An Overview of Irish Whiskey Brands

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.

An assortment of Irish whiskey brands

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.

look at the legs on that one

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.

Favorite Irish Whiskey Brands

It’s tough to name the best Irish whiskey, since there are so many factors in play. Some of the most expensive options are just too costly to justify the price, and personal taste plays a huge part too. Everyone has their own favorite Irish whiskey; here are a few of mine.

Everyday drinkers.

Okay, I don’t actually drink every day. I actually try to moderate my intake as much as I can, since I just love the stuff so much. But when I do, I try to keep the costs down as much as possible. And that’s one of the great things about Irish whiskey: there really are no bargain basement, bathtub-moonshine brands. Even the most affordable Irish whiskey is typically quite palatable.

Jameson Original is a great standby, as is Bushmills Original. A lot of people keep one or the other on hand, even if they aren’t big on Irish whiskey. That means you’re usually safe ordering one of these at a bar, or asking for one at a friend’s place, even if the selection isn’t too great.

Bushmills pairs good with either 7up or coke, but it’s smooth enough to drink by itself or on ice. If there isn’t anything else available, I’ll definitely order Bushmill’s Original on the rocks. If they’ve got Black Bush, then all the better.

Expand your palate.

Tullamore Dew is another bottle I always keep stocked. It’s not too pricey, so I can confidently break it out without simultaneously breaking the bank. It’s also a little more complex than the basic Bushmills and Jameson bottles, so I’ve used it to introduce more than a few people to the wider world of Irish whiskey.

Another favorite I latched onto a few years ago is Knappogue Castle. The price isn’t too bad for what you get, and it’s also a great way to introduce people to a few more complexities. It has an almost peaty flavor to it, which is a great way to make inroads with staunch scotch drinkers. I have an uncle who is ardent about the superiority of scotch whisky, but even he loved the Knappogue when I poured him a glass.

I don’t have a bottle of Knappogue 1951 on my shelf, but if the opportunity ever presented itself I’d have to stop and think. (The most expensive bottles on my shelf are in the $1-200 range, so the 1951 represents a pretty big step up.)

It’s genetically different.

The same company that produces Knappogue Castle also has another label. It’s called Clontarf, and it’s probably my own personal favorite Irish Whiskey. It comes in three varieties (Classic Blend, Single Malt and Special Reserve) and they’ve all got places on my shelf. Single malt was the first Clontarf I tried, and it remains my favorite.

A lot of people prefer the classic blend, and some even say it’s better than the special reserve.  I feel like they both have slightly harsher flavor profiles than the single malt, which is why I reach for the white label first.

There’s also a “trinity collection” that includes all three varieties in a clever packaging scheme. The collection consists of three bottles that nest into each other, so that you can stack them up into a single bottle. I not sure if it’s the first whiskey/transformer crossover, but it’s definitely the first one I’ve seen.

Top Shelf Irish Whiskey Brands

Top shelf Irish whiskeys are all super premium, and they really reach for the sky. A lot of people will argue this point, but some of the finer Irish whiskeys can even give a good single malt scotch a run for its money. Prices range from affordable to extravagant, so it’s possible to enjoy a number of the top shelf brands without blowing your whole liquor budget in one sitting.


Jameson is  a mainstay of lower priced Irish whiskeys, but it also provides a number of premium options. Jameson 15 year is a highly affordable blend that’s aged in used sherry casks from Spain. The sherry really comes through in the nose, and it has a strong vanilla tones in the finish.

Jameson 18 year is about twice the price of its younger brother, but it’s definitely worth a taste. The 18 year recipe calls for blending together three different whiskeys, one of which is 23 years old. After the three whiskeys are blended together, they are finished off in old bourbon barrels for several months. The resulting flavor profile is complex, and you may note hints of chocolate or fudge along with the familiar spice and vanilla.

Top shelf Jameson Whiskey price can vary from about $70 – $270, so there is quite a range there.



This is another workhorse brand that pretties up real nice. Bushmills offers a 16 year malt that’s aged in three different types of casks. This is a nice step up from Black Bush that can provide you with a taste of things to come.

