The Ultimate Guide to Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey is a type of whiskey that is made in Ireland. It is typically made from a blend of malted and unmalted barley, and it is aged in wooden casks for at least three years. Irish whiskey has a smooth, mellow flavor that is perfect for sipping neat or on the rocks. It is also a popular ingredient in cocktails, such as the Irish coffee and the whiskey sour.

Best Irish Whiskey to Buy

Lambay Small Batch Blend

Best blended Irish whiskey for mixed drinks
Star rating: 3.5/5
Size: 70cl
ABV: 40%

Lambay launched as an Irish whiskey brand in 2017. Like many newer outfits in Irish whiskey, Lambay do not currently distil their own spirit, instead sourcing it from other Irish distilleries.

The Small Batch Blend caught our attention. The Small Batch Blend is intriguing, as although it hits many of the archetypal Irish whiskey touchpoints with a light, smooth and sweet framework, the balance of flavours veer a little out of what I would expect. The impact of the cognac finish and the sea air (Lambay is the largest island off Ireland) is restrained, but still give this Lambay something a little unusual. On the nose, it comes across light and delicate and on the palate, it is again light: the sweetness of very pale malt and a hint of marshmallow, baked fruit, the spiciness of vanilla and pepper. The finish runs with the sweetness, and as it fades out some of that spiciness remains, bracketed with a hint of salt and the nuttiness going over to a light woody dryness.

Read our full review of the Lambay Small Batch Blend Whiskey.

Two Stacks Smoke & Mirrors whiskey

  • Available from The Whisky Exchange (£49.95)

Best peated Irish Whiskey
Star rating: 4.5/5
Size: 70cl
ABV: 40%

As a new operation, Two Stacks act as blenders, with a keen eye to what finishing in an unexpected cask can do to an already aged whiskey.

The Smoke & Mirrors whiskey shines a light on peat, which is under-represented in Irish whiskey. The whiskey is a lighter gold than a turn in a stout barrel might suggest. On the nose, there’s a good hit of peat and roast coffee, then a softer chocolate note. To drink, the smoke and roasty side are more delicate than expected, the creaminess allies with the chocolate, as the fruit tends toward baked and luscious while vanilla, clove and cinnamon spicing add interest. The finish is more smooth chocolate, coffee roastiness and dark dried fruit as the smoke lingers on awhile.

Highly enjoyable, this is a delightful Irish whiskey with enough depth to marry happily to a goodly peat side and have neither side lose out. Read our full review of Two Stacks Smoke & Mirrors Whiskey.

Brand Name Price
Lambay Small Batch Blend £33.85
Two Stacks Smoke & Mirrors £49.95

Best Irish Whiskey to Buy
Best Irish Whiskey to Buy

How We Tested Irish Whiskey

Tasting Process

All our best Irish whiskies were carefully taste tested to assess the aroma, taste, mouthfeel and finish. Whilst Irish whiskey has a stereotypical reputation for being “smooth”, there is a huge amount more to them than this and we wanted to highlight the complexity and nuance of some bottles, as well as those whiskies pushing against being pigeonholed by such terms. In addition, we look at whiskies across a broad range and considered how they would best be drunk – what is ideal for a vivacious highball may not be ideal for a contemplative sipper.

“We tasted each whiskey neat, then added water to see how it changed. We also tried the whiskies in different cocktails to see how they performed.

Scoring System

We used a 5-point scoring system to rate each whiskey:

  • 5 points: Exceptional
  • 4 points: Excellent
  • 3 points: Very good
  • 2 points: Good
  • 1 point: Poor

We also took into account the price of each whiskey when scoring it. We wanted to find the best Irish whiskies that offer the best value for money.

Our Top Picks

After tasting all of the whiskies, we selected our top picks for the best Irish whiskeys. These whiskies offer a great balance of flavor, complexity, and value.

Brand Name Price
Lambay Small Batch Blend £33.85
Two Stacks Smoke & Mirrors £49.95

Whiskey vs Whisky: What’s the Difference?

Spelling

The first part of the differences between Irish and Scotch whiskies is the differing spellings of “whiskey” and “whisky” – caused by different translations in Scotland and Ireland from the root word in Gaelic. The ‘e’ in whiskey is also a relic of the 19th century, when Irish whiskey was a far larger and more reputable product than Scotch whisky, so the ‘e’ was a way to signal to drinkers all which country’s spirit you were getting.

Regulations and Traditions

The second difference is in the regulations and traditions that define what may call itself an Irish whiskey or a Scotch whisky. Obviously, Irish whiskey must be made and aged in Ireland (both the Republic and Northern Ireland), with a minimum of three years spent in wooden casks. It is common – but not required – that Irish whiskey be distilled three times, which lightens and smooths the spirit.

