Your St. Patrick's Day just got a lot more diverse
The best Irish whiskies for St. Patrick's Day.
You may hear the word "whiskey" and think Scotland, but you'd be forgetting what many consider be the birthplace of whiskey: Ireland. And if you hear the word "Irish whiskey," you may automatically think "Jameson." And while we certainly won't turn down a Jameson shot with our craft beers, we think there are many more Irish whiskies to be explored this month.
Click here for the 8 Irish Whiskies Beyond Jameson Slideshow
The word “whiskey” originates from the ancient Gaelic term “uisce beatha” (pronounced ISH-keh BA-ha”), meaning “water of life”. The Emerald Isle has become synonymous with whiskey for many reasons, including its role as home to the oldest licensed distillery in the world. While many distilleries faced huge challenges from high taxes and the Total Abstinence Movement during the 19th century, the whiskey world of Ireland soon bounced back. In the early 1900s, the finest whiskey in Ireland was often sold in casks rather than in bottles, as it is today. Spirits merchants bought the casks, aged them and bottled the whiskey under their own brand names. Fast-forward to the 21st century, where Irish whiskey has been designated as the fastest growing spirit in 2011 and 2012. No wonder everyone's drinking it, whether on its own or in a cocktail (like the ever-popular Irish Coffee).
Today, Irish whiskey doesn't look much different than its Scottish companions. You have your single malts and your blended whiskies, but what makes Irish whiskies unique are the pot stills. Thanks to unmalted barley in the mixture, a pure pot still whiskey (like Redbreast) is one that's extra spicy. However, there are some very easy sipping Irish whiskies, like the Greenore single grain Irish whiskey. Click ahead to find our Irish whiskey picks for March and St. Patrick's Day — or really, any time of the year.
6 Irish Whiskey Cocktails to Make at Home
This whiskey lemonade is sweetened with honey and made long with seltzer: it's an ideal porch sipper (if you're working on your copywriting on the porch.) It's super refreshing, not too boozy, and not too sweet.
In the past year or so, we've seen more and more fancy bars around the country touting an Irish whiskey-based cocktail selection. But even if some of the finest drinks at Tradition in San Francisco and Dead Rabbit in NYC feature whiskey from the Emerald Isle, home mixing with Irish whiskey tends not to get more ambitious than a simple Jameson and Ginger. (What? You forgot the ginger?)
If you want to catch up on what Irish whiskey is and isn't, start with Michael Dietsch's excellent guide. Wondering what you can make with that bottle? We've got you covered, with recipes for light and refreshing highballs, classic stirred drinks, and a cool chicory spin on Irish coffee.
Dozens of Distilleries Are Betting That Irish Whiskey Has a Future Bigger Than Jameson
No spirits category is dominated so completely by one brand as Irish whiskey is by Jameson. Yet that may soon change. Irish whiskey is one of the fastest-growing spirits categories in the U.S., according to drinks market analyst IWSR. Over the past five years, volume sales increased at a 13.4 percent compound annual growth rate. IWSR forecasts the category will continue to grow in the coming years.
To give the category a sense of context, the Irish whisky category is about half the size of Scotch in the U.S. Nearly 4.9 million 9-liter cases of Irish whiskey were sold stateside in 2019, generating $1.1 billion in revenues for distillers, according to data from the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS). In comparison, 9.5 million 9-liter cases of Scotch whiskey were sold in the U.S. last year, driving revenues of up to $2.4 billion.
The major returns on this healthy sales growth continue to be enjoyed mainly by Jameson. In 2019, the Pernod Ricard-owned triple-distilled whiskey enjoyed an 80 percent market share of the Irish whiskey category in the U.S., according to Impact Databank.
But things are changing in Ireland. In the past 10 years, the number of distilleries operating in the country increased eight-fold. Far from trying to imitate the style that’s brought Jameson such success, those distilleries are embracing historical styles and leaning into uniquely Irish distilling techniques. Their bottles offer higher-end alternatives within the Irish whiskey category, at a time of increased premiumization within all spirits categories.
If ever there was a time for Irish whiskey to outgrow its one-brand reputation, it is now. So how can Irish whiskey producers achieve this?
The Irish Distillery Boom
In 2010, there were only four distilleries in Ireland producing and selling Irish whiskey. By December 2019, the number of operational distilleries had increased to 32, according to the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA).
