St. Patrick’s Revenge: How Irish Whiskey Replaced Scotch as the Hot-Shot Tipple

Forget snooty scotches—Irish whiskey is the spirit du jour. It takes only a wee dram of today’s refined single malts to discover why

The Irish invented whiskey (even the Scots admit that) and have been making it in one form or another for almost a thousand years. They even gave it its name, from the Gaelic “uisce beatha,” meaning “water of life.” Traditionally distilled three times instead of twice like its Celtic sibling, it’s typically smoother and less medicinal-tasting than Scotch, with a faint sweetness and hints of dried fruit or grassy herbs that lend it a character very much its own.

In the 1800s, Irish whiskey was the best-selling liquor in the world but faltered in the early 20th century as Prohibition and increased competition from Scotland conspired to stifle sales. There were once hundreds of distilleries in Ireland, but by the mid-1970s only two (under the same ownership) remained: Bushmills in Northern Ireland and Midleton in County Cork, which produced brands including Jameson and Powers. Flash forward: Today, there are at least 40 whiskey distilleries in Ireland—and Irish is hot. How hot? A record 14 million cases were sold in 2021, and it’s the second-fastest-growing spirits category in America after tequila/mezcal. Sales in the new super-premium category—including single malts aged 20 years or more—have increased 8,728 percent since 2002. Here are six fine Irish whiskeys available on our shores. 

Tullamore D.E.W. Original ($38). A familiar old-school blended Irish—smooth, medium-bodied, and pleasingly straightforward—this is less a sipping whiskey than an appealing substitute for other whiskeys in an old-fashioned or a manhattan, and the perfect choice for making Irish coffee.

Limavady Single Malt ($50). This reincarnation of an age-old, long-vanished brand—now owned by Vermont’s WhistlePig rye distillery—stands out for its elegant embossed bottle, its aroma of tropical fruit and orange peel, and its warm but not cloying shortbread-and-butterscotch character (it’s partly aged in sweet sherry casks).

Green Spot Single Pot Still ($60). The Spot whiskeys—Green, Yellow, Gold, Blue, and Red—are produced at the Midleton distillery for Mitchell & Son in Dublin, Ireland’s oldest wine and spirits merchant. The non-age-specified Green Spot is the least expensive of them but remarkable whiskey nonetheless, with an aroma of caramel and vanilla, a hint of apples, and a texture as smooth as silk.

Connemara Cask Strength Peated Single Malt ($65). Made by the Cooley—the first of the new Irish distilleries, opened in 1987—and distilled only twice instead of the usual three times, this is a rich whiskey with good peat-smoke flavor, a heady cask-strength (undiluted) alcohol by volume of 59 percent, and a long, fragrant finish.

Teeling Blackpitts Single Malt ($72). Here’s an Irish whiskey to convert Scotch lovers—peaty, medium-bodied, with its smoky character pronounced but subtle, thanks to the triple distillation. Aging in old bourbon and Sauternes barrels has given it some sweetness and smoothness but also a flavor suggesting almonds, caramel, and dried apples.

Redbreast 15-Year-Old Single Pot Still ($129). The entire Redbreast line is worth sampling, but this one is pretty much the perfect Irish whiskey in my book—complex, elegant, and balanced, with hints of Christmas spices, orange peel, dried figs, and oak, and an authoritative punch of alcohol (it weighs in at 46 percent ABV, compared with 40 percent for the also- admirable Redbreast 12-year-old).

Tip Jar

To sample 100-plus Irish whiskeys at the source, consider L. Mulligan Grocer, a Dublin gastropub.

In L.A., Tom Bergin’s has a decent selection for St. Paddy’s Day. 840 S. Fairfax Ave.