For this release, Knappogue Castle ages their malt in a combination of ex-bourbon and sherry casks. Unlike the 12 Year Single Malt, the 14 Year Old Twin Wood is non-chill filtered. Darker in color, the 14 year old Twin Wood shows off its time in sherry casks with a nice light amber color. The nose of the 14 year old Twin Wood also has telltale signs of sherry casks with blackberry jam, combining with some of the same malt notes that are present in the 12 year. The sherry influence is pretty dominant in the nose and so the malt becomes the co-pilot in the equation. The sherry influence is right there on the entry with blackberry jam along with toasted malt. Things get spicier more quickly and just as we hit the midpalate, the spice is in full swing. In the midpalate there’s solid black pepper and allspice combined with honeyed malt, dry maple, and salt.  There’s a bit of lushness to the midpalate as the blackberry moves into a nice supporting role with the spice. The finish is long and spicy and combines the malt, spice, and dark fruit. The sherry casks dry out the end of the finish which is markedly drier than the 12 year old whiskey. Knappogue Castle 14 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey isn’t as malt centric as the 12 year old release and is fairly textbook about what sherry casks bring to the equation. The addition of the dark fruits and midpalate spice, the increase in ABV, and the extra time in wood help make Knappogue’s 14 year old Twin Wood a much bolder and robust Irish whiskey. How much you’ll like the Knappogue Castle 14 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey is extremely dependent on how much you like sherry finish. Since the base whiskey here is lighter than most Scotch style, the sherry has a lot more room to work and has a stronger impact. There’s something really special and unique about Knappogue Castle’s 12 year old single malt, and while the Twin Wood is good whiskey, it’s lacking the balance and finesse that we really enjoyed with the 12 year.
  • Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey   –  The Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Twin Wood is dark amber/brown, much darker than the 14 year old Twin Wood. With only a couple of years between them, you’d think there would be a lot of similarities between the 14 and 16 year old Twin Woods, but they are remarkably different. While the nose on the 14 year is dark fruit and sherry focused, here there’s more of an emphasis on the lighter fruits like green apple and nectarine as well as a light nuttiness and light oak . The dark fruits are there, along with the malt notes, but they are much less at the forefront. The entry for the Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Twin Wood is also considerably lighter than the other Knappogue Castle releases, even a little delicate. From the start the sherry influence is clear, but here is much better integrated than with the 14 year old release with a lot more complexity. Blackberry intermingles with toasted malt, marzipan, and toasted oak. The midpalate is far less spicy than the 14 year old Twin Wood and a lot more balanced. The malt here is also a lot more clear as it is joined by salt, black pepper, and more toasted oak. The finish is medium length and has the lighter, crisper notes from the nose including green apple, light malt, and black pepper spice. Knappogue Castle 16 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey manages to do what the 14 year old Twin Wood doesn’t: it adds some nice influence of the sherry cask without losing its balance and malt character. With the 16 year old malt we’ve also clearly crossed a line in the maturation journey where the character of the whiskey begins to take on a much more delicate and etherial quality. While it has some of the core malt notes you’ll find in the 12 year, the character is so different that fans of one may not like the other. Still, it’s an excellent Irish Whiskey and another strong example of how the category can have offerings which are complex and flavorful while still being light and affable.
  • 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.
  • Red Breast 21 Year Old Irish Whiskey – From the nose you’d wonder what all the fuss was about – it’s acidic and slightly sharp with green pear, oak, and lily. In the core of all that is a nice salty malt note. Once this whiskey hits the palate, it’s clear why this Red Breast is so adored. Red Breast 21 explodes onto the palate with apple, pear, honey, and malt. The midpalate intensifies these notes and adds salted carmel, oak, and allspice. The intensity of spice in the midpalate matches the strong level of flavor in the spirit. The finish is long and slightly dry with a pure malt note accompanied by a layer of pepper and salt spice. If you like your Irish strong and bold, you don’t have to look any further than this.
  • Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey – The Irish Whiskey category has become known for its affability, but Teeling has shown with this flagship release that affable doesn’t have to mean dull. Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey is finished for 6 months in rum casks, something that worked extremely well for a handful of small bottlings for Bushmills. The nose on the Teeling Whiskey is soft and approachable with orange, honey, caramel, malt, and oak. On the palate, Teeling bursts with flavor with honeyed malt, dark chocolate, vanilla, clove, and cinnamon . The magic of this whiskey is in the midpalate where the spice, grain, and rum cask all come together, fantastically integrated. The finish is medium length and fairly dry with significant spice lingering on the palate. Teeling has managed to create an Irish Whiskey that both adheres to the style while at the same time expands it. It’s hard to think of an Irish Whiskey with more character than this one.
  • Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey – Aged completely in California red wine barrels, this Irish single grain whiskey (made from corn) strongly shows off its wine cask influence. The nose leads with oak, which is much stronger and more pronounced than most other Irish Whiskeys on the market. The fruit from the red wine is also there combined with caramel and pepper spice.  As with the nose, the entry leads with oak and is quickly followed up by the jammy fruit from the wine with blackberry and blackcurrant. In the midpalate the oak spice increases and is joined by white pepper and clove spice. The underlying sweetness from the fruit balances the spice in the midpalate quite well and the two combine to form a medium and slightly dry finish.  In the grain whiskey space, this Teeling stands out as something unique with good character, nice flavor, and solid balance.
  • Tullamore Dew Blended Irish Whiskey –  Crisp green apple combines with caramel and grain for a nicely aromatic but very tame nose. The entry follows the nose but with more flavor – the apple is there and so is the caramel, but it’s more a salted caramel on the palate. Midpalate brings on some oak and black pepper spice with some increasing intensity. It’s here that grain whiskey and young whiskey in the blend peek out and give things some heat. There’s a hint of chocolate in the midpalate which follows on in the finish, which is fairly dry. While Tullamore D.E.W. is a great workhorse Irish whiskey, it’s flavorful and affable with some nice structure for mixing. Not really a sipping whiskey, but it doesn’t really aspire to be. 
  • 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.
  • Tyrconnell 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.
  • Yellow Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey – Dark gold in color,  the nose on Yellow Spot is more a showcase for oak than many other Irish whiskeys on the market. The oak here isn’t overbearing, but it is very present, and accompanied by honey, milk chocolate, cream, malt, and peach.The entry for Yellow Spot is flavorful, soft, lightly sweet, and much less oak forward than the nose, with deep honey, peach, cream, and milk chocolate. As we head towards the midpalate, this whiskey sheds the sweeter notes established in the opening for drier grain notes accompanied by oak, black pepper, and allspice. The midpalate is quite spicy for an Irish whiskey but it manages to keep the spice fairly well balanced. At the end of the midpalate is a nice toasted grain and coffee bean note. The finish for Yellow Spot is fairly short and slightly dry, but it manages to nearly clean up all the flavors from the whiskey leaving a pleasant, cool sensation on the palate.There’s a reason why both Green Spot and Yellow Spot have been so sought after – they’re good Irish whiskeys.

What’s your top 10 Irish Whiskey list? Share it with us in the comments below!