Irish whiskey is growing by leaps and bounds, especially in the U.S. That means exciting new expressions are hitting shelves at your local liquor store on a near-daily basis. Alas, not all Irish whiskeys are created equal. That’s where a blind taste test comes in — to help you sift through the new Irish whiskeys and find one that appeals to you.
To do that, I grabbed eight new Irish whiskeys from my private reserves and tasted them blind. The whole thrust of the tasting was to find the best taste of whiskey with the most nuance and depth — true winners. For the most part, we’re talking about affordable bottles for this blind tasting. The bottles generally range from $30 to $100 with a couple of high-end bottles thrown in to see how they place among the more affordable stuff (you really never know if a great mid-range bottle pops above the ridiculously priced one). Still, this is about taste and not price.
Our lineup today is:
- The Irishman Single Malt Irish Whiskey
- Keeper’s Heart Whiskey Irish + Bourbon
- The Gael Irish Whiskey
- Bushmills Prohibition Recipe Irish Whiskey Shelby Edition
- Teeling Whiskey Single Pot Still
- Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey Kentucky Oak Edition
- Waterford Irish Single Malt Whisky Biodynamic Luna 1.1
- Cask Strength Four Walls Irish Whiskey “The Better Brown” Single Barrel Aged 15 Years
Okay, let’s jump in and find you a great bottle of Irish whiskey to put on your bar cart!
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Irish Whiskey Posts of the Last Six Months
Part 1: The Tasting
Soft and ripe pear mixed with fresh honey leads the way on the nose with supporting notes of orchard fruit and lightly spiced malts. The palate has a light sense of chocolate malts with a creamy vibe next to hints of plum pudding with winter spices lurking in the background. The end is a little watery with a bit more of that dark spice and a hint of raisin.
This is pretty fine overall. It’s nicely nuanced but a little watery overall.
There’s a clear sense of bran muffin and molasses with hints of old wicker and new leather next to wintry spice and maybe some fig. The taste leans into a malted vanilla shake with wintry spices mix with a hint of nutshells. The end holds onto the nuttiness and adds in a vanilla-chocolate ice cream vibe with a touch of waffle cone.
This is nice overall. It feels a little sweet for an Irish whiskey but it works nonetheless.
This has a malty nose with a ginger and honey cookie vibe with a ton of raisin, apple, pear, and maybe even a hint of orange. The palate has a svelte buttercream feel that leads to a malted milkshake, a hint of cinnamon, and plenty of dates and figs. The end amps up the spice towards a woody feel with apple skins and pear cores leading to a hint of rum-raisin and honey.
This is pretty nice overall. It’s kind of “classic Irish” with all that fruit and honey.
Applewood leads to apple candies made with plenty of honey next to a hint of dried flowers, dry firewood, and a whisper of dry straw. The palate amps up the apple to a spiced apple fritter with plenty of cinnamon, clove, and ginger next to a layer of creamy vanilla and more of that dry straw. The end is full of honey and spice but kind of fades out into water pretty fast.
This is great until the end. It’s just a little too washed out and fades out almost instantly.
Winter spice and old holiday decorations lead the way on the nose with a dry woodiness and a hint of old candle wax, white pepper, and maybe some vanilla cream. The palate amps up that vanilla with a malted vibe as winter spices — clove, anise, cinnamon, orange rind — make an appearance and lead to a whisper of floral honey. The end fades pretty quickly, leaving you with sweet vanilla cream and woody spice and a hint of dry straw.
This is, again, perfectly nice. The finish is a little short-lived.
There’s a clear sense of almost sweet cedar next to marzipan and old leather with a hint of sour cherry and tart apple skins round out the nose. The palate starts with a foundational layer of vanilla sauce and builds layers of woody cinnamon, soft nutmeg, and sharp cloves toward dried figs and prunes with a brandy-soaked oak vibe and some stewed cherries. The end is nice and buttery toffee with another note of vanilla before the woody spices lead to apple tobacco stuffed in an old cedar box on the slow finish.
This is delightful.
Butterscotch and barley cakes lead the way on the nose with a hint of persimmon and orange rinds next to green grass, wildflowers, pear stems, and soft red cherries. The palate stews those cherries and counters them with sour currants before a sense of nougat-filled brioche comes into play with marzipan, grape must, and white pepper adding deeper layers. The end has this whisper of an old cooking pan that’s been seasoned for decades, red peppercorns, more marzipan, and a soft fresh floral honey with a hint of those stewed cherries in vanilla cream.
This is lush and delicious.
This opens slightly tannic but more sweet than bitter with salted buttery toffee, apple cores, rum-raisin, black tea, marzipan, and maybe even some apple fritters with a dollop of Nutella tying it all together on the nose. The palate has a caramel apple vibe that leads to a vanilla cake filled with poppy seeds and notes of floral honey, apple chips, brandy-soaked dates and prunes, and apple wood. The end has a spiced fruit nut cake vibe with an old leather glove note before waxy cacao and dry menthol kick in and slowly fade toward old pine resin with some warmth.
