Previously, on recommendations from a fancy [insert spirit here] shopgirl, Allison Shoemaker suggested six whiskeys (mostly bourbons), five ryes, some rums, some gins, and some vodkas. This week, Irish whiskey. Yes, she will eventually do Scotch.
Jameson is good.
No, really, Jameson is a good whiskey. It’s not a great one. It’s not going to blow your mind. It’s a solid mixer and not bad on the rocks. For the price, it’s a pretty great bargain—there are worse whiskeys that cost considerably more. But the main reason Jameson is good, period, full stop, is that it’s a gateway whiskey. You see it in a bar, you remember that you’ve seen other people order it, and you try it yourself. Maybe a friend brings it to a party. Maybe it’s on sale with a complimentary tumbler. Somehow, Jameson crosses your path, and you try it. You like it. And then a door opens, and there’s a whole wide world of Irish whiskey waiting for you. Thanks for the introduction, Jame-o! I’ll see you around.
In my fancy whiskey shopgirl days, I’ve seen a lot of people come in and ask for Jameson (or for Bushmill’s, which I like less but which is still totally fine). We didn’t carry it—too big a name, too wide a reach. Usually if someone came in looking for a big name spirit and instead found only slightly pricier alternatives, they headed right back out the door. Not so with Irish whiskey seekers. They wanted to talk, and taste, and try something new. As such, I’ve recommended a lot of Irish whiskeys in my day. There are loads of good ones (and there’s also Conor MacGregor’s), but these are my favorites. Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Please drink responsibly.
The usual caveats: This isn’t a ranking, these are just some bottles I like. I like others, too! Odds are, if your favorite isn’t distributed in the midwest, I haven’t had it (and if it isn’t distributed outside of Ireland, I definitely haven’t had it). And last, I’m not going to recommend something everyone has already tried. Makes no sense. Sláinte.
Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey (around $40)
The makers of one of my favorite gins also makes one of my favorite whiskeys, Irish or otherwise. As the name suggests, aged twice, first in bourbon barrels, then in Spanish Oloroso sherry barrels. It’s sweet and a little spicy, with lots of complexity but an undeniable lightness. An excellent sipping whiskey and a great value. (And seriously, that gin. Amazing.)
Walsh Whiskey — Writers’ Tears Copper Pot (around $40)
Behold, the most perfect name for a whiskey there ever was or shall ever be. Triple-distilled and aged, like many Irish whiskeys, in bourbon barrels, this one’s distinctive because of its blend: aged single pot still and single malt whiskey. No grain. The taste is gorgeous, but what I really love is the finish. Sticks with you a long time. And again, great name. Buy it for the overworked writer in your life.
West Cork Irish Whiskey — Any of them ($25 and up)
Take your pick. This is a fun distillery that likes experimenting with barrels. I’m partial to the bourbon barrel aged one (sensing a theme?) but the 12-year rum cask also rules. That one’s pricier. If you’re a Jameson fan looking to branch out, try the bourbon cask—it shares some characteristics with Jameson, at a comparable price. Makes a hell of a hot toddy.
Pearse Lyons Irish Whiskey — Distiller’s Choice (around $45)
I know that’s not a picture of the bottle, but look at it. It’s so pretty.
Fine, here you go.
It’s fitting that the distillery’s space is so full of light, because that’s how this sucker tastes. The company’s head distiller selects special casks from those intended for The Original, the flagship whiskey. A small amount of sherry barrel-aged whiskey in the mix gives it rich notes of fruit, but it’s never overwhelming. Sip slowly. Also a great value for the price.