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Irish whiskey old fashioned served in a tumbler glass

All about Irish whiskey

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Learn about Irish whiskey, including how it's made, and discover delicious ideas for serving this unique spirit. We share our favourite Irish whiskies and cocktail recipes

Irish whiskey is having a well-deserved renaissance, with 32 active distilleries creating new and exciting spirits. Now is the perfect time to get back into this versatile drink.

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Read on to discover more about what makes Irish whiskey special, how best to enjoy a dram and some experimental cocktails to mix at home.

Check out our 10 best Irish whiskies taste-tested to find top bottles for every occasion. For more information about the wonderful world of spirits, take a look at our drinks hub for recipe inspiration and handy video tutorials to make your favourite cocktails.

Whisky vs whiskey

The two different spellings indicate the geographical origins of the spirit. The word itself comes from the Gaelic ‘uisge beatha’, or ‘uisce beatha’ in Irish, which translates as ‘water of life’. The spelling differences come from the translation of Irish and Scottish Gaelic. If you see ‘whiskey’ on a label, it’s Irish. Whiskey from the USA also uses the ‘e’, due to large numbers of Irish immigrants setting up across the Atlantic.

What are the characteristics of Irish whiskey?

Nowadays, a huge range of whiskeys in different styles are produced in Ireland. For starters, it’s a cereal-based spirit, distilled and matured in Ireland, as you might expect. Typically, you would expect to find lighter, spicier whiskies, with fewer smoky flavours as the use of peat in the process is rarer. Irish whiskey also uses a mixture of pot stills and column stills and can use barley, corn, wheat or rye as a raw material It’s also a feature of many Irish single malts that the final liquid has been distilled three times, rather than the typical two. The whiskey must also spend a minimum of three years in the barrel.

What’s the best way to serve whiskey?

Whiskey in glasses with ice

The short answer? However you enjoy it best. Don’t feel that you need to drink whiskey neat. I’d advise trying the spirit as is, then try adding a few drops of water. This can open up the spirit and allow you to taste different flavours you couldn’t before. If you want to add ice, keep in mind this will temper the intensity of the spirit and gradually dilute the flavour. Some whiskies are designed for mixing with cocktails, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Which cocktails work well with whiskey?

Whiskey lends itself well to a variety of exciting cocktails and it blends well with mixers that bring out its characteristics, be they fruity, spicy or smoky. Ginger and citrus flavours generally work well with this malty spirit, as in an old fashioned, as well as sweet vermouth and herbal bitters like a classic manhattan.

Irish whiskey cocktails

Whiskey sour in glass

If you're keen on cocktails and fancy trying out your mixology skills, we have some stunning serves that work particularly well with Irish whiskey. Try our whiskey sour, a classic cocktail make with egg white for a silky smooth texture. Try another twist on a classic with our Irish whiskey old fashioned, using delicate elderflower cordial in place of the usual orange. Of course, you can't go wrong with a traditional Irish coffee for an indulgent after-dinner treat.

Got a thirst for more delicious drams? Try our favourite whisky cocktail recipes.

Want to learn more about sensational spirits? Check out our guides and reviews:

What is brandy and how to drink it
The best dark rum taste-tested
All about agave spirits
The best tequila taste-tested

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