This is another winner.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. The Irishman Single Malt Irish Whiskey — Taste 1
Average Price: $52
This whiskey is made from Irish barley that’s mashed and then tripled distilled. The juice is then filled in ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks for a long maturation (no age is given). Those barrels and then blended and the whiskey is proofed down for bottling.
This was okay all things considered. It’d be better if it wasn’t 80-proof as that proofing water takes over the palate. Still, this is perfectly suitable for mixing highballs or cocktails.
7. Bushmills Prohibition Recipe Irish Whiskey Shelby Edition — Taste 4
Average Price: $32
This new release from Bushmills celebrates the sixth and final season of Peaky Blinders. The juice in the bottle is a classic Irish whiskey blend of ex-bourbon casks (aged three to five years) bottled without chill-filtration, hence its higher proof.
This was pretty good too. Overall, it really feels like a mixing whiskey that’s only a sipper when nothing else is around and you have plenty of ice.
6. Keeper’s Heart Whiskey Irish + Bourbon — Taste 2
Average Price: $54
The whiskey from former Irish Distillers Master Distiller Brian Nation marries American whiskey with Irish whiskey on the American prairies of Minnesota. The juice in the bottle is a combination of American bourbon with Irish grain whiskey and Irish pot still whiskey — all over four years old. The idea is to create the ultimate Irish-American whiskey-drinking experience.
Ah, that explains the sweetness on the palate. This was, again, fine. There was nothing that really jumped out at me. It simply felt like a solid cocktail whiskey to build upon.
5. The Gael Irish Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $97
The latest batch from J.J. Corey leans into the oldest barrels in their inventory. The juice is made from a 60/40 malt and grain whiskey split. The barrels range in age from seven to well over 25 years old — they’re all sourced. Those barrels are masterfully blended and then released in small, limited edition batches of only a few thousand bottles.
This is where things start to pick up in this tasting. This was far more complex than the previous three pours. Still, it was a little thin and one note in the end. That said, this will work as a sipper on the rocks or a great cocktail base.
4. Teeling Whiskey Single Pot Still — Taste 5
Average Price: $66
Teeling is known for sourcing a lot of its whiskey. This is made entirely in-house at their Dublin facility in the Liberties. The juice is a classic triple distilled single pot still Irish whiskey made with 50 percent malted barley and 50 percent unmalted barley. The whiskey is then aged in ex-bourbon, new oak, and ex-sherry barrels before blending and proofing.
This was a solid sipper but needed a rock or two. I can also see this being a great cocktail base to build a subtle concoction on. Overall, it just wasn’t quite as nuanced and deep as the next three though.
3. Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey Kentucky Oak Edition — Taste 6
Average Price: $130
This is classic Redbreast tripled distiller single pot still whiskey (made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley). The juice settles for several years in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks before it’s vatted and then re-filled into brand new air-dried American oak barrels from the Taylor Farm in Kentucky. After four months, the whiskey is blended and barely proofed before bottling as-is.
This is a pretty goddamn good whiskey. It’s very Redbreast with deep dark fruits and sweetness but has a clear sense of new American oak with big vanilla vibes. Overall, it’s not my favorite Redbreast ever, but it’s a damn good and unique one.
Try it over a rock to get the full experience or mix it into your next Manhattan.
2. Four Walls Irish Whiskey “The Better Brown” Single Barrel Aged 15 Years Cask Strength — Taste 8
Average Price: $999
This whiskey is bottled from one ex-bourbon barrel of 15-year-old Irish whiskey. The single malt whiskey was chosen to celebrate the 15 years Sunny has been on the air. After a few select single barrels were chosen, the juice was bottled at cask strength and yielded only 755 bottles.
This was a hell of a nice pour. The palate was very Northern Irish — apple and honey — with a serious depth to it. Overall, this feels like a great pour of whiskey with a single rock for a long sit on the back porch.
1. Waterford Irish Single Malt Whisky Biodynamic Luna 1.1 — Taste 7
Average Price: $90
This whiskey is made from 100 percent organic and sustainable farms in Ireland. The barley comes from three small farms that utilize “biodynamic” farming practices which take organic to the next level by integrating agriculture with animals and humans to create as natural a product as possible. The juice made from that barley is loaded into 500 barrels and left to rest for years before blending and bottling with a touch of proofing water.
This was the most interesting pour by far but also so well-balanced and nuanced. This is an easy sipper that takes you on a journey. Add a little water to really let it bloom in the glass. Otherwise, just enjoy the ride.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
Well, the most expensive bottle didn’t win the day. That’s some food for thought. Moreover, the most interesting bottle did win because there was real depth and balance that felt good on the palate and was kind of new and fresh.
That all said, the top five were all quality pours with the top three really standing out. Any of those three bottles would be a great addition to your bar cart. But given the price tag of the Four Walls pour, you’ll be forgiven for focusing on the Redbreast and Waterford first. They’re both great but completely different. So look at those tasting notes and choose the one that speaks to you. Sláinte!