If you’re like me, on March 17, you tend to find a comfortable, quiet place away from the masses invading any alcohol-selling establishment within reach for green beer and shots (or worse – the even more culturally insensitive Irish Car Bombs). However, in that personal oasis, I still like to sip Irish Whiskey on St. Patrick’s Day, and what a beautiful time to celebrate a category that has recently seen a magnificent growth. According to the Irish Whiskey Association, there were 18 working distilleries as of 2017, up from only 4 in 2013, with 16 more in the works!
Distilleries and whiskey producers are echoing the creativity of the artists, poets, writers and musicians the country is known for. Here are a few relatively new to the scene, and even some creative expressions from the old guard inspired by the upstarts.
This category, once the pride of Scotland, is fast becoming one of the most popular styles of Irish whiskey.
Considering it’s aged 4 years in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, The Sexton is a clean, unfussy-tasting whiskey that doesn’t feel too overly sherried, priced at a great value. The eye-catching, modernistic black glass bottle is an added bonus. 40% ABV, $30
As Tipperary Distillery works on their own liquid, which will be produced from homegrown barley on Ballindoney Farm, they have released a range of elegant single malts. Watershed is aged in first-fill bourbon casks, imparting aromatic spice notes and warming richness. 47% ABV, $55
For the unpeated (non-smoky) Scotch drinker who’s into fanciful cask finishes, the latest from The Tyrconnellis the 15 Year Madeira Cask, which spends 15 years in ex-bourbon barrels with a finish in casks that once held 5 year old Malmsey Madeira, which imparts complex notes of salted nuts and dried fruit to this outstanding spirit. 46% ABV, $100
Blended (any combination of grain, single malt and/or pot still whiskeys)
Why would a world famous bar with a world famous Irish whiskey selection release its own Irish whiskey? Because it can (and of course, it’s quite good)! Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey, in collaboration with Dublin Liberties Distillery, is a blend of single malt and grain whiskeys aged in season ex-bourbon casks, with a finish in first-fill American oak. 44% ABV, $35
Slane Irish Whiskey made its stateside debut in 2017, and its unique interpretation of traditional Irish whiskey has made quite a splash. It’s aged in three different woods – seasoned American oak, sherry cask and virgin oak – for a spicy style that’s particularly cocktail-friendly as well as fun to sip neat or on the rocks. 40% ABV, $30
While Clonakilty in County Cork poises to release whiskeys distilled from its own heirloom barley in the coming years, look out for two very fine sourced whiskeys, blended single malt and pot still, produced using a meticulous “gentle cut” small batch cutting method – one matured in traditional ex-bourbon casks and the other given additional beauty sleep in ex-Port casks. Both are bottled at 43.7% ABV available for $50.
Single Grain (produced at a single distillery, made from malted and unmalted barley and other grains)
Egan’s is not only a delicious example of this style of Irish whiskey for St. Paddy’s (by the way, “pattys” is for hamburgers and peppermint chocolate candies, not an abbreviate nickname for St. Patrick’s), it’s also a fine way to support International Women’s History month, as the brand was relaunched by Alison Egan (married to Jonathan Egan of the brand’s namesake) and bartender/author/educator Kitty Amann, who present the brand with education about women in distilling history. Try it with a rock or two, which really allows the flavors to blossom. 46% ABV, $45 (or try Egan’s 10 Year single malt, 47% ABV, $55)
Kilbeggan Single Grain is produced from 94% corn and 6% malted barley, aged in ex-bourbon as well as various wine casks. The result of all these components tastes like toasted grain breakfast cereal with a caramel finish, which is especially comforting when there’s still chilly bite to the air. 43% ABV, $30.
The majority of Irish whiskey is bottled at less than 50% ABV, however, 2016 NY International Spirits Competition medal winners West Cork Distillers have released a cask strength version of their blended Irish whiskey, bottled at 124 proof (62% ABV). Just in case your Irish coffee, or heck, ice cubes, needed more of a kick. $46 (And for another decadent Irish Coffee variation, try adding a few spoons of last year’s NYIC gold medal winner Kerrygold – yes that Kerrygold – Irish Cream whipped over the top! Hey, it’s a celebration after all…)
More cask finishing fun
While there is absolutely not a thing wrong with Irish whiskey released in a plain old traditional ex-bourbon cask and nothing more, Irish whiskey producers have been seeking alternative barrels to give their spirits a few extra months in oak that held once held other fortified wines or spirits.
After the 2017 success of Tullamore D.E.W.’s Cider Cask finish comes 2018’s Caribbean Cask finished whiskey – Tullamore’s signature blend finished in Guyanese demerara rum casks. Did you ever even consider making Piña Coladas for St. Patrick’s Day? (Trust me, worth getting caught in the parade rain for.) 43% ABV, $29
The line of Jameson Cask Mates is like an all-in-one boilermaker for people who would rather not fill up too much on beer, aged in craft beer casks, available in several variations. I’m particularly fond of the Stout Edition, which imparts a fruity, chocolatey finish. (40% ABV, $35) (Note: All of us at Alcohol Professor would like to pour one out as we express our deepest sympathies for the family and friends of Dominic Knowles, a worker who perished this week in an accident at Irish Distillers in Midleton, where Jameson is produced.)
Off the coast of county Dublin lies Lambay Island, home of Lambay Irish WhiskeyCompany. Their Single Malt and Small Batch Blend are collaborations with Camus, with traditionally-matured whiskey given additional aging in their Cognac barrels and cut with water from the island. This allows the nearby maritime influences to give the sleeping whiskey a wee salty tickle. Small Batch Blend: 40% ABV, $35, Single Malt: 40% ABV, $65
To celebrate Irish-American heritage
America would be a very different place without the Irish immigrants who have made the country their home. These whiskeys celebrate that continuing history.
Hailing from West Cork, Prizefight whiskey, consisting of 10 year old malt and 4 year old grain, spent a few rounds in ex-rye whiskey casks from Tamworth Distilling in the states. And it’s a – you guessed it – knockout choice for cocktails, with or without Irish themes. 43% ABV, $45
Connacht Whiskey’s Brothership Whiskey is a true embodiment of Irish immigration. It consists of 10 year old Irish whiskey and 10 year old American whiskey, blended together (52% Irish, 48% American), and bottled stateside at Connacht’s American sibling, New Liberty Distillery, in Philadelphia. 45% ABV, $50
Amanda Schuster is the Senior Editor in Chief of Alcohol Professor and the author of NEW YORK COCKTAILs available from Cider Mill Press. Certified sommelier, former retail spirits and wine buyer - she likes to think of herself as "bi-spiritual." Please don't ever offer her a Pickleback. Complete bio here.