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Drinking Irish

Jeffrey M Allen


  • Irish Whiskey Overview: Article explores Irish whiskey classifications—pot still, single malt, single grain, and blended—for St. Patrick's Day.
  • Jameson Dominance: Jameson's blended Irish whiskey, especially the 12 and 18-year-old variants, stands out in popularity.
  • Other Recommendations: Redbreast, Tullamore DEW, Middleton, and Bushmills among the recommended Irish whiskeys, with additional suggestions provided.
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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to offer a bit of information about Irish drinks. While this article will focus on Irish whiskey, let me offer one piece of collateral advice. The best Irish drink to wash down your corned beef and cabbage: Guinness.

That issue aside, many of you will want a stronger drink than Guinness at some point on St. Patrick’s Day (or possibly on some other day). Accordingly, let’s talk about Irish whiskey. Let’s start with the basic question of what qualifies as Irish whiskey. To paraphrase Julius Caesar, all Irish whiskey is divided into four classifications: pot still, single malt, single grain, and blended.

  1. Pot still Irish whiskey is made by a single distillery from a mix of malted and unmalted barley distilled in a pot still.
  2. Single grain whiskey includes whole grains or cereals other than malted barley and must be distilled at a single distillery.
  3. Single malt Irish whiskey must be made from 100% malted barley, from one distillery in Ireland, aged for at least three years in oak barrels, and bottled at 40% alcohol per volume or higher. Note: single malt is only double distilled as opposed to the normal triple distillation for Irish whiskey.
  4. Irish blend combines single grain, single malt, and single pot still whiskies.

You should know that most Irish whiskey goes through a triple distillation process (distinguished from the standard double distillation of Scotch and single distillation of bourbon). Each distillation creates a smoother drinking product. On the other hand, it also filters out additional flavor particles.

The rules respecting the production of Irish whiskey require that it:

  • Be distilled and matured in Ireland (Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland both) from a mash of malted cereals with or without whole grains of other cereals and which has been 
    • Saccharified (the conversion of starches to sugar) by the diastase of malt contained therein, with or without other natural enzymes; 
    • fermented by yeast; distilled at less than 94.8% alcohol by volume of 94.8%, so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the materials used. Only plain water and caramel color is added to it.
    • subject to the maturation of the final distillate for a minimum of three years in wooden casks, not exceeding 185 US gallon capacity.
  • Retain the color, aroma, and taste derived from the production process described above; and
  • Have a minimum alcohol by volume content of 40%.

Now that we have covered the basics, let’s get to the good part. Most of you simply want to know what Irish whiskey you should purchase. The good news: you have a lot of excellent choices. The bad news: Like almost everything else in today’s world, the cost of Irish whiskey has gone up over recent years and the really good stuff will cost you a pretty penny. The better news: You can still get a very decent Irish whiskey for less than the cost of a good watch.

As with all alcohols, the best remains a decision of the drinker. What you like may not match up with my tastes and neither of us may agree with a whiskey reviewer. That is OK; and the bottom line remains that you should try a number of whiskeys and pick those you like the best. All that I or any other reviewer can do is provide you with our preferences, which may prove a good starting point for your analysis.

Most Americans seem to prefer the taste of blended Irish whiskey; and it remains the most popular of the Irish whiskey imports into this country. Jameson has climbed the mountain to the top of the peak, selling over 31 million bottles annually. I think that there is good reason for its popularity and make no bones about the fact that it is my personal favorite. Note however, that, as with most brands, Jameson offers numerous whiskeys in its line. Some better (and pricier than others). Jameson’s 12-year-old whiskey offers a decent whiskey at a not outrageous price. You can get a 750 ml bottle for around $30. It is quite drinkable, but nowhere near as good (to my tastes) as the 18-year-old Jameson’s (my personal favorite), which now costs upwards of $200.

A good compromise: Jameson’s Black Barrel Select Reserve, which will cost you around $40 for a 750 ml bottle. The Jameson website offers you detailed descriptions of these and all the other whiskeys in the Jameson line. You can check that out at

You may want to explore some of the more unusual offerings, such as the Cask Mates and the Cold Brew. Not as good as the 18-year-old; but quite tasty and far less costly.

Other Irish whiskey that I have found particularly good includes:

  • Redbreast: The 12-year-old offers a good flavor at a reasonable price. I prefer the 15-year-old myself. That will cost you around $130 a bottle. A very smooth pot still whiskey with a fruity flavor.
  • Tullamore DEW (also D.E.W): A blended whiskey that has become quite popular and now is the second best-selling Irish whiskey after Jameson’s. You can learn about the entire Tullamore DEW family at 

I have sampled several of the whiskeys in the Tullamore DEW family. My favorite is the award winning 18-year-old single malt. The Original Irish Whiskey is also quite good.

  • Middleton: Middleton Irish whiskey is among the (if not the) most costly I have found. On the other hand, the less expensive versions, which are the only ones I have tried, have proven quite excellent. To help prepare you for the sticker shock, Middleton’s full name on the bottle is “Middleton’s Very Rare” Irish Whiskey. I do not recall seeing a bottle of Middleton’s recently for much under $175. I have also seen bottles for many thousands of dollars! While I have enjoyed the Middleton’s I have tried, and it is excellent whiskey, I have to tell you that, in my opinion, it does not justify the cost.
  • Bushmills: A very popular choice. Good, but lower on my list as I simply prefer the taste of the others more. The original Bushmills will cost you around $24/bottle. You can get a full description of each of the whiskeys in the Bushmills family on the company’s website at I have not sampled every whiskey in the family; but of those I have, the 16-year-old single malt is my first choice and the 10-year-old single malt my second choice.

In the interest of giving you a broader perspective, I did some research and came up with a number of other Irish whiskey labels that have received accolades and that some reviewers consider among the best. I make no representation respecting these, as I have not sampled them myself. They include: Connemara, Green Spot, Kilbeggen Pot Still Whiskey, Teeling, Powers, Tyrconnel, and Slane. You can find write-ups on these and other labels here:

After you select the whiskey, you will want to enjoy it. While some people prefer to use whiskey in mixed drinks, I have a strong preference for not muddling up the taste of the whiskey with other flavors, particularly if I am holding a glass of exceptional and pricey whiskey. I do prefer my whiskey a bit colder than room temperature, so I keep stainless steel “whiskey rocks” in the freezer. A few of those will quickly cool down the whiskey to my desired level of chill. The only thing I will ever add to a good whiskey is a little water, as a few drops can bring out some of the flavor. The amount of water to add is up to you; but most connoisseurs of fine whiskey say just a few drops. . I don’t carry an eye dropper with me, so I will add about a quarter of a teaspoon of water to a jigger of whiskey. I try to avoid using ice cubes as they will melt and water down the drink if you take the time to savor it. If you have to use ice cubes, the very large ice cubes some bars have adopted work best as they tend to melt more slowly, giving you time to finish the drink before they water it down. In the best of all worlds, you have tap water that does not add inappropriate flavors to the whiskey. I prefer to use filtered tap water or high-quality mineral water.

I have given you my personal favorites and a few others to sample in this article. I encourage you to try some out and pick your favorite. Of course, I also encourage you to drink sensibly and not to mix drinking with driving or operating heavy machinery.