With Ireland being our home for the foreseeable future, we’ve decided to write our own Irish Whiskey Guide. This includes tips on how to drink whiskey in Ireland and some of our favorite producers.
For this post, we’ve recruited our good friend and Irish whiskey aficionado Michael McMahon to contribute. Mike, along with his brother James, owns Mother Mac’s Public House in Limerick. Mike was happy to share his expertise on the whiskey of the Emerald Isle.
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What Is Irish Whiskey
Whiskey is the generic name given to grain-based alcohol manufactured via a defined distillation and barrel maturation process. Put more simply, Irish whiskey along with Scotch and American whiskey is a style of whiskey. Often considered the “Big Three” of whiskey styles, whiskey is made in several countries around the world including France, Canada, and Japan.
There are a few elements that help distinguish Irish whiskey from the others. For starters, Irish distilleries use a combination of malted and unmalted barley. The results are a smoother, drinkable flavor often with traces of vanilla. Recently in Ireland, there has been a push to use locally sourced barley to give the whiskey a uniquely Irish taste.
The other distinguishing element of Irish whiskey is the triple distilling process used by distilleries in Ireland. As the name gives away, triple distilled means the alcohol is distilled three times, usually in a copper pot still. Why three times? The result from triple distillation is more concentrated alcohol that is also lighter. The downside to triple distilling is that it’s an expensive process which can be reflected in the cost of triple distilled whiskies.
Whiskey production in Ireland has been dominated for years by a handful of iconic brands. Even the most novice Irish whiskey enthusiast will recognize brands like Jameson Irish Whiskey, Powers Irish Whiskey, and Paddy’s Irish Whiskey. Today, a new generation of Irish whiskey distilleries are pushing the envelope of whiskey production making it an exciting time for those who enjoy a dram or two.
Irish Whiskey vs. Scotch
The world is filled with rivalries. Coke vs Pepsi. McDonald’s vs Burger King. Ketchup vs Mustard (we all know mustard is better). Perhaps fewer rivalries are bigger than Irish whiskey vs. Scotch whisky. Having made the mistake of ordering Irish whiskey in Scotland and vice versa, I can tell you firsthand this rivalry is real. So this then leads to the question, what is the difference between Irish and Scotch whiskey?
Whiskey Or Whisky-That Is The Question
What good would our Irish Whiskey Guide be if we didn’t tackle the burning question; is it whiskey or whisky? Oddly enough, Irish and Scotch whiskey share many similarities beginning with the term whiskey. I know some will comment that whiskey can also be spelled whisky, but since we live in Ireland, we are going with the Irish spelling.
That said, the word whiskey is derived from the Gaelic expression Uisce Beatha meaning “water of life.” It’s believed that Irish monks brought the distillation process to Scotland as they established new monasteries.
Like any good rivalry, there’s a lot of backstories and legends to them. The use of an “e” or lack thereof, is just one of these legends. Not surprisingly there are a number of theories that exist as to the adoption by the Irish of the letter “e.” To what end any of them are true, we’ll never know. In truth, the spelling of whiskey has been inconsistent since the beginning.
Some believe the use of the ‘e’ was a way for Irish distilleries to distinguish themselves from the Scottish. And it might have worked. Today, this one little letter helps buyers understand if the whiskey they are buying is from Ireland or Scotland.
Peat Vs Pot Still
I’m going to set the record straight and say, I don’t like heavily peated whiskies. In general, I’m not of fan of most things smoked like fish or meats. We all have smells and tastes we just don’t like and for me it’s smokey. And unfortunately, peated whiskies are on that list. This is also where Irish and Scotch whiskies differ.
There is a traditional absence of peat flavors and aromas in Irish whiskey. To be called Scottish whisky the grain must be malted using peat as the source of heat. The smoke from the peat fire is piped into the malting floor adding the distinctive smokey flavor. Irish whiskey does not have such a specific requirement. That said, today there are a number of distilleries in Ireland experimenting with peat malting.
Ireland is dominated by a single type of whiskey, pot still Irish whiskey. Often referred to as “Pure Pot Still” or simply “Pot Still,” pot still whiskey is unique to Ireland. To be called pot still, it must be manufactured from the combination of malted and unmalted barley. The mash bill must include at least 30% malted barley and 30% unmalted barley. Lastly, the whiskey must be made on Irish soil in a traditional copper pot still to be called Pot Still Irish Whiskey.
The number of times the alcohol used to make whiskey is distilled also sets Irish and Scotch whiskies apart from one another. In Scotland, distilleries will distill the alcohol twice while in Ireland, it’s distilled three times. Some say this extra distillation gives Irish whiskey a smoother, lighter finish compared to Scotch whisky.