This renaissance has been the defining story of Irish whiskey over the past decade. The ability of these distilleries, and the dozen or so others that are still in the planning or construction stages, to operate profitably will surely be the factor that proves whether Irish whiskey can continue to grow as a category.
But such rapid expansion also suggests that judging Irish whiskey’s potential based on current sales data is a somewhat flawed science. By law, all Irish whiskey must age for at least three years before release. Many newer producers may wish to release longer-aged, more premium offerings. Given that more than half of Ireland’s current distilleries began their operations in 2015 or later, we have yet to experience their real impact on the sector. And it’s in the premium-plus price segment where those that have already come to market have had the biggest impact.
“The new ranges on the market are more premium than the incumbent products, which is driving continued interest in the category, resulting in value growth outpacing the volume growth,” says Adam Rogers, IWSR research director, North America.
That value growth is outpacing volume increases seems to confirm that consumers are increasingly “trading up” with their purchasing decisions. It would also suggest that distilleries planning to introduce premium-plus bottles can further disrupt the market.
“Last year alone, there were over 30 new Irish whiskey brands launched in the U.S. market at a premium-and-above price point,” says Conor Neville, Tullamore D.E.W.’s U.S.-based brand ambassador. “With an influx of new quality offerings, we’re starting to see a growing shift in consumer assumptions of the category and how it can be enjoyed coupled with a willingness to trade up.”
The Diversity of Irish Whiskey
A few descriptors relating to production techniques and Irish whiskey’s perceived style are commonly used to describe the category. Irish whiskey is triple-distilled, blended, and approachable or smooth, it is often said. It makes sense that these are the often-associated terms, given that they describe Jameson to a tee. But historically, the category has offered much more than just approachable blends. Now, the nation’s pioneering new distillers and well-established brands alike are looking to the past to drive future innovations.
Four whiskey styles can be produced in Ireland: Blended, single grain, single malt, and single pot still. Of those four, single pot still is the only uniquely Irish offering, and it’s one that many modern distillers are embracing. By law, this pot-distilled style must contain a minimum of 30 percent each malted and unmalted barley. Up to 5 percent of other cereals such as oats and rye are also permitted in the mash bill.
Several other distinctions within all four styles make Irish whiskey ripe for innovation. Distillers can alter their single malts’ flavor profiles, for example, via different distillation methods (double-distilling versus triple-distilling), processes like cask finishing, and the types of wood used for maturation. (Unlike Scotch or bourbon, Irish whiskey does not have to age in oak vessels.)
“Distilleries and producers have been experimenting with [these styles and processes] to develop new and interesting offerings,” says Donal O’Gallachoir, co-founder of Glendalough Distillery. “This has been significant, breathing life into the category and offering U.S. whiskey drinkers real choice while on their Irish whiskey journey.”
Indeed, Glendalough is a fine example of one producer embracing Ireland’s diverse range of whiskey styles. Its Pot Still Irish Whiskey is finished for up to a year in virgin Irish oak casks, made from trees felled by the distillery. The distillery’s Double Barrel single grain whiskey spends most of its maturation period in used bourbon casks before it’s finished in Spanish oak oloroso barrels. Meanwhile, Glendalough’s 17-year-old single malt is aged 15 years in ex-bourbon barrels before a two-year finishing period in Mizunara oak sourced from Japan.
Tullamore D.E.W. is the second-best-selling Irish whiskey in the U.S., according to IWSR data. This brand has found significant success with its Caribbean-Rum- and Cider-Cask-finished blended whiskeys, as well as its range of age-statement single malts. Bushmills and The Tyrconnell are two examples of other established producers offering aged expressions in the single malt category.
Pernod-Ricard-owned Redbreast, a longtime standard-bearer for the single pot still category, added a Lustau-cask-finished expression to its permanent lineup in 2016. Redbreast also offers increasingly aged pot still whiskeys, including 15-, 21-, and 27-year-old expressions.
Younger brands that do not have access to their own aged stocks — or choose not to source aged whiskeys from other producers — are innovating in different ways. For example, Brown-Forman-owned Slane Irish Whiskey offers a blend of malt and grain whiskeys aged in three different types of barrels: Virgin oak, seasoned American whiskey, and oloroso sherry.
