Break out of the Guinness rut this St. Patrick’s Day—with a slug of Irish whiskey—not, however, in the form of a car bomb. Drinks enthusiast David Wondrich, cocktail columnist for Esquire, ranks his favorite bottles of the Emerald Isle import. From affordable to blowout, light to rich, these selections of the best Irish whiskey offer a range of price points and flavor profiles.
“This bottle falls somewhere in between Jameson and Powers – beefier than the Jameson, it is less so than the Powers, and it is quite good.”
“If you like a lighter whiskey, Jameson is, of course, the classic. “
“A recently revampe distillery hidden among the lochs of central Ireland, Killegan was an old distilling site that until a few years ago lay dormant.” This crowd-pleaser – double-distilled in a copper-pot still from the 1800s – is a first rate introducer for novice drinkers.
750 ml $29.99
“Ireland is a little weird, possessing its own way of doing things, which is certainly not the Scotch way,” explains Wondrich, describing Paddy Irish’s unique make-up. Providing a fruity, sweet finish is an atypical of three types of whiskeys: grain (a high-proof variety made with a mix of kernels), single-malt (a style crafte with all malted barley produced in a single distillery), and pure pot still (a category based on a blend of malted and unmalted barley).
Wondrich favors the entry-level Powers for its richness and the ease at with which it slides down the throat: “a great bar whiskey that is also cheap.”
“One of my top-five whiskeys.” An excellent bang for the buck, this deceptively light spirit hits Wondrich’s sweet spot for Irish-whiskey aging between 10 and 15 years (as opposed to the longer-aged Scotch).
“This is a 100% pure pot-still whiskey that you should try.” The pure pot-still distilling process is found only in Ireland, and utilizes a blend of malted and unmalted barley, imparting a musky and and complex flavor.
Hitting U.S. shelves just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, this expressive bottle is aged for no less than 12 years in both bourbon barrels and oloroso sherry butts – just another name for barrels – and refined in pure pot stills.
“This pure pot-still whiskey is quite lovely.” Lacking the addition of grain whiskey – a hallmark of pot-still tipples – this intense quaff evokes rich, chocolate toffee and ripe figs.
For a splurge, Wondrich proposes the Jameson 18 – “just discussing it makes me thirsty.” The triple-distilled spirit is matured in both American bourbon barrels and European oak casks, instilling complex flavors of toffee, spice and leather, along with an underlying tone of nuttiness. “A whole different animal than the regular Jameson, very sophisticated.”