Irish whiskey is a great starting point for whiskey virgins, since a number of labels offer remarkably smooth flavor profiles. Liquor from the Emerald Isle has plenty of depth to explore as well though, and some Irish whiskeys have flavor profiles that rival those of fine Scotch. Fans of bourbon will find plenty of things to love here too, since many Irish whiskeys are aged in the very same white oak casks. This great variety in taste profiles means that Irish whiskey brands are just as at home in mixed drink cocktails as in a tumbler with a single cube of ice.
An Ancient Tradition
The regulations that govern Irish whiskey production are relatively new, but the tradition of distilling uisce beatha is almost a thousand years old. The oldest licensed distillery in the world, which was granted a license in 1608, is actually in Ireland. Traditional practices involve pot stills and three successive distillations, though modern Irish whiskey is made in a number of different ways. The language of the 1980s legislation that finally codified Irish whiskey definitions and production methods was relatively loose, so each Irish whiskey brand has come up with its own recipes and procedures.
There are only four working distilleries in the whole country, but they manage to produce a wide variety of different flavor profiles. Some Irish whiskey brands use a mix of malted barley, unmalted barley, and other cereal grains to make blended whiskey. The whiskey is then continuously distilled to create product with relatively light flavor profiles. Bushmills Original, Clontarf, and Jameson are examples of blends that present a pleasantly light profile.
Other Irish whiskey brands are made exclusively from malted barley. These brands use a traditional pot still distillation method, and the flavor profile is typically heavier. Some Irish whiskey brands, such as Tullamore Dew and Bushmills, produce both blends and single malts. Others, such as Jameson and Redbreast, also make single pot still whiskeys.
An AP Guide for Beginners
Have It Your Way
Irish whiskey can be enjoyed either straight or with mixers, depending on personal preference. Blended Irish whiskeys, such as Bushmills Original and Black Bush, pair well with 7up or Coke, but they are also great in any cocktail that calls for whiskey. Some cocktails have specific names if Irish whiskey is used, such as the “black and red” being a variation on the traditional Manhattan that uses Black Bush.
Single malt and single pot still Irish whiskeys are best enjoyed straight or on the rocks. These whiskeys can be used in cocktails, but much of the complex flavor profile will be lost. Some of the best single malt Irish whiskeys can compete with fine Scotch, though that is a point that many Scotch aficionados will argue.
Irish Whiskey brands offer just as much variety as any other type of whiskey on the planet, despite the limited number of distilleries. There are similarities between some labels and whiskeys from other parts of the world, but Irish whiskey really is a unique beast. Just about everyone can find something to like in the great variety offered by Irish whiskey brands, so pull up a stool and explore the uisce beatha of the Emerald isle.