Kilbeggan serves innovation through the grains used in its mash bills. Its single pot still release includes 2.5 percent oats in the recipe, which has a much more noticeable impact than the figure suggests. The distillery also offers a Small Batch Rye that includes roughly 30 percent of the spicy grain in its mash bill.
“It’s innovating combined with a true history — taking note of what we’ve done in the past and carving out a new avenue for growth,” says Michael Egan, Kilbeggan’s U.S.-based brand ambassador. “Irish whiskey was once the Rolex of the global whiskey industry and today we’re making that comeback.”
(Other younger brands, such as Conor McGregor’s Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey, have primarily stuck to the Jameson blueprint, though the success of Proper Twelve cannot be overstated as a factor in the continued expansion of the overall category.)
Irish Whiskey Association
Another notable development within the past 10 years has been the formation of the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA), which was established in 2014.
“It’s immensely important on a number of fronts,” says Alex Conyngham, co-founder of the Slane Distillery. ”Firstly, category protection — and by that I mean defining the standard of Irish whiskey, upholding that standard, and protecting it internationally.”
Another essential role of the organization is the promotion of the Irish whiskey abroad, Conyngham says. Part of that role as a marketer has seen the IWA drive to boost tourism in recent years. While that revenue stream is currently not an option, it’s a shrewd move if other categories are anything to go by.
Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, recently told me how important the Kentucky Distillery Trail had been to the “bourbon boom” of the last two decades. Distillery visits create a legion of “ambassadors” for brands, who are likely to share their experiences with friends and family and remain loyal to those brands when making future purchases, he said.
The scores of newly opened Irish distilleries have proven adept at catering to this. There are now 19 different distillery tourist experiences across the country. And those efforts are already bearing fruit. Last year, a record-breaking 1 million tourists visited Ireland’s distilleries. “North America remains the top market of origin for visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries, with tourists from the U.S. and Canada accounting for 34 percent of all visits in 2019,” according to the IWA.
This is an important distinction, as the U.S. remains by far the largest market for Irish whiskey. In 2019, America accounted for more than 40 percent of volume sales, according to IWSR data. Irish whiskey sales in the U.S. are nearly nine times greater than those in Russia, the category’s second-largest market.
The Influence of Spirits Conglomerates
Another promising sign for the future of Irish whiskey is the number of notable spirits conglomerates in the space. Pernod-Ricard is the most important in terms of its market share, being the owner of leading brands Jameson and Redbreast. Proximo Spirits, which is a part of Jose Cuervo, has Bushmills and The Sexton. Bacardi owns a minority stake in Teeling, which became Dublin’s first new distillery in 125 years when it opened in 2015. Beam Suntory counts Kilbeggan, Connemara, and Tyrconnell as part of its international portfolio, while William Grant & Sons owns Tullamore D.E.W. In 2017, two years after selling Bushmills to Jose Cuervo, Diageo announced its new premium blended Irish whiskey, Roe & Co.
Conyngham, whose Slane Irish Whiskey brand was acquired by Brown-Forman in 2015, says being a part of a larger spirits company has multiple benefits. His distillery is able to source its American whiskey and virgin oak casks directly from its parent company — the only leading American whiskey producer that owns sawmills and cooperage facilities.
Past this, Conyngham says it’s the expertise a larger brand offers that’s been most helpful. From a strategic standpoint, being part of Brown-Forman has eased access to the American market and its complex three-tier distribution system. The company has also shared expertise on things like how to grow Slane’s range over time, when to introduce new products, and how to keep them in line with the core brand.
Bartenders’ Role in the Rise of Irish Whiskey
One conversation that’s played out in the success of other whiskey categories has been the role of bartenders. While Irish whiskey isn’t associated with well-known classic cocktails, that hasn’t stopped bartenders from experimenting with it.
“There’s a huge chance to develop Irish whiskey through the cocktail program in the same way that bourbon started getting really popular through cocktails,” says Shane Mulvany, a (currently furloughed) bartender at New York’s Dead Rabbit. Mulvany says that Irish whiskey’s approachable profile, and the sheer number of different styles on offer, makes it a “malleable” cocktail ingredient, and one that is attractive to bartenders.
