Baileys and Beyond: These Are the Irish Spirits to Add to Your Bar Cart
With St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, it's time to stock up on Irish spirits for the holiday. Irish coffee, a black and tan, Irish Ricky, or some "Jameo" on the rocks (or neat!) are all quintessential drinks for the holiday, but Irish whiskey, gin, and cream can and should be enjoyed on days other than March 17th. In fact, we think they deserve a spot on the bar cart all year round. Here's our guide to some of the types and brands to know.
A staple Irish drink, you can't make an Irish coffee without a splash of Irish cream. A combination of cream, cocoa and dairy cream, this liqueur is a bar staple. "It was invented in 1973 and although not a traditional Irish product, it is now required by the European Union to be produced in Ireland. It's also the go-to as a splash to make any coffee a luxurious treat," says Jason Suss, professional bartender and founder of A Proper Pour, which hosts cocktail classes and private events. Bailey's is the most well-known Irish cream. Drink it over ice, in a cocktail, or even pour it over some ice cream for a delicious treat.
While Bailey's is the original player, it's not the only Irish cream available to consumers. Butter producer Kerrygold decided it was time to jump into the Irish cream market in 2014. "Their product is darker, richer, creamier, and has much more of a rich chocolate taste," says Suss. However, Aaron Wall, co-founder of HomeBoy in London, which focuses on modern Irish hospitality, notes you won't see Kerrygold in Ireland. Bailey's takes the market share, along with craft liqueurs like Five Farms. And if you ask Wall, Five Farms is the way to go when shopping for an Irish cream. "It is so good. I don't normally stock a cream liqueur in my bars, but after I tried this, I knew we needed it," he says, noting that he created a Five Farms and Guinness-based cocktail with the liqueur. As the name suggests, Five Farms is a farm-to-table cream liqueur that is both sourced and produced in Ireland's County Cork. Tasting notes include vanilla bean, butterscotch, and coffee.
For a moment, Irish whiskey took a dip, but consumers are coming back to the spirit and a slew of new styles have hit the market. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Irish whiskey sales skyrocketed last year, rising 16.3 percent, or $185 million, to a record of $1.3 billion. "There is a myriad of reasons for the Irish whiskey comeback; but, at the forefront of those is the fact that people are excited about whiskey again," says Ciarrai Kelly, head bartender at Hawksmoor NYC. "Distillers are looking to break down the traditional confines of Irish whiskey production—like Triple distilled, unpeated, chill filtered—and get creative. And consumers are here for it." Wall explains that as more people are learning about Irish whiskey, they are also learning that there is "a whiskey for every cocktail." This has also helped bolster the spirit and bring it back into the limelight.
There can't be a list of Irish spirits without Jameson Original Irish Whiskey. It's a triple distilled and aged in oak casks for a minimum of four years. A blend of spicy, nutty, and vanilla notes, with just a hint of sherry for additional smoothness, Jameson is a go-to for new spins on cocktails (like the Jameson sidecar), and is enjoyed on the rocks or neat. Wall says that Redbreast 12 is one of his favorite Irish whiskies. Complex with tasting notes like toffee and maple syrup, it's the perfect sipper for anyone who may be new to Irish whiskey. Redbreast is a single pot production, which means all of the spirit comes from the same distillery from a mixed mash of malted and unmalted barley distilled in a pot still. However, it is the sherry flavor on the finish that is both a surprise and delight to the palate.
Teeling Small Batch is a blended whiskey that's aged in bourbon barrels; the mash is then finished in rum casks for up to 12 months, creating a flavor profile that is completely unique. Smooth, spicy, malty, and rich, Teeling Small Batch has flavor notes of apricots, cherry, chocolate, and apples. Dubbed the "original triple blend Irish whiskey," Tullamore DEW is a blend of grain whiskey, malt whiskey, and pot-stilled whiskey. Each element is designed to bring a flavor element to the spirit, which is then triple cask matured. Tullamore is also a great whiskey for mixing, as it is complex and elevates any basic cocktail. And then there's the world's first biodynamic whisky, Waterford Whisky, which Kelly says is "a spirit that defies every preconceived notion of what Irish whisky should taste like." It's a single-malt with a single farm origin that ages for in French and American oak and has tasting notes of vanilla, candied apple, and other fruits.
Lost Irish whiskey is made with a nod to the Irish diaspora. It's aged in casks from six continents, symbolizing the 70 million Irish people who are disbursed around the world. These include brandy casks from South Africa; Australian Tawny casks; and Japanese Mizunara oak casks. A mix of grain, malt, and pot stilled whiskeys, Lost Irish is billed as a modern Irish whiskey built for the adventurous. And though it comes out of Minneapolis, the Irish roots of O'Shaughnessy can't be downplayed. Brian Nation, the former head distiller from Jameson, is now the distiller at O'Shaughnessy, says Suss. He's creating a rendition of an Irish whisky with American flavor. "It's a blend of Irish grain and pot still whiskeys with American rye whiskey. Light and smooth, as you'd expect from Irish whiskey but also a little spicy, like you'd expect from an American rye," Suss explains.
With distilling at an all-time high in Ireland, Irish gin is also on an upward growth trend, notes Wall. Distillers are creating beautiful renditions of the clear spirit. And, says Kelly, there is good reason that Irish gin is gaining attention. "Irish gin is separated from others because of Ireland's landscape. Ireland has such a diverse ecosystem which is great when you have the ability for forage for botanicals that you might not find anywhere else," she says. The Boatyard Distillery creates several different kinds of Irish gin, and vodka, too. The brand's Boatyard Double Gin is its signature expression. Perfect for use in classic cocktails, like a gin martini or a gin and tonic, the Double Gin contains eight different botanicals—juniper, coriander, licorice root, angelica, orris, citrus, grains of paradise, and sweet gale, which is harvested on the family farm.
Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin is made with gunpowder tea (a green tea that is dried slowly) and a variety of botanicals sourced from all over the world. It also includes citrus, such as grapefruit, lemon and makrut lime, which lends a unique flavor to this Irish gin. The botanicals are slow distilled by hand in copper pots, allowing the delicate nature of this spirit to shine through.
And then there's Bertha's Revenge Irish Milk Gin, which is a "grass to glass" spirit named after the oldest cow in the world. We know what you may be thinking—milk and gin?—but hear us out: It's incredibly delicious. The gin brand works with local farmers in Cork and uses whey alcohol as its base. The addition of spring water and botanicals—including elderflower, juniper, bitter orange and sweet woodruff—creates a gin that is smooth in texture, spicy on the palate, and excellent in a martini.