St Patrick's Day is the perfect time of year to enjoy a dram or two of the best Irish whiskey around. While whiskey is synonymous with several other nations, including the United States (better known for its Bourbon and certain Tennessee whiskeys) and Scotland (home of Scotch, obviously, where it's spelled "whisky" without the "e"), there's no better way to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland, than quaffing some excellent whiskey in his name.
- Best Bourbons: old Kentucky's finest for Juleps, Old Fashioneds, or just on the rocks
What makes Irish whiskey different to American, Scotch or even Japanese varieties? A lot (but not all) of the most well-known whiskeys like Jameson are triple-distilled, which makes for a softer dram than most Scotches, for example, which are usually only distilled twice. It all hails from the Emerald Isle, which means it's developed its own regional style over the years. Much like living in Dublin for a decade would give you a bit of an accent.
We've got five of the best Irish whiskeys around, from the accessible and affordable to expensive show-off spectaculars, to really celebrate St Patrick's Day in style. Sláinte! (which, in Gaelic, is "cheers!")
1. Jameson Irish Whiskey
The classic. Cheap, cheerful and great for cocktails
Reasons to buy
If you've tried an Irish whiskey before, chances are this is it. Jameson, a blended Irish whiskey (a mix of malt and grain whiskeys from different distilleries all around Ireland) is one of the most popular bottles on the market, and it's easy to see why.
Coming in at under £20 per bottle, it's cheap but by no means nasty. It's triple-distilled, which means it's a softer, approachable drink than a lot of "budget" whiskies, and its got lots of nutty, vanilla overtones.
However, if you've got loads of people round to celebrate St. Paddy's Day, grab yourself a bucket of ice, a handful of limes and a bottle of ginger ale. Irish whiskey-and-ginger is a time-honoured cocktail and a great way to serve whiskey to people on the fence about trying it alone.
2. Slane Whiskey
An Irish whiskey with rock 'n' roll roots
Reasons to buy
If you've already cut your teeth on Jameson and are looking for something new. Slane Whiskey is a great addition to any party. Another blended whiskey, it's assembled in the grounds of Slane Castle in County Meath, a stately home which rose to fame by putting on rock concerts.
Everyone from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to Metallica have played at Slane, but its first gig was Thin Lizzy in 1982. Their big finish? Whiskey In The Jar. Almost forty years on, whiskey's being made not in the jar, but in the bottle, in the grounds of the castle itself. How cool is that?
The liquid itself is no slouch either, with the same softness of Jameson with added spicy wood and toasted oak notes. With a third off at ASDA, bringing a bottle down to just £20, It's a cool addition to any back bar, and a good excuse to stick some classic tunes on. Whiskey and rock make such good bedfellows.
3. Redbreast 12 Years Old
A richly Sherried whisky amazing on its own
Reasons to buy
Now we're talking. Much like Scotland has become known for its single malt, Ireland has become a pioneer for "single pot still" whiskeys. While blends are whiskeys from lots of different distilleries made with lots of different grains, a single pot still whiskey is all made in one place, from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley.
Redbreast, one of the best, takes the liquid and ages it in casks which used to carry oloroso Sherry for 12 years, which is what gives it that deep, rich colour. It's spicy, sweet and sticky: a bit like a boozy liquid fruitcake.
We're definitely not going to tell you what to do with your whiskey – after all, you bought it – but the complexity and richness of the dram merits you at least trying it neat before you crack out the mixers. It's a little more expensive at just under £45 per bottle, but if you're feeling adventurous, it makes for a mean "Irish" Old Fashioned cocktail.
4. Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey
From Irish counties to the Caribbean, it's a whiskey finished in rum casks
Reasons to buy
If you're looking for something as good during a quiet night in as it is to mix at parties, you could do a lot worse than Teeling Small batch Irish Whiskey. It's a small artisan distillery rather than the large-scale operation that runs Irish Distillers, the producers of Jameson and Redbreast. As such, Teeling often produces whiskeys that are a little more experimental.
A tad stronger than the others on this list so far, at 46% abv, a lot of its contents have been aged in "first fill ex-Bourbon casks". These are American oak casks fresh from the States rather than those reused over and over by the rest of the industry, to give it an element of toffee sweetness normally found in American whiskeys.
Once its all put together, it's been finished in rum casks to crank up the spiciness and add a few medicinal notes. It's a whiskey for all occasions: that higher ABV will add a punch to any mixer or cocktail, but it's also worth taking some time to mull all the flavours over, which makes it a perfect companion for dark evenings.
5. Redbreast 21 Year Old
Redbreast turned up to 11
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
All hail the King. Redbreast 21 Years Old is the older version of the 12, a single pot still whiskey and still aged in oloroso Sherry casks throughout its entire maturation period. However, like the Teeling, the 21 is bottled at a higher alcoholic strength: 46% abv.
As whiskey evaporates about 2% per year for each year of its maturation, there's much less of the 21 in the world than its 12-year-old sibling, driving its price up and increasing scarcity. Full of rich, dark fruit flavours with elements of tropical fruits, vanilla and wood spice, Redbreast 21 is a universally critically-acclaimed Irish whiskey. It was even named "Best Irish Whiskey" in 2018 by noted whisky critic Jim Murray.
At £165 a pop it's not the cheapest bottle of booze you'll ever buy, but taking your first drink of Redbreast 21 is truly a transformative experience for any whiskey fan.