One such option they might turn to is The Sexton. A non-age-statement single malt, the whiskey is crafted with versatility in mind, says the brand’s master blender, Alex Thomas. The whiskey’s bold flavor profile, she says, allows it to be enjoyed neat or in a range of cocktails from the Old Fashioned to Whiskey Sours to proprietary bartender creations. “Whichever way you want to drink it, The Sexton allows you to — which isn’t normal for [traditional] single malts.”
The Future of Irish Whiskey
Everyone contacted for this article said the next five to 10 years will be among the most exciting in Irish whiskey history. All predict the category will not only broaden as more brands come to market, but also deepen as established brands introduce new expressions.
Some are betting on the future of cask finishing and oak-alternatives for maturation. Others highlight single pot still, the cornerstone of Irish whiskey, as the future of the category. The number of age-statement single malts will also increase in years to come, they say. And so, too, will conversations surrounding its viability as a better-value alternative to those produced in Scotland.
Indeed, as a category, Irish whiskey not only stands somewhat geographically between America and Scotch but also ideologically. Its approachable flavor profile, recent resurgence story, and myriad styles are comparable to bourbon. With Scotland, it shares a lengthy heritage and lineage unrivaled in the rest of the world.
Clearly defining all that Irish whiskey offers may be the biggest challenge for the Irish Whiskey Association in the coming years. Producers will be tasked with delivering on that message. If both succeed, the days of Irish whiskey’s reputation as a one-brand category should be consigned to history.
This story is a part of VP Pro, our free content platform and newsletter for the drinks industry, covering wine, beer, and liquor — and beyond. Sign up for VP Pro now!
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Irish coffee mugs:
Our favorite mugs for this drink are this style Irish Style coffee Mugs. They have a nice shape for this recipe.
Maybe you prefer a different style. Just make sure you use heat proof glass mugs. They have a nice handle and are designed to handle the heat.
Here is an entire Amazon page of Irish coffee Mugs . Choose your own favorite style.
6. Hot Irish
This Irish whiskey version of a hot toddy is like a warm blanket on a cold night.
- 1½ ounces Irish whiskey
- 4 ounces boiling water
- ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Pinch ground cinnamon
- Brown sugar
- Lemon wedge
- Pour the first four ingredients into a heat-proof glass.
- Add brown sugar to taste.
- Garnish with a lemon wedge.
Two Irish Whiskey Cocktail Recipes for St. Patrick’s Day
Neither of us grew up in families that celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, with the exception of the occasional bowl of dyed green mashed potatoes at Steve’s house. And no one drank Irish whiskey. We both had to come to it later in life. It was about five years ago that Paul brought home a bottle of Jameson. It sat on the shelf for a spell before he decided to mix a cocktail with it using pears as the theme. Thinking about pears mixed with whiskey made him reach for that bottle from which poured a slightly earthy but clean taste somewhat reminiscent of a smooth blended scotch, but without all the peatiness. Jameson makes for a good mixer. It really enhances the flavors of the other ingredients in a cocktail. So Paul thought about how much he liked the sweet, peaty Drambuie–Scotch blend that makes a Rusty Nail. Why not apply the same principal to a cocktail using Irish whiskey in lieu of the Scotch, and embellish the Drambuie with 2 blasts of pear: from a liqueur , and from freshly pureed Red Bartletts . What then became the “Oh Pear” would further become the third-place winner in the USA Pears/Imbibe Magazine Pear Cocktail Contest.
(created by Paul Zablocki)
2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 ounce pear puree (try Red Bartlett)
1/2 ounce pear liqueur (try Belle de Brillet or American Fruits)
1/2 ounce Drambuie
Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with pear slice, if desired.
We’re not going to lie the Oh Pear is a strong drink, but the alcoholic strength is tempered by the sweetness of fresh pears and the incredible Bartlett richness of a good pear liqueur, such as Belle de Brillet, American Fruits, or Clear Creek. If you cannot make pear puree at home from ripe pears such as Bartlett, Comice, or Anjou, then find a pear puree that doesn’t contain added sugars and other juices, if possible. Even though we consider it a fall cocktail, there’s still enough of a chill in the air to warrant a round of Oh Pears with your friends. And if possible, you can make Cheddar Blue Fricos to pair with them. Fricos are wafer-thin lacy fried-cheese crisps you may have had using the traditional Parmesan. But we’ve embellished a bit, to go with the Oh Pear, and have blended some sharp Cheddar with a hint of blue cheese, and some herbs and spices.
