The whiskey trade is surging, and no sector of it more so than Irish whiskey. Irish whiskey sales have grown by 17.5% in the United States, and recent reports have Jameson alone up by 25%.
Hibernian hootch is more popular than ever, and partly because of that, labels unfamiliar to any but Irish eyes are beginning to appear in bars around the world. If you want to try something new, how do you choose what whiskey to go with your beer and a shot?
Top 5 Irish Whiskeys*
1. Tullamore Dew: The No. 2 whiskey in Ireland takes the No. 1 slot on our list. While some Jameson fans might cry “foul,” Tullamore Dew was the top choice for roughly half of our contributing writers and the outside experts we inquired with, as well as the clear favorite among our readers. It’s light, fruity flavor sets it apart from most of the other Irish whiskeys considered for this article, and is a big part of why the whiskey has such a devoted following.
Tullamore Dew’s status vis-a-vis Jameson is not really so surprising for those who know the whiskey business. Tullamore Dew was bought out by New Midleton decades ago, and Midleton’s main product is none other than Jameson. After many years of second-tier status in its company, it shouldn’t be surprising that Tullamore is No. 2 in sales, but that doesn’t make it No. 2 on our list.
2. Jameson: Those sales statistics might not be everything, but they also don’t lie. Among our writers and experts, Jameson was the top choice about half the time, and the second choice in many instances. The whiskey is ubiquitous, and drinkers are thirsty for it around the world. One whiskey in Ireland might be a little better, but not two.
3. Bushmills Black: The “protestant” entry in our Top 5 Irish whiskeys, Bushmills Black beats out both other whiskeys and Bushmills Original. If you want those earthy, caramel, and toffee-like qualities that define so much of what Bushmills is about, then this is the whiskey for you. While opinions were divided about what the best Irish whiskey was, most of our experts and writers agreed on Bushmills Black as their third choice.
4. Powers: Powers might have only a small following, but that following is devoted. When I spoke to The Whiskey Reviewer’s circle of writers, friends and contacts about basic Irish whiskeys, only a few picked something other than Tullamore Dew and Jameson, but those few all picked Powers, and picked it enthusastically. Our reader poll turned up only a few supporters for Powers as well, but those supporters e-mailed us. Powers might not be the very best of the entry-level Irish whiskeys, but it has that special something that provokes passionate feelings from those who love it.
5. Clontarf: A relative newcomer to Irish whiskey, Clontarf is on this list at No. 5 due in large part to its fan following, who like it for its lighter, crisper character. It has the butterscotch-like character that defines so many Irish whiskeys, but without the earthy, scotch-like heaviness that turns some drinkers off.
Considered, but not ranked: Paddy, Bushmills Original