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Best Irish whiskey 2023: Raise a glass to the most drinkable Irish whiskies

Best Irish whiskey

Blended, single malt or cocktail? Whatever your preference, find your new favourite with our pick of the best Irish whiskey

Irish whiskey – note that all important ‘e’ – has been long overlooked in favour of its more celebrated Celtic cousin, Scotch, but times are changing. Irish producers are shining the spotlight on the very best Irish whiskey, many of which hold their own against the big names. Using traditional distilling methods, combined with innovative ideas, distillers are able to create super smooth, drinkable Irish whiskey that shouldn’t just be the reserve of Irish coffees or chasers.

While Scotch is subject to a litany of rules and regulations that producers must abide by to market their whisky as Scotch, Irish whiskey has just a few key controls. It must be aged in wood for a minimum of three years and it has to be bottled at at least 40% ABV. Irish whiskey is also usually distilled three times (versus twice for Scotch), which makes for the lighter and smoother character that Irish whiskey is known for, though that’s not a hard and fast rule.

It means producers are able to be a little more creative than their Scotch counterparts. Fewer rules make for a more diverse spectrum of whiskey flavour profiles and is why, historically, Irish whiskey makers wanted to set their wares apart from Scotch. For example, you’re unlikely to find peaty, smoky whiskey at all from Ireland, as it is usually made using unpeated barley, giving a cleaner, more cereal flavour, which allows a variety of other notes to shine through.

READ NEXT: Our guide to the best Scotch whisky

Best Irish whiskey: At a glance

How to choose the best Irish whiskey for you

What types of Irish whiskey can I buy?

Irish whiskey is known for being more approachable, lighter and smoother than other whiskies, though with a healthy dollop of complexity to keep things interesting. They are generally fruity and more malty than Scotch, though its overall profile will vary depending on how long the whiskey has been aged for and in what kind of wood cask, as this imparts a lot of flavour.

There are a few different types of Irish whiskey to choose from, too. Single malt, single grain and single pot still.

Single malt means the whiskey is made using malted barley at a single distillery.

Single grain means barley has been mixed with corn and/or wheat, though still at a single distillery.

Single pot still is particular to Irish whiskey only and means that both malted and unmalted barley have been distilled in pot stills at a single distillery.

In addition to these kinds, there are of course blended whiskies whereby different types of whiskey are skilfully blended to achieve a desired result. Single malts have a reputation for being smoother and more characterful, but that is not necessarily the case given the expertise of many of the master blenders today.

How much should I spend?

While most Irish whiskies don’t command the silly prices seen with vintage Scotch cask releases, there are exceptions. A good quality bottle of Irish whiskey can easily be bought for around £40 and there are bands either side of this figure that are worth exploring too. Whiskies intended for sipping alone or with just a dash of water can be considered more of an investment. In contrast, it makes sense to spend less on mixing whiskies, where the ultimate character of the whiskey can get a bit diluted. Whatever your budget, or tastes, you’re sure to find something you’ll like in our roundup below. Slainte!

How we test Irish whiskey

To whittle down the submissions into a list of the very best, we personally test a large range of Irish whiskies in a variety of serves – neat, on the rocks and in any other mix that we or the makers believe would allow the whiskey to shine. A selection of tasters make notes on the whiskey’s aroma and flavour profile, while comparing it closely to all the other whiskies in the line-up. We also note its age and price point in the process, to gain a spectrum of opinion – taste is, after all, subjective.

With Irish whiskey, we’re particularly interested in smoothness, individuality, balance and character. We test a variety of types so we’re able to recommend whiskies to suit fans of all styles, including both singles and blends.

READ NEXT: The best whiskies to buy

The best Irish whiskies you can buy in 2023

1. Bushmills 10 Year Old: The best whiskey for sipping

Price: £33 | Buy now from House of Malt

Like the market leader, Jameson, Bushmills has been making whiskey for centuries – the first known records show a licence from 1608. Even today, it continues to command a large share of the market from customers who love and respect the history of these old distilleries. This 10-year-old iteration is a triumphant, traditional style single malt, which is everything an Irish whiskey should be. Made using water drawn from the River Bush that flows through the village of Bushmills, this whiskey is well priced and approachable to drink. It has the lightness and elegance that you’d hope for and the rich, honeyed spice of vanilla, making it supremely drinkable.

Aged in bourbon and sherry casks for at least ten years to deliver a superior sweetness and depth, it offers buckets of fruit and a fresh woodiness. This is an ideal session whiskey and an all-round crowd pleaser for fans of the Irish stuff.