So you don’t want to whip out the juicer to make an Oh Pear? Okay. Here’s an easy twist on a classic Manhattan that brings a big Erin-Go-Bragh grin to our faces. Irish eyes are smiling this month with a forgotten classic, the Paddy Cocktail. What better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than a cocktail named after an Irishman. When you first bring a Paddy Cocktail to your lips, you’ll smell the caramel, with hints of vanilla and cherry. The first taste will prove that you weren’t imagining the aroma, and it will bring you back to the holidays . . . as if you were drinking a whiskey-soaked cake. It’s perfect before or after your meal, or both if you’re St. Patrick’s Day revels are happening at home or close to a cab (it’s a strong drink, after all). The Paddy Cocktail is now one of our favorites, and it’s a great addition to your Irish whiskey cocktail repertoire.
(adapted from Mr. Boston’s Official Bartender’s Guide)
1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey (try Jameson)
1 1/2 ounces Carpano Antica (a sweet vermouth from Italy)
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir in ice for 30 seconds and strain into chilled coupe or cocktail glass. (If you cannot find Carpano Antica, just use your favorite sweet vermouth.) Bottoms up!
Best Single Malt: The Tyrconnell Single Malt
Region: Ireland | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Orchard Fruit, Vanilla, Nutty
Named for and originally created in celebration of a victorious 19th-century racehorse (shown galloping across the label), this boldly flavorful whiskey is severely underrated in our opinion. Double-distilled on copper pot stills and crafted from 100-percent malted barley, it recently received a label design refresh and an amped-up ABV—43% versus the original 40%. This extra oomph means the whiskey can stand up to strong flavors in cocktails but don’t be afraid to drink it neat. Try it on its own before adding a splash of water to open up more herbaceous flavors or a fat cube of ice to chill it down and focus on those fruitier notes.
9. MASHED POTATOES WITH CABBAGE (IRISH COLCANNON)
This Instant Pot mashed potatoes with cabbage or Irish Colcannon recipe is a deliciously savory side dish made with mashed potatoes and cabbage. It’s a wonderful twist on your regular mashed potatoes and a great Vegetarian Pressure Cooker Recipe. Recipe from Two Sleevers.
- 1 corned beef brisket (4 lb)
- 1/4 c ketchup
- 1/4 c Irish whiskey
- 1/4 c apple cider vinegar
- 2 T brown sugar
- 2 T soy sauce
- 1 t dry mustard
- 1/2 t ground ginger
- 1/4 t red pepper flakes
Submerge corned beef, fat side up, in water in a large pot. Cover and simmer over low heat until beef is tender when pierced with a fork (3 to 3 1/2 hours). Can be chilled overnight after boiling, just bring the meat to a simmer again the next day and continue with recipe.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees line a baking sheet with foil, top with a rack and coat with non stick spray. (I use a broiling pan)
Transfer beef to prepared rack, fat side up. Use a knife to trim off the fat.
Whisk all remaining ingredients together in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat until thickened, 3-4 minutes.
Spoon glaze on to beef, roast for 10 minutes or until glaze is dark and sticky.
Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes.
Transfer to cutting board and cut against the grain.
- 1 cup Irish stout beer (such as Guinness)
- 2 cups (1 lb.) unsalted butter
- 24 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate baking bar, chopped
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ cups (about 5 3/8 oz.) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz.) Irish whiskey (such as Jameson)
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), to taste
Prepare the Brownies: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9- x 13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, allowing ends of foil to extend 2 to 3 inches beyond edges of the pan. Lightly coat foil with cooking spray.
Pour beer in a medium saucepan over medium-high let simmer until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 15 minutes. Whisk in butter, semisweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate until melted and mixture is smooth. Let cool 20 minutes.
Whisk together sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in cooled chocolate mixture until combined, and set aside.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Gradually stir flour mixture into chocolate mixture, and pour into prepared baking pan.
Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, being careful not to over-bake. Allow brownies to cool completely on a rack, about 2 hours. (Brownies can be refrigerated overnight and frosted the next day.)
Prepare the Irish Whiskey Frosting: Beat together powdered sugar and butter with an electric mixer on low speed until well blended. Scrape down sides of bowl, and beat on medium speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in whiskey and cream, until light and fluffy. Spread frosting in an even layer on brownies, and sprinkle with sea salt. Cut brownies into 24 squares.