4 Great Irish Whiskeys for St. Patrick’s Day

Want to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a great Irish whiskey? Here are four fantastic suggestions.

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St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, which means that way too many Americans are gearing up for over-the-top parades and excessive drinking of bad liquor. So, this year, let me challenge you to go against the grain by doing St. Patricks day a wee bit classier, and at the very least, with some real Irish whiskey that isn't sitting on the bottom shelf or dirty well of your local bar.

1. Red Breast 12 Year Cask Strength

When Red Breast 12 Year Cask Strength first hit the US market in 2012, it symbolized the return to great Irish whiskey drinking (or, at least, Irish pot still whiskey drinking). It was given Whisky Advocate’s Irish Whisky of the Year and it was easily one of my favorite overall spirits releases of 2012.

The Red Breast brand is a pinnacle of Irish whisky drinking in my mind and anything carrying their name should do you well. If you're a high roller, you may want to consider their brand new 21-year which just got rated Whisky Advocate’s Irish Whisky of the Year 2013. For me, though, the 12-year cask strength (at about $80) is the best bang for the buck.

The nose is full of rich vanilla and oak, burnt sugar, butterscotch, baking spices and dried fruit. With a touch of water, this cask strength whiskey lets out a bouquet of tropical fruit notes. The palate is silky smooth with rich spice, sweet sherry and oak flavors that drip on the tongue as mellow notes of cotton candy, tropical fruit and chocolate seep in. A phenomenal whiskey!

2. Green Spot

A lot of people (and critics) in the US have been talking about Green Spot for a long time, but it wasn't until just recently that this mellow pot still Irish whiskey became available in the us market. And it’s about bloody time!

At $50, Green Spot is the most modest of the lot, and is easily one of the best. Notes of fruit, candied orange and sherry coat the nose while a spice-forward, nutty palate takes over the mouth. The whiskey is full of its sherry imprint, along with barley, toasted brown sugar, green apple and vanilla. If you like Irish whiskey, you’re going to love Green Spot. And, hey, if you carry around a bottle of it on St. Patrick’s Day, you won’t even have to wear anything green!

3. Knappogue Castle 16 Year Twin Wood Sherry Finish

Knappogue Castle produces a number of really interesting, premium Irish whiskeys and this 16-year Sherry-finished release is one of the best. The whiskey spends 14+ years in bourbon barrels then finishes its time in Oloroso Sherry casks. The whiskey came out just last year in a limited run of about 4,500 bottles and retails for $100.

The 16-year has a laid back and sherry-forward nose with an earthy nuttiness and some dusty dark chocolate. The palate is complex, full of fruity sherry notes, chocolate, orange and vanilla, along with overripe tropical fruit, wood spice and pepper. If you like a sultry and robust whiskey with a touch of Sherry, Knappogue Castle 16 will make your St. Patrick’s Day extra special.

4. Powers John Lane

Similar to Green Spot, Powers John Lane is a mellow - and ridiculously delicious - pot still Irish whisky that has pleased both drinkers and critics alike. Powers released this whiskey around the same time Red Breast released their cask strength and it was part of the movement that has brought some great pot still Irish whiskies (back) to America.

John Lane’s nose is all about the interaction of wood and fruit, complimented by dusty earth, cocoa nibs and hot spice. The palate has a mellow, oily entry that’s full of bright fruit, sweet caramel and chocolate. It’s taken over by a sharp building spice and tannin that drifts casually into a long, warm finish. John Lane is a really special whiskey – bursting with a cacophony of flavors beneath the surface.

So there you have it; four Irish whiskies that (in moderation) will do you right on St. Patrick’s Day. Of course, if you choose to ignore my "in moderation" warning then your St. Patrick’s day future is entirely in your own hands. Sláinte, friend.

Terry Lozoff is the founder of Drink Insider and the Executive Vice President and Managing Director of GY&K Antler. He started working professionally with beer and alcohol brands in 2004, running national marketing programs for major beer brands. He has spoken about the topic of beer and marketing at numerous events including SxSW Interactive and Brewbound Session. Follow Terry on Twitter.

Published March 10th, 2014