Why Irish whiskey is as good as Scotch – and 10 bottles to try

Spirit news

Tue 16 Mar 2021

Let’s clear up some myths about Irish whiskey. It’s not all triple distilled. Distillers use peat in the malt-drying process. And they don’t just use sherry casks for ageing. In fact, you’ll find Irish whiskey every bit as complex and mature as your favourite Scottish dram. And, just as with the neighbours across the Irish Sea, you’ll find a choice of blended whiskeys, single malts and single grains.

Ireland’s trump card, however, is a whiskey style all of its own: single pot still. It’s made with both malted and unmalted (‘green’) barley, which adds tempting notes of winter spice and fresh apple to the finished spirit. You’ll find these flavours in abundance in one of our gold-medal winners, Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy, an intense dram packed with honey, orchard fruits, spice and toffee.

Irish whiskey is finally emerging from the shadows of its Scottish counterparts, too. The industry was nearly wiped out in the 1980s, with just two distilleries (Bushmills and Midleton) surviving. Today, there are more than 30 sites making whiskey in Ireland, with another 20 in the pipeline.

Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland

Part of the new breed is Teeling, a distillery located in the heart of Dublin, and winner of two IWSC spirit Golds. Teeling goes against the grain by ageing its whiskey in all kinds of weird and wonderful barrels, such as white Burgundy, Madeira and even Cabernet Sauvignon, and the results are delicious. Founder Jack Teeling says that it’s Irish whiskey’s “time to shine”, a sentiment to which whisky drinkers across the globe should raise a glass – perhaps containing one of the following Irish whiskeys from the IWSC’s 2020 judging.

Best Irish whiskeys

28 Year Old Single Malt Whiskeyiwsc-top-irish-whiskey-1.png
Teeling Whiskey

Tropical fruit with toasted iced bun, cinnamon and smoky peat aromas on the nose. The complex palate hints winegum and toasted almonds with a savoury undertone of vanilla and oak. Good balance with a guava hint. A long, smooth finish. Superb. 46%

Jameson 18 YO Irish Whiskeyiwsc-top-irish-whiskey-2.png
Irish Distillers

A lovely big, oaky and fudge nose with hints of delicately cooked spiced fruits. Moist fruit cake, a touch of pencil wood and enchanting spices linger pleasantly on the palate. A great blended Irish. Civilised and beautifully well-mannered. 40%

Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskeyiwsc-top-irish-whiskey-3.png
Irish Distillers

An intensely creamy, complex blend with great spicy notes. Ample dried fruit layered with lashings of vanilla. Big, woody, floral undertones give way to toasted caramel sweetness. Think Crème brûlée with a dollop of baked apple. Great oak-laden finish. Spectacular! 40%

Renaissance 18 YO Single Malt Whiskeyiwsc-top-irish-whiskey-4.png
Teeling Whiskey

Aromas of crisp dried fruit on the nose mingle with the nutty oak leading to a rich, powerful palate. Earthy with baked nuances of apricot. Long, warm, persistent finish, phenomenal flavour and depth. A beautiful single malt. 46%

Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeyiwsc-top-irish-whiskey-5.png
Irish Distillers

A spicy dram with levelled intensity and depth. Layered baked fruit flavours dominate the palate leading to a well-balanced and rounded fruity finish. Harmonious toffee cinders underpin this satisfying malt. Great length and depth; exceptional. 

Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskeyiwsc-top-irish-whiskey-7.png
Hinch Distillers

Saline quality on the nose with essences of seaweed and brine. Smoked peat and orchard flavours occupy the palate. A sweet caramel kick to finish - think just baked pastry. 43%

Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeyiwsc-top-irish-whiskey-8.png
Irish Distillers

Pronounced tropical fruit on the nose with liquorice and burnt demerara aromas. The palate gives stewed spice and hedgerow berries with dried sultanas drenched in coffee and chocolate. Woody finish. 56.6%

Midleton Very Rare 2019 Irish Whiskeyiwsc-top-irish-whiskey-9.png
Irish Distillers

Congenial aromas of tropical fruit and ripe bananas. Delectable flavours of ginger, cinnamon, thick caramel and vanilla ice cream. An elegantly balanced whiskey with a good firm grip. 40%

Grace O'Malley 18 YO Single Malt Irish Whiskeyiwsc-top-irish-whiskey-10.png
Inis Tine Uisce Teoranta

Berry fruit on the nose with hints of apple and sultana. Light, elegant and youthful on the palate. The finish has a soft spice flavour lifting the oak. 45%