Irish whiskey was the world’s most popular type of whiskey back in the 19th century. However, a sharp decline in sales near the end of the century saw the end of many distilleries. Over the next 100 years, the number of functional distilleries dwindled from 30 to only 3. However, since the 1990s, Irish whiskey has been on a constant upswing with Jameson leading the way.
The Irish variety generally features a notably smoother finish than the Scotch, mainly due to the near omission of peat from the process. Of course, there are exceptions, such as Connemara Single Malt. In this article, we’ll take a look at what separates Irish whiskey from other types of whiskey and what are the top Irish whiskey brands out there.
Definition of the Irish Whiskey
Similar to Scotch, Irish whiskey is a regional indicator. Since January 29, 2016, its marketing and labeling is being governed by Irish authorities in accordance with the Department of Agriculture’s 2014 technical file for Irish whiskey. There are many requirements that a whiskey must fulfill to be called an Irish whiskey.
The first among them is to be distilled in either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. It has to be made using a blend of malted cereals which can, but don’t have to, contain whole grains of other types of cereals.
The whiskey can only be saccharified through the diastase of the malt. It should be yeast-fermented and distilled at less than 94.8% ABV (alcohol by volume). The whiskey has to acquire the taste and aroma from the materials used. Maturation has to be done in wooden casks (no bigger than 700 liters), the period of which is three years minimum.
Caramel coloring and water can be added, but the distillate has to keep the taste, aroma, and color it received during the process. The minimum ABV is 40%. The whiskey also has to be matured in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.
The regulatory file also contains specific rules for single grain, single malt, single pot still, and blended whiskeys. The term “single” can only be used if the whole distillation process takes place at a single distillery.
It is prohibited to sell, market, or promote a spirit as Irish whiskey if it does not meet the requirements outlined in the regulatory file. The age statement on the bottle refers to the youngest whiskey in the blend. It is permissible to advertise the whiskey as “whisky” instead of “whiskey”.
Top 5 Irish Whiskey Options
Currently, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have 18 active distilleries, according to ABFI (Alcoholic Beverage Federation of Ireland). There are also a number of independent brands which have no distilleries of their own. Instead, they buy and market locally sourced whiskeys. Here’s a quick overview of the top 5 Irish whiskey brands.
Connemara Single Malt
Produced by Cooley Distillery, Connemara Single Malt is one of the most recognizable Irish varieties. Uncharacteristically, it uses peat in the production process which grants it a taste more akin to Scotch whiskey. However, it remains a rather mild whiskey with an overall smooth finish and good balance. Connemara Single malt owes its popularity partly to its very limited availability.
Paddy Irish Whiskey
This is a great option for beginners and one of the smoothest Irish whiskeys (thanks to the high percentage of malt content). It has a strong, simple, and bold taste with toffee and vanilla aroma. The story of Paddy dates back to 1779 when it was introduced as Cork Distilling Company Map of Ireland Old Irish Whisky. It was renamed to Paddy in 1913.
Redbreast 12 Year Old
Redbreast 12 Year Old belongs to the single pot stilled variety and is a strong contender for the title of the best Irish whiskey. It boasts a creamy, smooth taste with a combination of fruit and sherry flavors. It is best served combined with water. Redbreast is now made by Irish Distillers, though it was originally made by Gilbey’s. It is Ireland’s best-selling single pot still blend.
Tullamore D.E.W. (Daniel E. Williams) is one of the most popular Irish whiskey brands around the world. In terms of global sales of Irish whiskeys, it is second only to Jameson. Tullamore is on the lighter side, sporting a more delicate taste than the majority of Irish blends. Vanilla and oak undertones are still present, though. Tullamore D.E.W. is made by William Grant & Sons.
Widely regarded as Ireland’s finest whiskey, Jameson is made by Irish Distillers. It is also the best-selling brand of Irish whiskey in the world. Jameson matures for at least four years in oak casks and has a smooth taste enriched by vanilla and nut flavors. The story of Jameson began back in 1780 in Dublin, though it is now made in Cork.
Irish whiskey is considered by some as the best whiskey in the world. It is renowned for its smooth taste and the notable absence of peat from the production process. Also, the rise in popularity of some of its finest blends has made Irish whiskey the fastest-growing spirit in the world in the last couple of decades.