You don’t need to wait till St. Patrick’s day to enjoy Irish whiskey cocktails. Although many American bartenders prefer to mix drinks with American spirits like bourbon and rye, Irish whiskey is remarkably adaptable.
While Irish whiskey is experiencing a boom in the US right now, it has a long history in both the US and Ireland as a stand-alone drink and a cocktail ingredient. If you’re used to drinking Irish whiskey neat, you’d be surprised at its versatility in cocktails. From hot drinks to refreshing highballs, Irish whiskey is a welcome addition to the home bartenders’ shelf.
What Is Irish Whiskey?
Irish whiskey isn’t just whiskey that’s made in Ireland. It must follow a strict set of rules, similar to scotch. Not only does it have to be distilled and aged in Ireland, but it also cannot have any additional flavoring ingredients added. Its taste must come from the process alone.
The process leaves room for plenty of flavor variation, though. Unlike Scotch, Irish whiskey doesn’t have to be aged in an oak cask. The cherrywood, hickory, walnut, or oak casks create a range of flavors and personalities that blend well in cocktails. Although Irish whiskey must be 80 proof or above and aged at least three years in wooden casks, it’s known for its smooth taste. This is thanks to the triple distillation process that almost — not all — Irish whiskeys go through.
History of Irish Whiskey
The Irish have been distilling and drinking whiskey for centuries. According to lore, it’s been distilled since the 6th century. The first reference to whiskey was in a translation of the 1405 Annals of Clonmacnoise where it was referred to as “aqua vitae.” The first official document to mention it was in the mid-16th century from an act by the English Parliament. Records of Irish whiskey date further back than Scotch, a fact that the Irish are proud of, and due to its long history, the spirit is one of the oldest spirits in Europe.
In 1661, a tax was put on whiskey distillers, but that didn’t stop hundreds of stills from springing up. By the end of the 1700s, there were over 2000 stills in Ireland.
The beverage has survived many difficulties in the industry, including the temperance movement in Ireland of 1838, the Great Famine of 1845-49, the 1916 Irish war of Independence, American Prohibition, and the development of blended Scotch whiskey.
Because of these hardships, many of the original distilleries closed down until only three remained: Jameson, Powers, and Cork Distillers. In 1966, they joined forces to create Irish Distillers Ltd., later acquired by Pernod-Richard in 1989. Today, newer distilleries, such as Tullamore Dew, Redbreast, and Teeling, among many other brands, are bringing back the tradition and art of Irish whiskey.
8 Irish Whiskey Cocktails
These delightful Irish whiskey cocktail recipes are wonderful for St. Patrick’s Day or any time of year.
1. Frisky Whiskey
This isn’t your traditional whiskey cocktail. The striking orange beverage is made with Bärenjäger honey liqueur, orange juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters, and Irish whiskey for a sweet and citrus Irish sour.
The elegant and silky-tasting Irish Blonde is a vibrant mix of Irish whiskey, orange Curaçao, sherry, and orange bitters. The drink is complex and lightly savory, and the rich balance of ingredients makes it a drink that’s enjoyable any day of the year.
This spirit-forward cocktail mixes equal parts Irish whiskey and mezcal and rounds it off with Bénédictine herbal liqueur and Peychaud’s bitters. The Good Cork makes for an ideal nightcap. Smoky mezcal mingles with the Irish whiskey’s fruity notes.
A delicious riff on the Manhattan, the Dubliner is a citrus-forward ode to Ireland’s capital city. Created by the mixologist Gary Regan in the 90s, it’s made with Irish whiskey, orange liqueur, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters.
The rich, silky, and foamy Gaelic Flip is a St. Patrick’s Day cocktail version of eggnog. It’s a flip cocktail, meaning it’s made with a whole egg which mellows out the drink’s flavors. The Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, simple syrup, allspice liqueur, and egg is dry shaken till foamy and topped with freshly grated nutmeg.
Bright and refreshing, the Irish Maid is a variation of the Kentucky Maid. Substituting Irish whiskey for bourbon in the original, the drink includes muddled cucumber, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Its thirst-quenching flavor lends itself well to the summer months, although it’s delicious year-round.
Rich Irish whiskey merges seamlessly with herbal Bénédictine and bright Grand Marnier in The Brotherhood cocktail. It’s been called a handshake between Ireland and France, and the coming together of the countries’ two spirits creates a sophisticated cocktail sure to be a hit with your whiskey-loving friends.
The Tipperary is a lively mix of Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, green Chartreuse, and Angostura bitters. Considered a variation on the Bijou and the Manhattan, the harmonious herbal and spirited concoction has been around since 1916, although it’s still relatively unknown.