Key details – Bottle size: 70cl; ABV: 40%

Buy now from House of Malt

2. Slane Irish Whiskey: The best blended Irish whiskey

Price: £25 | Buy now from Master of Malt

The price of this blended Irish whiskey is rather a red herring in terms of its quality, complexity and downright deliciousness. Though the Slane distillery has only been operating since 2015, the estate and families have strong historic connections to whiskey making. Their ethos is to honour the ancient art, while using modern equipment and taking advantage of the wild countryside of the estate and surrounding Slane village.

This means much of the barley used in the whiskey is grown on the estate and distilled using the pure water of the Boyne valley that rushes through the grounds. Key to the process is the distillery’s signature triple-cask ageing. First in virgin oak for clean woodiness, then in seasoned casks previously used for Tennessee whiskey and bourbon for warmth and toastiness and finally Oloroso sherry casks for layers of deep sweetness and big dried fruit flavours.

The dark golden hue of Slane hints at these fruits but they are actually very forward when you take a sip. There’s more than a hint of caramel, baking spices and nicely burnt toast too. It’s a brilliant entry-point blended Irish whiskey that benefits from opening up with a touch of water to help bring out the natural oakiness and lengthen the brioche-like finish.

Key details – Bottle size: 70cl; ABV: 40%

Buy now from Master of Malt

3. The Boston Bakers Blended Irish Whiskey: The best Irish whiskey for mixing

Price: £30 | Buy now from The Bottle Club

Here’s something a little different from founder of The Bloomsbury Club, Carl Stephenson. Created in homage to his great uncle, an Irish emigrant who established a Boston bakery chain in the 1950s, this blended bottle is designed for sharing with friends in the Irish tradition. Made using Irish grain and three single malts from three casks finishes, it offers softness, smoothness and a lesson in balance.

Stout-finished whiskey lends body and depth, while the use of sherry and bourbon casks gives the characteristic fruity sweetness and vanilla flavours. This is then carefully blended with triple-distilled malted peat – though not in the Scotch sense of peat. Instead, the effect is to balance the sweetness and give a subtle earthiness without the smoke. Finally, the blend is aged in American oak, making a whiskey that is well suited to mixing. Stephenson suggests adding a draught of cloudy apple juice, ice and a slice and we’re happy to confirm the result is mouthwateringly moreish.

Key details – Bottle size: 70cl; ABV: 40%

Buy now from The Bottle Club

4. Waterford The Cuvee: The best premium Irish whiskey

Price: £70 | Buy now from The Whisky Exchange

Waterford is a bit of a disruptor in the Irish whiskey world in that it doesn’t place much value on the importance of cask maturation. Instead, the distillery believes that the inherent flavour of a whiskey all comes down to the barley, much like in winemaking where ‘terroir’ is so key to how a wine tastes. Waterford prides itself on using state of the art equipment alongside ancient knowledge to get the very best out of the varied Irish landscape, producing a library of single farm origin whiskies that show off how Ireland’s different microclimates and growing conditions affect the taste of the barley.

25 highly acclaimed single farm origin whiskies are used to create this complexly layered fusion. The result is an impossibly smooth tipple, filled with intriguing layers of flavour from crisp red apples and gentle menthol, to citrus freshness balanced by chocolate and cherry notes. Almost every sip delivers a newly noticed flavour on the palate. The finish is long and hints at fresh baked buttery biscuits, with a satisfyingly round mouth feel and a marked fieriness (that’ll be the 50% ABV). We absolutely love this, can you tell?

Key details – Bottle size: 70cl; ABV: 50%

Buy now from The Whisky Exchange

5. Nio Cocktails Teeling Whiskey Cocktail Collection Box: The best Irish whiskey cocktails

Price: £29 | Buy now from Nio Cocktails

The Teeling family has been making whiskey out of Dublin since 1782 and the latest generation pride themselves on using the methods and techniques passed down through the centuries, combined with less conventional distillation and maturation practices. This mix of modern and traditional methods creates remarkable – and interesting – whiskies.

Here, Teeling has collaborated with the clever letterbox cocktail company NIO Cocktails to make a selection of pre-mixed Teeling whiskey cocktails to enjoy at home. Featuring an aperitivo-ready Boulevardier (spicy Teeling Small Batch with Campari and vermouth), an Irish Emerald (Teeling Single Grain with vermouth, maraschino and old aromatic bitters), Herbal Penicillin (Teeling Small Batch with freshening Chartreuse, honey and ginger) and everyone’s favourite, the Old Fashioned. This set of warming, sophisticated whiskey cocktails allows you to explore two remarkable Teeling whiskies at your convenience and pleasure.

Key details – Bottle size: 100ml (per cocktail); ABV: Mixed

Buy now from Nio Cocktails

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