Aging The Whiskey
Aging is a critical step in the production of whiskey. Much like making wine, the aging process is vital to a whiskey’s success. The right wood, the right storage conditions, and the right amount of time, all factor into the aging process. Here again, Irish and Scottish distillers have different approaches.
In Scotland, Scotch whisky requires a minimum of three years of maturation in oak casks. For Irish whiskey, there is also a minimum of three years of aging. However, Irish distillers are not limited to the use of oak casks. They are free to experiment with various types of wood, creating interesting flavor palates not found or possible in Scotch Whisky.
Our Irish Whiskey Guide – Drinking Whiskey In Ireland
How To Drink Irish Whiskey
Let me begin by saying that you should drink your Irish whiskey however you enjoy it. The exception is shots of whiskey. Enjoying what you are eating and drinking is the most important part. That said, I asked around to learn how whiskey aficionados recommend drinking Irish whiskey.
A nice proper Irish whiskey is meant to be savored. After all, a good deal of time and effort went into making it. No surprise that the feedback I received was varied. However, the overall consensus was to add a wee bit of room temperature water to the whiskey. Why? The water helps to open the whiskey, making it easier on the nose and mouth. If you are new to drinking whiskey, this will help. Give it a try and see for yourself.
Where To Drink Whiskey In Ireland
We’ve been coming to Ireland for over 20 years and now it’s home. If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that there’s no shortage of places to enjoy a pint of Guinness or Irish whiskey. From big cities to small towns in Ireland, we’ve asked around to learn which Irish pubs are known for their whiskey offerings and knowledge.
We are kicking off our Irish Whiskey Guide in Dublin. It’s no surprise that Dublin has loads of great pubs known for Irish whiskey. In fact, I received a ton of recommendations that I simply couldn’t mention all of these. That said, when you are in the Irish capital, these pubs come highly recommended for their Irish whiskey selection. The Palace, Mother Reilly’s, and 57 The Headline.
If you happen to be in Dublin in November, make sure to check out Whiskey Live Dublin. This annual two-day event draw distillers and whiskey lovers from around Ireland. The event features whiskey tastings, cocktail demonstrations, and a chance to meet the distillers behind the whiskey.
Next up, our Irish Whiskey Guide is taking us to Western Ireland. While you’re exploring the stunning Wild Atlantic Way you’ll have plenty of opportunities to visit some of the country’s best whiskey pubs. From Sligo in the north to the Ring of Kerry in the south, the west coast of Ireland is packed with great whiskey pubs. Here are a few to check out.
Co. Cork: The Shelbourne Bar
As I mentioned we’ve been coming to Ireland for over 20 years and now call it, Limerick, home. Over the years we’ve certainly visited our fair share of pubs in Limerick. Without naming any as our favorite, we are certainly partial to Mother Mac’s. Known for great Irish craft beer, an amazing pint of Guinness, and of course, whiskey, Mother Mac’s is our happy place.
Recently, Mike and James have rolled out the Limerick Whiskey Experience. Building off their knowledge of whiskey, the Brothers McMahon plan to “promote and deliver enjoyable whiskey experiences in Limerick.” Details of those experiences are being finalized, but knowing Mike and James as we do, it’s going to be something special.
In addition to Mother Mac’s, if you are looking for whiskey in Limerick City, head over to Flannery’s Bar. They have one of the largest Irish whiskey collections on the west coast of Ireland. In Co. Limerick, Quinn’s De Bucket is well known by locals to have a nice selection of Irish whiskey. You can also check out Aunty Lena’s in Adare.
Irish Whiskey Guide – Irish Whiskey Tours
While there are no “official” Irish whiskey trails, Whiskey Island out of Dublin can arrange private or small group whiskey trail experiences. They offer whiskey experiences in Northern Ireland and Dublin as well as in Ireland’s Ancient East and Ireland’s Hidden Heartland. Whiskey Island arranges visits to a number of world-renowned Irish distilleries including Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey, Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey, and the Jameson Midleton Distillery.
You’ll find “unofficial” whiskey trails in Galway, Temple Bar (Dublin), Waterford, and Kilkenny. These trails have been organized on the local level and not by the main Ireland tourism board, Failte Ireland. They are a great way to discover great whiskey pubs in each city and are worth checking out.
Irish Whiskey Guide – Irish Whiskey Brands
Traditionally Ireland was dominated by a small number of whiskey distilleries with the largest being Irish Distillers based in Midleton Co. Cork. However, over the past few years, Ireland has been in the midst of a whiskey revolution. This revolution has led to the introduction of several new distilleries and the renewed interest in whiskey both in Ireland and abroad. Our Irish Whiskey Guide is going to look at a few Irish whiskeys worth checking out.
