I’m not huge on green-tinted beer or white ethnic pride, but history has proven that St. Patrick came down on the right side of both snakes and day-drinking, which is reason enough to duck out of work at noon today to celebrate his birth-or-whatever. This year there’ll be the supplemental attraction of the first full day of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which is objectively fantastic, but it also means bars will be even more cluttered than usual. That increases the likelihood that your annual Guinness will either take forever to arrive or be rushed into an improper pour. You don’t want to wait and you don’t want a fucked-up, cloudy Guinness, so what on earth are you supposed to do? Drink whatever you normally drink, which is almost certainly neither green nor black? I mean, it’s an option, but it’s not festive, is it? I have an idea! Drink Irish whiskey.
First, a bit of formal education: Irish whiskey differs from Scotch whisky in that the Irish use an “e” in spelling “whiskey.” It’s also less likely to taste like a burning moss bog, cost $100, or be hard to pronounce. Irish whiskey is similar to bourbon whiskey in that it tends to be smooth and sweet, and in that I tend to like it. It is not, however, distilled mainly from corn. All right, this is getting confusing. Irish whiskey is whiskey from Ireland, which is probably where St. Patrick is from, assuming there was a St. Patrick, and today we are going to drink Irish whiskey. Deal?
Here’s a list of 11 Irish whiskies, ranked worst to best, according to some guy who wandered around town for a couple days trying this and that, here and there. I drank them all neat for research purposes, but don’t be afraid to toss a couple ice cubes in there or, hell, even soda water. Price estimates are based on what the large online retailers typically charge for a 750-milliliter bottle.
11. Paddy; $20, 80 proof
Paddy’s from Cork, if that sort of thing means anything to you, and it’s triple-distilled, as are most Irish whiskies. It’s very smooth and easy to drink, though a bit light on flavor, with hay and Triscuits atop a bit of nutmeg and not much else. Paddy is fine whiskey, particularly for the price, and it’s probably the strongest last-place finisher in any Drunkspin ranking. Sorry, Paddy, but we can’t all win. Or finish second-to-last.
10. Kilbeggan, $26, 80 proof
Kilbeggan is slightly better than Paddy due to a deeper flavor profile, with some sweet corn and cinnamon notes that make it one of the more bourbon-like of the Irish whiskies in this lineup.
9. Teeling Small Batch; $37, 92 proof
This was partially aged in used rum barrels, and it shows. I like rum, but the molasses and vanilla flavors were overpowering, without much real whiskey character underneath. It tastes objectively pleasant, though: rummy and slightly floral.
8. Jameson; $28, 80 proof
Jameson is the most popular Irish whiskey in America by a preposterous margin. It outsells second-place Bushmills by more than 10 to 1. That’s crazy, sure. But just because its market dominance isn’t justified by a strict qualitative accounting doesn’t mean Jameson sucks: This isn’t a Irish Jose Cuervo situation. Jameson smells like vanilla, candied orange peel, lemon, and pepper; it’s simple and clean but assertive enough to be worth the effort, and you should absolute accept it every time it’s offered.
7. Bushmills; $25, 80 proof
Bushmills is from Northern Ireland. I like it because it tastes like apples, toast, cinnamon, and wet pine bark, with a light tropical hint underneath.
6. Glendalough 7-Year Single Malt; $40, 92 proof
This is the entry-level bottling from one of the newest Irish distilleries, founded in 2011. It tastes somewhat harsh, boozier than 92 proof ought to, but I was won over by the relatively complex flavor profile featuring sweet orange, lemon, cinnamon, pear, pistachio, and wood.
5. Powers; $32, 80 proof
Powers has a unique chocolate, cherry, and caramel flavor, along with cinnamon and a touch of clove.
4. Tullamore D.E.W.; $28, 80 proof
So the D.E.W. represents an old distiller’s initials, which is nice, but feel free (by which I mean, feel obligated by decency) to pronounce it “Dew.” It opens with a strong, sweet vanilla and butterscotch aroma, with cherry and faint pine needle notes emerging with time. And this is weird, but hear me out: I swear I pick up a little mustard seed? Good stuff.
3. Jameson Gold Reserve; $70, 80 proof
Of course it’s good, it costs $14 a gulp! But, price gripes aside, the caramel apple, cinnamon, vanilla bean, oak, indeterminate spice, and light toffee work very well together, and I’ll happily drink this any time someone else is buying.
2. Tullamore Dew Trilogy 15-Year; $75, 80 proof
Another super-deluxe model, this one is a blend of whiskies aged in sherry, bourbon, and rum barrels. It tastes like butterscotch, orange blossoms, maybe even mango, definitely cashews, and smoked honey. It’s bonkers and delightful, and I would likely feel that way even if they hadn’t sent me a small sample bottle.
1. Redbreast 12-Year; $55, 80 proof
Sweet and spicy, with vanilla, black pepper, plum, anise, and molasses. I will very rarely advocate that Drunkspin readers spend this many of their own dollars on a single bottle of liquor, especially one that’s only 80 proof, but here’s a plan: Get yourself a bottle of Redbreast and have two ounces on the 17th of every month for a year. You’ve done so many worse things with $55.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.