So many drinkers regard Irish whiskey as a style only for beginners. It’s light and smooth, often low proof, and considered too easy-drinking—as if that could be a bad thing. These qualities might be found in some expressions, but there’s much more to Irish whiskey than that, with many brands branching out into creative cask finishing and other maturation techniques. Many of the best bottles are nuanced and complex, demanding exploration by more mature palates.
Whether single malt, single pot still, single grain, or blended (the four styles of Irish whiskey), these recommendations aren’t going to slam you over the head with aggressive flavors and sky-high ABV. What they will display, however, is the breadth of the Irish whiskey category and the incredible diversity of flavor profiles it can offer.
Irish Whiskey 201: Intermediate-Level Bottles You Must Taste
Yellow Spot 12 year old Single Pot Still—89 points, $90
A slight step up from the 10 year old Green Spot, this 12 year old single pot still whiskey is partly matured in malaga wine casks versus Green Spot’s sherry-forward profile. Yellow Spot offers complexity and character: a grassy, almost vegetal nose with notes of nutmeg and green tea. The palate is zesty and bright, with an underlying honey sweetness and even some milk chocolate. The finish is long, with an intense maltiness throughout.
Glendalough 7 year old Black Pitts Porter Barrel-Finished Single Malt—92 points, $50
Aged in porter barrels that the distillery has continually swapped back and forth with 5 Lamps Brewery, this whiskey’s malt character seems amplified by the beer casks’ influence. With a nose of biscuits, cookies, and cocoa, the palate shows honey and fruit: hints of dark cherries, plums, and orange peel. The finish balances things out with heavy spice, dark chocolate, and freshly roasted coffee. A very layered whiskey.
Jameson Caskmates Angel City Brewing Co. Edition Blended Irish Whiskey—92 points, $30 (or any Caskmates partnership with a local brewery)
If you haven’t been paying attention, you might be unaware that Jameson has been attempting some offbeat moves lately. Notably, there’s the Caskmates series, which involves finishing regular Jameson blended whisky in barrels that previously held craft beer. Not everyone is a home run, but they’re all pretty interesting. This collaboration with a Los Angeles brewery is particularly outstanding. The very faint nose offers honey and vanilla, while the palate is earthier, with citrus peel, tropical fruits, and a malty, stout-like sweetness. As Caskmates bottlings are one-offs and limited, be sure to look for others in the series as well—especially if you’re searching for a perfect Boilermaker matchup.
Tyrconnell 16 year old Oloroso & Moscatel Cask-Finished Single Malt—92 points, $100
Affiliated with Kilbeggan Distillery, and made at Cooley (both are owned by Beam Suntory), Tyrconnell used to release fairly by-the-book Irish whiskey, but lately the brand has been getting far more experimental with finishing. This is the standard 16 year old single malt, aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and then finished in casks seasoned with both oloroso sherry and moscatel wine. The aroma is heavy on the sweet wine and fruity notes, though the palate is a tad more restrained, balanced by distinct oak and spice notes. The finish is even more drying with a bitter sharpness.
Writers’ Tears Double Oak Blended Irish Whiskey—94 points, $65
An intriguing blend of single malt and pot still whiskeys that have been aged in both American and French oak barrels, this is a rich and complex pour. It has a heavy, bourbon-like aroma of vanilla and caramel with some berries, but the palate offers more malt, dried fruit, and especially spices—heavy on the cinnamon, black pepper, and ginger. The finish is long and tannic. An outstanding example of Ireland’s blending prowess, it was named No. 10 in Whisky Advocate’s 2019 Top 20.
Redbreast Lustau Edition Single Pot Still—93 points, $69
A collaboration between the formidable Irish whiskey brand (made at Midleton Distillery) and the sherry house Bodegas Lustau, designed to emphasize the sherried profile that defines Redbreast’s character. The nose is heavy on the dark fruit, dates, figs, and prunes, while the palate is more cake-like, sweet but not cloying, with plenty of spice and nuttiness. The heavy sherry influence enhances what is already a full-bodied whiskey, lending a creamy and oily viscosity. The finish is long and sweet, making for a perfect dessert dram.