Holding a prominent place along the Wild Atlantic Way, the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry has long been known for its scenery, food, and the “Craic” (Irish for fun). And since 2012, the home to the Dingle Distillery. An independently owned artisan distillery producing vodka, gin, and of course whiskey. Dingle Whiskey is described as uniquely local using local well water, manual mashing of the grain, and wooden fermentation vessels. Their whiskey is aged onsite allowing the local microclimate of sea and land to impart itself during the maturation process. Dingle whiskey is an easy-to-drink whiskey that can only be created in “the Kingdom.”
Hailing from Ireland’s sunny southeast, Co. Waterford, Waterford Distillery has been producing high-quality Irish whiskey from their state-of-the-art facility since 2016. The distillery has a uniquely Scottish influence, having acquired a pair of Lomand stills from the Bruichladdich Distillery on the Isle of Islay. The ethos of the distillery is steeped in quality and local production. They source barley from 86 Irish farms and pride themselves on ensuring total traceability. This has resulted in the release of single malt Irish Whiskeys with the nuance of terroir or as they call it Téireoir.
Irish Distillers are instantly recognized as a powerhouse in Irish whiskey, producing iconic brands such as Jameson Irish Whiskey and Redbreast Irish Whiskey. Always looking to push the boundaries of Irish whiskey production, Irish Distillers introduced the Micro Distillery. This “distillery inside a distillery” is charged with the production of the “Method & Madness” range of whiskeys. The micro-distillery enables the distillers to trial and test various new whiskeys without impacting normal production.
Nestled amongst the farmland in Cooraclare (Co. Clare) is the bonded warehouse of JJ Corry. One of a number of companies resurrecting the lost art of Irish whiskey bonding, aging, and blending. This approach to whiskey is a lost tradition in Ireland. At its simplest, this is the process of using the microclimate to impart flavor into the spirit. In the case of JJ Corry, the west coast of Ireland provides fantastic whiskey aging conditions. The whiskey is blended and bottled onsite at Cooraclare.
A member of the Diageo family of spirits, Roe & Company pays tribute to legendary Irish whiskey distiller George Roe. A staple in the Irish whiskey industry, George Roe was at the center of the golden age of Irish whiskey during the 19th century.
Today, Roe & Co blends modern technology with traditional techniques to produce a light and elegant Irish whiskey. Soft on the nose and on the pallet, their whiskey features spiced pears and woody vanilla flavors. A blend of hand-selected Irish malts and grains are aged in bourdon casks to produce a drinkable whiskey ideal for cocktails or on its own. Located in Dublin, distillery tours and tasting are available.
Located in the historic Dublin neighborhood of the Liberties, Pearse Lyons Distillery has been a passion project for its owners since 2013. Situated inside the renovated St. James’ Church, Pearse Lyons producers a range of quality Irish whiskies.
From their five-year-old Original to their 12-year-old Founder’s Choice, each used hand-selected grains and malts. Building off the success of their American cousin, Tom Branch bourdon, Pearse Lyons whiskies are age in bourbon casks. This gives them a smooth and easy taste with hints of vanilla, caramel, and light oak. Tours and tastings are available at the distillery.
Located in Co. Meath and with an eye on sustainability, Slane Irish Whiskey is dedicated to producing only the finest locally sourced Irish whiskey. With the famous Slane Castle at its doorstep, the distillers at Slane use a three-cask (virgin oak, seasoned whiskey, and Oloroso sherry) maturation process to produce their award-winning Irish whiskey. This process delivers a smooth and highly drinkable whiskey with hints of butterscotch, baking spice, and vanilla. From collecting rainwater to repurposing spent grain, the team at Slane goes the extra mile to ensure their piece of the Boyne Valley remains pristine. Slane does offer tours and tastings at the distillery. It’s recommended to check hours and costs online.
FAQs – How To Drink Irish Whiskey
Ask a hundred Irish whiskey drinkers and you’ll get 100 different answers. The likes of Jameson, Powers Irish Whiskey, and Paddy’s Irish Whiskey have long been associated with Irish whiskey. Today, newer brands like Redbreast Irish Whiskey and Teeling Whiskey are considered among the best.
While there has been an explosion of new Irish whiskey distilleries in the past 5 years, famous whiskey brands like Jameson, Powers Irish Whiskey, and Bushmills Irish Whiskey continue to be the most popular. The history of these brands plays an important role in their popularity as well as visiting their distilleries in Ireland.
One of the best “beginner” Irish whiskeys is from West Cork Distillers. It’s a smooth whiskey that doesn’t have the “bite” sometimes associated with whiskey in general.
Irish whiskey is known to have four types or styles of whiskey. Those four types are pot still, the most common, grain, blended, and malt.