Quick, name an Irish whiskey other than Jameson. If you can't it's understandable, Jameson is a behemoth and accounts for almost 70% of the worldwide Irish whiskey market (source). And with just cause. It's easy to drink, easy to mix, and easy to spot on the shelf. We implore you, however, as you prepare for the year's biggest imbibing holiday to look beyond the usual and try something different this year. There's a big world of Irish whiskeys out there and you owe it to yourself to do a little exploring. Just so you're not completely without a map we took it upon ourselves to try a few for you. This isn't an exhaustive review by any means, we just tried to find a good mix of approachable bottles for whatever your drinking needs. It's hard work but somebody's gotta do it. Note: all prices are estimates based on averages we found in liquor stores and online.
Powers Gold Label (about $30, official website)
Smell: Sweet, honeysuckle, vanilla, and apricot. A few drops of water moved this to richer buckwheat honey/caramel territory.
Taste: Spicy, peppery, vanilla, honey, with a slightly cedar-like finish; the burn sticks with you on this one. Adding a few drops of water smoothed things out significantly and brought out softer vanilla and leather notes.
Thoughts: This is like Jameson's badass older brother, Camaro, leather jacket and all. It's a good all-purpose whiskey that works well for a quick shot, base for cocktails, or as a sipper with some water or ice.
Kilbeggan (about $25, official website)
Smell: White peach, pears, and hay. Stone fruits were amplified by adding a couple drops of water.
Taste: Unfortunately indistinct. There's some burnt sugar in here and some maltiness but it's a little muddled. Adding water smoothed things out but didn't bring out any particularly different flavors.
Thoughts: We were ready to give up on this one until we substituted it for the rye in a Manhattan. This is a great mixing whiskey that works like salt and pepper to dial-up other flavors in a drink and maintains a middle ground that doesn't overpower.
Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt (about $40, official website)
Smell: Orange, lemon, and baking spices. A couple drops of water opened up some notes of honey and a little peppery spice.
Taste: Tastes like it smells; citrus, caramel, cloves and other spices. A splash of water smoothed the flavors out and brought out a little more of the wood from the barrel aging.
Thoughts: Good for sipping with some ice or a splash of water. Also adds good flavor as a base spirit in mixed drinks without being too complex.
Redbreast 12 Year Old (about $50, official website)
Smell: Sweet honey and vanilla with a woody background, hints of ripe apple and even a little melon.
Taste: Very smooth, hints of vanilla, caramel, toasted oats, toffee, hints of banana, creamy, slightly spicy at the end.
Thoughts: This is by far our favorite Irish whiskey and in our top 5 of all whiskeys. An extremely smooth sipper that, in our opinion, shouldn't be wasted on mixed drinks. Pour yourself a couple of fingers worth, kick back, and relax while everyone else jockeys for position at the bar for a green beer.