With plenty of new distilleries opening up in this vibrant category, here are the top tipple suggestions from those in the know. Compiled by Oli Dodd.

There’s a strong case to be made that the first whiskies ever distilled were done so in Ireland. It’s where it got its name – an anglicised adaptation of the Old Irish for water of life, uisce beatha – but the first-ever drams produced may have been done so by Medieval Irish monks who learnt to distil on their travels through southern Europe or the Middle East where the was technique was used in perfume and medicine making

By 1405 we have our first surviving written documentation of Irish whiskey production, and by the 1600s it was being produced and consumed across the Emerald Isle, including in the Old Bushmills Distillery, which today is the oldest continuously active whiskey distillery in the world. From then, Irish whiskey’s early history is one of wild popularity. By the 19th century, 60% of the whiskey sold in the US was Irish and it was outselling Scotch in Britain. But then, as Irish whiskey was at its peak, the fall came.

First producers refused to embrace new distilling technologies, content with their antiquated and inefficient stills, then Prohibition in the US decimated the country’s most important export market. A trade war with the UK was the final nail in the coffin – as tariff s were enforced, Scottish whisky producers were quick to fill the gap and soon Scotch was everywhere that Irish whiskey was no longer.

In 1890, Ireland had 28 whiskey distilleries, by the 1970s there were two – Bushmills and the Old Midleton Distillery, both owned by Irish Distillers. For the next two decades, the category was down and almost out, an effective two-team league of Jameson and Bushmills. But in the late ’80s, Pernod Ricard acquired Irish Distillers and began to push its brands, the result was an explosion in sales through the ’90s. The category was back but there was still a bit of a stylistic bottleneck.

That’s no longer the case. The Irish whiskey category has been gaining momentum over the past decade. As recently as 2010, there were just four distilleries operating on the island, today there are more than 40. It’s unusual for a 600-year-old category to undergo such a radical facelift and it gives the sector an uncanny unfamiliarity. There’s never been a time in modern history where there was so much choice in Irish whiskey, or so many rookie distillers launching their debut whiskies.

We caught up with five bartenders who know it best to cut through the chaos and discern which drops are worth the squeeze. 


Glendalough Seven Years Mizunara Finished Whiskey

Glendalough’s Seven Years single malt Mizunara oak cask takes you on a ride. Disregard the traditional Irish whiskey tasting notes as this whiskey takes the category to deeper and richer places. The nose is full of sweet, honey and dessert notes while the palate is bright and chocolatey with toasted cinnamon. The fi nish is buttered pastry with hints of lemon and milk chocolate. It’s a whiskey that demands your attention and deserves a space in any back bar or drinks cabinet. Glendalough Distillery is in the Wicklow mountains just outside of Dublin. It is a growing distillery but still a relative newcomer to the whiskey world, and isn’t afraid to eschew traditional Irish whiskey norms to explore new territories. It originally sourced its whiskies from the Cooley distillery, with its fi rst distillate in 2019. It has a solid core offering of mostly non-age statement whiskies.

» Distributed by Mangrove


Redbreast 15 Year Old

Redbreast 15 Year Old is the ideal pot still, with all the traditional Redbreast notes of dried fruit and nuts, Christmas cake-like but with a whack of stone fruit and citrus that really makes me happy. The 15 Year Old hits a sweet spot in the age bracket where the tannin isn’t overly powerful, and the texture and body of the spirit are full and creamy as far as whiskies go – enjoy it neat. What’s also great about this whiskey is that it’s not so unattainable you can’t get it – like some of the older whiskies in any category. Given its price, it might not be your average nightcap, but it’s still affordable enough considering the quality of the spirit not to feel too guilty for popping the top once a week or so.

» Distributed by Pernod Ricard UK

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Powers John’s Lane 12 Years Old

My heart is always with Powers John’s Lane. A 12-year-old single pot still, 200-year-old mash bill recipe and a true representation of old-style Irish whiskey. I went to university in the old distillery, lessons in the granary building and lunch outside the pot still, all long before I understood the significance. It’s a really approachable whiskey given its age statement. Smooth with chocolate, vanilla and dry spice notes. It’s easy drinking as a neat whiskey but also works in a Tipperary or a Brian Boru, a Manhattan-style cocktail that splits the sweet vermouth with oloroso sherry. Powers is one of the older brands that still exists. It’s one of the three families that formed Irish Distillers and moved production to Middleton. The Powers family were innovators in the early days in terms of labour conditions – they usually hired farmers in between seasons, they created football teams, community gardens, built cottages to house staff around the Liberties area of Dublin. They were an incredible company to work for.

» Distributed by Speciality Drinks


Dunville’s 12 Year Old PX Cask

It’s Dunville’s Irish whiskey all day for single malt. It has begun to own the sherry-finished Irish single malt categories. Its single cask, cask strength and a core range of 21-year-old whiskies have just gotten better and better as the brand grows, which is not always the case. Design is always as good as the liquids, a stunning job of revitalising a proud heritage brand. Pound for pound, my favourite is the PX cask 12 year old – it’s chewy, viscous, sherry finished liquid. Fresh orchard fruits dominate the palate, which falls to dried and stewed orange, raisins and banana. Irish malt at its best.

» Distributed by Hi Spirits


Black Bush

For an everyday dram, my go-to is Black Bush from Bushmills. For the price I don’t think you can get a better Irish whiskey. Bushmills is based on the north coast of Northern Ireland and takes water from the River Bush, which flows over beds of volcanic basalt rock imparting a unique flavour. Well-balanced, complex, velvety smooth and with a richness imparted from the sherry cask ageing, it works as well as a sipper as it does in a cocktail. We’ve used it in a milk punch, but it’s also our go-to if people want a Tipperary or an Irish twist on an Old Fashioned. Its unique flavour and high malt content really let the whiskey cut through, without overwhelming the cocktail in any way.

» Distributed by Proximo Spirits UK