Another option is Bushmills 21 year, which is also aged in three types of casks. This malt spends its first 19 years in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. The malt is then moved to madeira casks, where it is allowed to mellow for two more years. The nose brings a scent of orange peel and spice, and it feels like smooth satin on the palate.


Knappogue Castle is a lesser-known brand that has found its way onto the top shelves of savvy Irish whiskey drinkers. Older bottles are vintage dated, such as Knappogue Castle 1995, but newer bottlings simply state the age. The vintage-dated bottlings were all 12 years old, but that wasn’t immediately clear to people who were unfamiliar with the brand.

Knappogue Castle 12 year old is an option  for those who are interested in a more advanced type of Irish whiskey. The palate is less mellow than other options, and it has a definite smoky quality.

The various Knappogue offerings are all quite affordable, though the brand does offer one option that supersedes the top shelf altogether. Knappogue Castle 1951 was bottled in 1987, which means it was aged for a full 36 years. This extremely expensive Irish whiskey might make your wallet beg for mercy, but it’s almost definitely worth the admission price. Less than 1,000 bottles are left, so jump on the chance if it ever appears.


This is another gem that belongs on any whiskey drinker’s top shelf. Redbreast 12 year old is a pure pot still whiskey that’s priced right in between Jameson 15 and Jameson 23, so it’s definitely affordable. It has sweet, fruity notes in the nose, including apple, sherry and a bit of toffee. The palate is as complex as one might expect from a top shelf option, and there’s a hint of that smoky, almost peaty flavor that’s also present in Knappogue Castle.


Connemara makes a cask-strength Irish whiskey that’s bottled straight out of the casks. That means it isn’t blended for uniformity, so each bottle is slightly unique. The flavor is powerful and complex, which includes both the sweetness associated with most Irish whiskeys and a hint of the smoky peat flavor you’d expect from an Islay scotch.

All of these top shelf options, aside from Knappogue 1951, are priced at or below the sixty dollar range. Perhaps too expensive for daily drinking, but affordable enough for an intrepid whiskey drinker to add to his or her collection. There are also a number of options that span the range between Connemara and Knappogue 1951, such as Bushmill’s 21 year and Midleton Very Rare, which cost well over $100 for a bottle.

Mid-shelf Irish Whiskey Brands

Anyone interested in really stepping into the world of Irish whiskey should start with some of the solid, mid-shelf products. The most obvious option is Bushmills, which is a pretty well known name. Their black label product (Black Bush) is a great place to start, and they have a 10 year malt that offers a lot of character. The rabbit hole goes much deeper than that, however, since there are a great many Irish whiskeys good enough to fit on any connoisseur’s middle shelf.


Most whiskey drinkers have tried Bushmill’s at one point or another, and it’s a fairly popular contender for mixed drinks and cocktails. Even the lowly Bushmill’s Original is smooth enough to drink straight, and a number of the distillery’s offerings are downright tasty. Black Bush is a blended product that includes a lot of whiskey that’s aged in used sherry casks. That imparts a light, almost fruity note to the finished blend. Like other Bushmill whiskeys, Black Bush is a very smooth drink.

Bushmills also makes a 10 year malt that sits confidently on my own middle shelf. This triple distilled whiskey is mainly aged in old bourbon barrels, which should bring a smile to any fan of that Kentucky classic. Bushmill’s 10 year has a somewhat honeyed aroma, and it brings a hint of vanilla to the palate. It also has a slightly dry finish with very little aftertaste.


Jameson is another well known name that produces some very nice mid-shelf whiskeys. Jameson Original is a great option for a new whiskey drinker, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re interested in stepping up your game a little without breaking the bank, Jameson 12 year provides a great option.

Similar to other Irish whiskeys, Jameson 12 year is triple distilled and aged in used sherry casks. It has a spicy aroma, and the fruity sherry notes really come through when you taste it.

Tullamore Dew

Tullamore Dew Original is a blended whiskey with malt and citrus notes. The finish is a bit strong for some, and the aftertaste lingers a bit overlong.

