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.