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In Praise of Irish Whiskey

With St. Patrick's Day approaching, there's no better time to explore the wonderful world of Irish whiskey, boasting a distinctive character and easy affordability. Distilleries both established and new are firing their stills, with fresh releases standing shoulder to shoulder with classic favourites. Welcome to the exciting renaissance.

With the global rise of whisky's popularity in the past decade, it was only a matter of time before Ireland’s famed uisce beatha ("water of life") gained traction among enthusiasts. While only four main distilleries were operating in 2013, there are currently 18 at varying levels of production. Now, even smaller distillers can flourish, introducing an impressive range of authentic tastes — often at a price that offers great value. With such smooth flavours and approachable prices, it's easy to explore the range of characters and styles — pick up a few and enjoy a flight with friends.

 

A SPIRITED HISTORY

Fast becoming a customer favourite, Irish whiskey has a tale that is as tumultuous and tenacious as the history of the Emerald Isle itself. In the early 19th century, Ireland was considered the world’s major whiskey producer. It was home to Aeneas Coffey, who invented the column still that allowed for a more efficient, continuous production cycle. However, his invention wasn't embraced by Irish whiskey producers, most of whom remained loyal to the traditional pot still process. Rebuffed, Coffey headed east to set up shop and was instrumental in helping Scotch become the world’s whisky of choice.

 

Irish whiskey continued to weather setbacks that curbed its ability to keep pace with Scotch’s broad appeal: a temperance movement in the mid-19th century, a trade war with Britain that limited exports, and Prohibition in 1920. The industry was eventually forced to consolidate into a few distilleries. (This is why Irish whiskey sports that extra "e": while merging under a single company in the 1970s, Irish Distillers Limited standardized their products under one name.)

 

A few labels managed to keep Ireland’s whiskey reputation intact, most notably, the famed blends from Bushmills and Jameson. Both names are still revered and deeply entrenched in Irish culture, and in fact, the original Jameson Distillery on Bow Street in Dublin — which opened in 1780 — still stands as a monument to the treasured craft.

INSIDE A GLASS OF WHISKEY

Blends (such as those popularized by Jameson and Bushmills) typically combine grain and malt whiskeys.

 

 Irish single malts, like their Scottish counterparts, must be distilled from a mash of only malted barley at a single distillery and then aged in oak for three years.

 

Irish grain whiskeys remain a relatively new category and involve the distillation of corn, wheat, rye or barley, or a combination of these grains.

 

Most recognizable and exclusive to Ireland, though, are single pot or pure pot still whiskeys, which employ a mix of malted and unmalted barley. Originally, the addition of unmalted barley was for economics, but the resulting taste revealed a spicier character that caught on. That pure pot still method is a classic way to produce Irish whiskey.

 

Ready to try it for yourself?  Browse our array of Irish whiskeys, or start with these expert picks.

 

START EXPLORING

Bottle of  Tyrconnell 15 Year Old Madeira

Tyrconnell 15 Year Old Madeira

Irish whiskey, evolved. Aged first in ex-bourbon American oak barrels before finishing in Madeira casks, this is a rich, complex and utterly compelling dram. This creamy Irish whiskey tastes of sweet tropical fruit drawn from the casks, with an explosion of spice that grips the palate to finish.

Kilbeggan Single Grain

This lighter, sweeter whiskey is first aged in ex-bourbon barrels before finishing in a mix of fortified wine and ex-bourbon barrels. It features biscuity flavours, with equal measure of nuts and spice, and a fruity finish with a ripple of vanilla.

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Paddy Irish Whiskey

Sociable price meets easygoing character in this light, soft-sipping, triple-distilled whiskey. Aged in oak, it unveils a malty sweetness on the palate, with threads of spice, honey, vanilla and toasted wood easing out over a persistent finish.

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West Cork 12 Year Old Single Malt Port Cask Finish

After a final aging of 110 days in port casks to ensure that 12 years of bourbon cask aging shine through, this limited-edition release delivers dark, malty and succulently sweet notes throughout.

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West Cork Glengarriff Series Bog Oak Single Malt

Confirming that it’s not so much how you start as how you finish, this expression takes a turn maturing in charred bog oak after aging in sherry casks. The smokiness carries from nose to finish, with edges of sweet and dry spices tempting the palate.   

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12 Year Old Knappogue Castle Irish Sm Whiskey

An Irish whiskey worth the wait, it’s triple distilled in copper pot stills and aged in bourbon oak barrels to produce a delicious, delicately refined single malt. Aromas of peppery spice sidle up to subtler tastes of fruit, leading to a clean, clipped finish. 

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Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey

Small batch meets big impression, thanks in part to this finely balanced blend aging in ex-rum barrels, which imparts a lush, sweet and smooth layer. Touches of wood and spice round out the flavours over a firm, hospitable finish.

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