Another option is Tullamore Dew single malt, which is an incredibly mellow Irish whiskey that’s aged in four separate casks before bottling. The use of aged bourbon, sherry, madeira and port casks impart a unique flavor on this single malt offering.


Powers Whiskey

Powers is the most popular whiskey in Ireland, but it’s somewhat lesser known elsewhere. It may be known as Powers Gold or John Power & Son, but either way it’s definitely worth a try for anyone who is interested in delving a little deeper into their cups.

There are a number of different Powers whiskeys, and they use a combination of pot distilled malted barley and column distilled grain spirits. Powers Gold Label has a somewhat peppery nose, and it finishes off with a long, lingering spice.


Clontarf is another lesser known Irish whiskey that absolutely must be tried. The least expensive version is simply referred to as Clontarf Irish Whiskey, and it is also the least complex option. It’s a great choice for anyone who wants to expand their palate beyond Bushmill’s and Jameson without reaching up to the top shelf.

Clontarf also makes a single malt and a special reserve. The special reserve blends pot and column distilled whiskeys, and offers a somewhat muted flavor profile. The single malt is my personal favorite mid-shelf Irish whiskey, and I actually think I’ll go pour myself a bit right now.

Irish Whiskey Brands for Mixed Drinks

Most Irish whiskeys are great on the rocks or neat, and it’s almost a sin to obscure the flavor profile of a top shelf brand with a mixer. Most people are all-too familiar with the stereotypical “Irish cocktails” that any true connoisseur stays miles away from, but Irish whiskey does go well in just about any traditional whiskey cocktail. Some cocktails even have special names for the Irish versions, but it’s a safer bet to just specify the specific brand you want. Then, after a long night of enjoying cocktails, there’s no substitute for a good Irish coffee.

Irish whiskey, or Irish beer, or drop one into the other: that's the question

On St. Patrick’s day, everybody’s Irish. That usually means wearing green, drinking green beer, ordering stereotypical “green” cocktails, getting drunk and signing up for the police academy. The problem with most stereotypical “green” cocktails is that they completely obliterate the delicious flavor profiles of Irish whiskeys. The popular Everybody’s Irish is typically made from a base of Irish whiskey, which is then drenched in saccharine creme de menthe and spicy-sweet chartreuse. Another stereotypical green cocktail is the Shamrocked. This cocktail actually has more Midori in it than Irish whiskey, so it’s very sweet. Nothing wrong with that, but you’re not really getting the true taste of Ireland.

Then there’s the Irish Car Bomb, which sure gives you the taste of something. This drink isn’t green, but it does involve a whole lot of Ireland, since it requires you to drop a shot glass of Irish whiskey and Bailey’s Irish Cream into a Guinness Stout. Sure there’s Irish whiskey in there somewhere, but can you honestly taste it through the flavor of rapidly-curdling cream?

There’s a time and place for “green” drinks and Ireland-themed boilermakers, but any cocktail that calls for an unspecified type of whiskey can use Irish whiskey instead. Simpler Irish whiskey brands, including Black Bush and regular Bushmills, also pair well with a simple mixer. Pour some Coke or 7up over ice and then top with Bushmills, and you’ll have a nice refreshing cocktail to take the edge off a hot summer evening.

Nobody does whiskey for breakfast like the Irish.

In some cases, cocktails that use Irish whiskey have specific names. One example is the black and red, which is a Manhattan that uses Black Bush whiskey. Black Bush is a mildly sweet Irish whiskey, so it pairs well with sweet vermouth and bitters. The flavor profile isn’t overly complex, which means it won’t overpower the drink. Be careful ordering this drink by name though, since some people refer to a mixture of Guinness and Killian’s Irish Red as a “black and red.” And, as we all know, beer before whiskey is always a bit risky.

After a long night of enjoying cocktails, nothing will give you a shot in the arm like a frothing mug of Irish coffee. This cocktail might be just as stereotypical as an Everybody’s Irish or an Irish Car Bomb, but it’s also delicious. It involves mixing Irish whiskey, coffee and brown sugar. That mixture is then topped with cream. The cream isn’t traditionally whipped, but many people prefer the texture of whipped cream. Some people even sprinkle cocoa powder on top for a little flourish.