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5 Irish Whiskeys for the Bourbon Lover

In Irish Whiskey Reviews by Jason Miller6 Comments

Every March 17, we all get to be a little Irish. How, or if, you choose to embrace your new, day-long heritage has always been a personal preference, but conventional pop culture tells us that mean consuming green beer, Guinness and of course, Jameson Irish Whiskey. Now, there really isn’t any wrong with Guinness or Jameson (green beer is wrong though), but as discerning whiskey drinkers, there is so much more to explore and taste. There is an incredible legacy and history with Irish Whiskey, and even for one day, or weekend, a year, embrace your inner Irish.

These 5 Irish whiskey selections will never replace your bourbon, but they are worthy choices to celebrate with. You might even find you like one or two of them.

Let’s be upfront though. There are some key differences between Irish and Bourbon whiskies.

  • No Irish whiskey will be able to compete with the richness of oak flavors, like vanilla, that a bourbon or most ryes can. That said, many great drams will have those vanilla, almond and honey notes, but they will be softer
  • They age in a variety of used and new barrels, which can offer a wider variety of flavors
  • The mash bills and grain mix can vary widely among Irish Whiskey, from 100% corn, to single malt (barley), to blends of malt and grain
  • The distillation methods are also different – column stills vs. pot stills
  • They age in Ireland. Hot there, is like a cool Kentucky spring. Whiskey ages very differently

Glasses ready? Let’s drink!

Greenore


You might see this called Irish or Celtic bourbon, which is “wrong”, but it gets that nickname for a good reason. This is a 100% grain whiskey made with corn that is aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Golden in color, it has a mellow honey and oak notes on the nose and finished with smooth vanilla on the palate. It is incredibly light and sweet and one dimensional. But, it does make a good first step.

Bushmills 10 Year Old


This is light and sweet, like the Greenore, but this whiskey has slightly more character. This is a classic single malt Irish Whiskey aged mostly in ex-bourbon barrels. The nose is clean, with honey and vanilla, and on the palate, there are sweet vanilla, mild chocolate and light spice notes. This is an easy-drinking whiskey, but the longer aging and barley malt grain provide a slightly more depth than the Greenore. For those bourbon drinkers who like lighter, softer bourbon like a Maker’s Mark, this is a good whiskey to try.

Jameson Black Barrel


There is a lot happening in this step up from the standard Jameson. This whiskey is a blend of pot still malt and grain whiskeys aged in both ex-bourbon and sherry barrels, but there are two things that make this whiskey stand out. First, this whiskey is aged longer, and the bourbon barrels used go through an additional re-charring to provide those deeper oak notes bourbon drinkers are familiar with. The nose is a mix the classic orchard fruits you expect from Jameson but with a nice woody spice and vanilla from the barrel. The palate definitely leads with the stronger vanilla and woody spice, but it finishes with a caramelized apple note.

The Irishman 12 Year Old


My pick of the litter that too often falls under the radar. This is 100% single malt whiskey aged exclusively for 12 years in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. The nose, although lighter than any bourbon, has strong vanilla, freshly charred oak and baking spices, like cinnamon & nutmeg, notes. Because it is an Irish malt whiskey, there is also a faint hint of cut grass and green apple. On the palate, the whiskey has a distinctly sweet and vanilla profile, but it has a small hint of spice and pepper. This would be a good whiskey for bourbon drinkers who enjoy a balanced bourbon mashbill of corn, barley and a hint of rye.

Powers John’s Lane Release 12 Year Old


For those who prefer rye or those high rye bourbons, this is your dram. Longer aging in ex-sherry casks adds the dried fruit and holiday spices, but the whiskey is a blend of whiskey aged from ex-bourbon barrels as well. The nose will draw you in with warm notes of orange, oak and cinnamon, but you are rewarded with the vanilla, pepper and spice notes you’d expect from a rye.

Try one or try them all, and let us know what you think.

About the Author
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Jason Miller

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Jason Miller is a professional amateur who spreads and shares the wealth of all things whisk(e)y. He has worked in the restaurant and liquor world, and he is an avid visitor of Ireland and Scotland, where he enjoys tasting his way around both countries. He loves to collect and host Scotch and Irish whiskey tastings, and he has been known to even cook a haggis for a proper Burns Night Supper.

Comments

  1. Avatar

    I don’t know who’s paying you but you forgot one of the best Irish whiskey, Tullamore Dew 10year and Phoenix. Also the original green label is better than the “quote best” Jameson

    1. Avatar

      Dennis, I appreciate the comment, and I do love Tullamore Dew. It’s my go-to for a proper Irish Coffee, but no one paid for this review.

      Any tasting or preference that anyone writes will always subjective to personal tastes. These Irish whiskies just happened to be the ones I picked for the bourbon drinker who may not typically drink or have tried many Irish whiskies beyond the standard bottle of Jameson. If I had to write this article again, I’d probably switch a few of these up given the exploding growth in whiskey from across Ireland. Some of the new releases from Teeling and Glendalough are exceptional.

  2. Avatar

    I do not like beer or wine, and scotch is just disgusting….I am a bourbon drinker. I will be making my first trip to Ireland and I am concerned about what I will drink while there being the bourbon lover. I usually drink Rare Breed as my go to….I was wondering what you might suggest as a drink that would be able to purchase while in Ireland? any comments appreciated!!!

    1. Avatar

      Betty – I think you’ll be in good hands in Dublin. Been there a few times, and I’ve never had a bad time (or sober day/night that I can recall). While you likely won’t find Rare Breed in most places, you’ll find basic American whiskies (Jim, Jack) – and maybe some mainstream higher end bourbons in bigger pubs (think Maker’s, Woodford, etc.).

      If you don’t like Scotch because it is smoky or you’re not a fan of the blended malts, then Irish whiskey could be a good stepping stone. Any of the bottles above will be good to try, especially the Greenore (now called Kilbeggan) 8 YO and Bushmills 10. Both will be lighter, sweeter and with less heat.

      If they don’t have a bourbon, a few standard cocktails could be another route. Whiskey and Ginger Ale or Irish Coffees can power your entire day. There is also a growing craft beer scene in Ireland. While Guinness is the big name (and just plain delish in Dublin from my POV), there will be a lot of options on draft and in bottles to choose from if the dark stout isn’t for you.

      Have a great time!

  3. Avatar

    Red breast was left out of this article 12 year aged pot still whiskey.

  4. Avatar

    Michael, Redbreast 12, 15 and 21 (if you are lucky enough to snag a bottle/dram) are incredible drams. But for the hardcore bourbon drinker, the complexity of a pure pot still whiskey may not always be welcome.

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