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The best Irish whiskey drinks to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day

Will you be drinking Irish whiskey this St. Paddy’s Day? Discover the history of Irish whiskey, the four different styles of whiskey, how to drink it and more.

By LLM Reporters  |  March 16, 2022
Whisky tasting. Man sits in front of a barrel with a decanter and a glass of whiskey.

If you’ve ever met an Irish whiskey lover, everything you need to know about their passion for the spirit can be summed up in the Irish Gaelic word for whiskey, uisce beatha, meaning ‘water of life.’

Perhaps your St. Patrick’s Day plans include a tipple of Irish whiskey, if so, then you may want to understand the history behind the drink, how it’s made, and some of the best ways to enjoy it, so read on for all your need to know about this delicious nectar.

The history of Irish whiskey

A glass of whiskey in old oak barrel. Copper alambic on background
Only whiskey coming from Ireland or America can be labelled ‘whiskey’, as the spirits that originate from Scotland or Canada are labelled ‘whisky’.

To state the obvious, Irish whiskey is whiskey that’s been produced on the island of Ireland. Only whiskey coming from Ireland or America can be labelled ‘whiskey’, as the spirits that originate from Scotland or Canada are labelled ‘whisky’. 

One of the earliest distilled drinks to emerge from Europe, it is believed that Irish monks began producing whiskey around the 12th century. It’s not likely that the first whiskey tasted similar to what we drink today, at that time, whiskey makers did not age the drink and they often infused it with herbs such as mint, thyme, or anise. 

The Irish continued producing whiskey and evolving the distillation process for several hundred years. In 1608, King James I bestowed the first licence to distil whiskey to a landowner in Bushmills, County Antrim, which afforded Bushmills Distillery the opportunity to claim themselves as the oldest surviving licenced distillery in the world. 

By the mid-19th century, there were more than 88 licenced distilleries in Ireland. By 1883, Dublin had become the international centre for whiskey distillation, with six distilleries, including those operated by John and William Jameson.

The Scottish knew a good thing when they saw it and soon began producing their own whisky, eventually taking a large portion of Ireland’s market share. Prohibition in the U.S. didn’t help the industry, and the Irish fight for independence cut off many Irish whiskey producers from their British customers. Fortunately, Irish whiskey began a resurgence in popularity in the late 1980s and by the 1990s was the fastest growing spirit in the world.

The four different whiskey styles

Whiskey is poured into a dammed glass with natural ice. Glass of whiskey on an oak table.
Ireland’s government mandates that all Irish whiskey include malted barley and other un-malted cereal grains

Ireland’s government mandates that all Irish whiskey include malted barley and other un-malted cereal grains. Regulations surrounding whiskey production in Ireland are quite inflexible. As a result, the four different types of Irish whiskey; single malt, single grain, single pot still, and blended Irish whiskey, must adhere to these regulations and meet specific quality standards.

Single malt

Single malt Irish whiskey is made from 100% malted barley and is distilled in a pot still and it must be produced at a single distillery to be considered single malt. It features oak and caramel flavours brought about by the aging process.

Single grain

To be considered single grain Irish whiskey, the distiller must use whole, un-malted cereals with up to 30% malted barley and the brew must be produced at a single distillery using a column still. Single grain Irish whiskey is sweet with notes of cereal and flavours of sweet caramel.

Single pot still

Single pot Irish whiskey contains at least 30% malted and 30% un-malted barley and it must come from a single distillery using the pot still distillation method. It features lively and distinctive spiciness with a thick texture that true whiskey drinkers immediately recognise.

Blended

Blended Irish whiskey consists of two or more styles of Irish whiskey mixed together. It can be distilled in either a pot or column still and can originate from a single distillery or multiple ones. Blended Irish whiskey is typically smooth and contains light fruity flavours with notes of flowers and vanilla.

How to drink Irish whiskey

Irish Coffee
Irish coffee is one the most classic coffee mixed drinks

If there’s whiskey on the bar cart this St. Patrick’s Day, there are plenty of ways for you to enjoy, some of which we’ve outlined below.

Neat

Some whiskey lovers claim that the only way to enjoy a whiskey is to drink it neat. That is, served at room temperature without any ice, water, or mixers to interfere with its complex flavours and aromas.

Tipperary

If whiskey neat just isn’t for you, try a traditional Tipperary.

Ingredients

1-1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
1-ounce sweet vermouth
1/2-ounce green Chartreuse
2 dashes bitters
Orange twist garnish

Combine Irish whiskey with sweet vermouth, green Chartreuse, and bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Stir the cocktail until it’s chilled then strain the drink into a cocktail glass. Express the oils from the orange twist into the drink.

Cameron’s Kick

A traditional Irish whiskey drink that joins forces with blended Scotch whisky. 

Ingredients

1-ounce blended Scotch whisky
1-ounce Irish whiskey
1/2-ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2-ounce Orgeat
Lemon slice garnish

Combine all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a chilled glass and top with lemon garnish.

Irish coffee

Ingredients

Hot water
6 ounces hot brewed coffee
2 cocktail sugar cubes
1 jigger of your favourite Irish whiskey
Fresh whipped cream

Preheat a glass by filling it with hot water, then dump it out. Pour freshly brewed coffee into the glass about three quarters full. Add the sugar cubes to the coffee and stir until dissolved. Pour in the whiskey and stir, top with fresh whipped cream and enjoy.

Whatever way you celebrate your day, you can’t go wrong with the right Irish whiskey. Sláinte!