The slight contrast here is that the Scotch regulations specify oak as the wood for their casks, and double distillation is the norm. Peated barley (barley malted over peat, imparting a smoky flavour) is also more a familiar aspect of the flavour profile in Scotch, especially those from Islay. Lastly, while a single malt whisky is the archetypal form for Scotch, the Irish focus on Single Pot Still, which makes a virtue of the mixture of malted and unmalted barley that goes into it.

Attribute Irish Whiskey Scotch Whisky
Spelling Whiskey Whisky
Country of Origin Ireland Scotland
Minimum Aging 3 years 3 years
Common Distillation Triple Distilled Double Distilled
Peated Barley Less Common More Common
Archetypal Form Single Pot Still Single Malt

A History of Irish Whiskey

Origins and Early History

The origins of Irish whiskey are somewhat murky, but it is generally believed that it was first made by monks in the 6th century. The first recorded instance of Irish whiskey being distilled was in 1405, when a physician named Cornelius McCarthy wrote about a “water of life” that he had distilled from barley. By the 16th century, Irish whiskey was being produced on a commercial scale, and it quickly became one of the most popular spirits in the world.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish whiskey continued to grow in popularity, and it was exported to all corners of the globe. However, the Irish whiskey industry was dealt a major blow in the 19th century by a series of famines and the rise of Scotch whisky.

Year Event
1405 First recorded instance of Irish whiskey being distilled
16th century Irish whiskey begins to be produced on a commercial scale
17th and 18th centuries Irish whiskey grows in popularity and is exported worldwide
19th century Irish whiskey industry is dealt a major blow by famines and the rise of Scotch whisky

The 20th Century and Beyond

In the 20th century, the Irish whiskey industry began to recover, and it has since experienced a resurgence in popularity. Today, Irish whiskey is one of the most popular spirits in the world, and it is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds.

The Irish whiskey industry is now home to a number of distilleries, both large and small. These distilleries produce a wide range of Irish whiskeys, from traditional pot still whiskeys to modern blended whiskeys. There is an Irish whiskey for every taste, and it is sure to become a favorite of yours.

  • In the 20th century, the Irish whiskey industry began to recover.
  • Today, Irish whiskey is one of the most popular spirits in the world.
  • There is an Irish whiskey for every taste.

What Is Irish Whiskey Made From?

Grain

Irish whiskey can be made from a variety of grains, including malted barley, unmalted barley, wheat, and rye. Malted barley is the most common grain used, as it gives Irish whiskey its characteristic flavor. Unmalted barley adds body and sweetness to the whiskey, while wheat and rye add spice and complexity.

Grain Flavor Profile
Malted Barley Characteristic flavor
Unmalted Barley Body and sweetness
Wheat Spice
Rye Complexity

Water

The water used to make Irish whiskey is also important, as it contributes to the whiskey’s flavor and aroma. Irish whiskey is typically made with soft water, which allows the flavors of the grain to shine through. Hard water can make Irish whiskey taste harsh and bitter.

Yeast

Yeast is another important ingredient in Irish whiskey. Yeast is responsible for converting the sugars in the grain into alcohol. Different strains of yeast can produce different flavors and aromas in Irish whiskey.

  • Soft water allows the flavors of the grain to shine through.
  • Hard water can make Irish whiskey taste harsh and bitter.
  • Different strains of yeast can produce different flavors and aromas in Irish whiskey.

How to Drink Irish Whiskey?

Neat

The best way to enjoy Irish whiskey is neat, or without any mixers. This allows you to fully appreciate the whiskey’s flavor and aroma. To drink Irish whiskey neat, simply pour it into a glass and sip it slowly. You can add a few drops of water to the whiskey to open up the flavors, but this is not necessary.

On the Rocks

If you want to enjoy Irish whiskey on the rocks, simply pour it over ice in a glass. The ice will chill the whiskey and make it more refreshing. You can also add a splash of water to the whiskey on the rocks, but this is not necessary.

Method Description
Neat Whiskey is served without any mixers.
On the Rocks Whiskey is served over ice.

Irish Whiskey Cocktail Recipes

Classic Irish Coffee

The Irish coffee is a classic cocktail that is made with Irish whiskey, coffee, cream, and sugar. It is a warm and comforting drink that is perfect for a cold day. To make an Irish coffee, simply combine all of the ingredients in a mug and stir. You can adjust the amount of sugar to taste. Garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce Irish whiskey
  • 1 cup hot coffee
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Garnish: nutmeg or cinnamon

Irish Whiskey Sour

The Irish whiskey sour is a refreshing cocktail that is made with Irish whiskey, lemon juice, sugar, and egg white. It is a tart and flavorful drink that is perfect for a summer day. To make an Irish whiskey sour, simply combine all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces Irish whiskey
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • Garnish: lemon twist
Final Thought

Irish whiskey is a complex and flavorful spirit that is perfect for any occasion. Whether you are a seasoned whiskey drinker or just starting to explore the world of whiskey, there is an Irish whiskey out there for you. So next time you are looking for a great whiskey to enjoy, reach for an Irish whiskey. You won’t be disappointed.