As fruitful as 2020 proved with its new Irish whiskeys, 2021 is shaping up to be another banner year. Whether you have St. Patrick’s Day imbibing in mind or are simply looking for your next bottle of Hibernian hooch, the options below prove that the Irish whiskey renaissance is far from over.
These are nine new Irish whiskeys to try now, including bottles from upstart distilleries and new releases from established producers. First up: the lineup from Busker.
Busker Single Grain
The Busker is a newcomer to the Irish whiskey scene that produces its four expressions at the Royal Oak distillery in County Carlow. The full lineup hit U.S. shores this past August, including Busker Single Grain, which is matured and finished in bourbon casks and Sicilian marsala casks. Its nose is malty and nutty with a lick of sherry and a combination of vanilla and pecan that had me thinking of cinnamon buns. The palate is characterized by chocolatey malt that gives way to sweet, round vanilla caramel. 44.3% ABV / $29.99
Busker Single Malt
Busker Single Malt is matured in bourbon and sherry casks. Its nose is dominated by earthy malt and dry oak, lightly sweetened by a touch of vanilla bean and caramel. The palate is sweet, dark chocolate mixed with earthy malt, set against a backdrop of dry oak. It has a long, satisfying finish topped off with espresso grounds. 44.3% ABV / $29.99
Busker Single Pot Still
Single pot still is a specifically Irish type of whiskey made with both malted and unmalted barley. Busker’s Single Pot Still is aged in bourbon and sherry casks. Like the other entries in Busker’s “Single Collection,” the nose is typified by malt but adds touches of vanilla cream and wine. It differs further in its oily, viscous mouthfeel, more pronounced spice, and a warm, round note of toffee to finish. 44.3% ABV / $29.99
Busker Triple Cask Triple Smooth
Triple Cask Triple Smooth is a blend of the three whiskeys that make up Busker’s Single Collection, offered at a slightly lower proof and price. Its nose is characterized by toasted grains, orchard fruits, marzipan and a hint of oak. It’s very light in body, placing it more in line with the better-known Irish whiskey brands that dominate the category, but presents a pleasant creaminess on the tongue. The palate starts with vanilla bean and biscuit, but those chocolatey Busker notes emerge towards the back before a faint finish with dry oak. I’m reflexively skeptical of any whiskey that describes itself as “smooth,” but in this case the overused adjective doesn’t give Triple Cask its proper due: I’d offer “subtle but complex” instead. 40% ABV / $24.99
Egan’s Legacy Reserve III
Released in February of this year, the third iteration of Egan’s Legacy Reserve series is highly limited: Only 1,000 bottles have been distributed worldwide. In this case, single malt whiskey is aged for 17 years in bourbon casks before a finish in casks that contained Cadillac, a French dessert wine that enjoys appellation d’origine contrôlée certification.
Its nose features vanilla cream, custard and honey, and the palate complements the promised vanilla flavors with baked peaches, apricots and pears. Its fresh, juicy fruitiness lightens up towards the back, resulting in a burst of fresh green strawberries before a finish of caramelized brown sugar. A gentle presence on the tongue beautifully complements its light, juicy flavors. 46% ABV / $200
Fighting 69th Irish Whiskey
Introduced at the end of 2019, Fighting 69th pays tribute to the U.S. Army’s famed “Irish Brigade,” which was founded in 1849 as New York State’s Irish militia and went on to serve in engagements from Gettysburg to Afghanistan. One dollar from the sale of every bottle goes to the Sixty-Ninth Infantry Regiment Historical Trust, a non-profit foundation that supports veterans and their families.
The whiskey is triple-distilled from malted and unmalted barley in copper pot stills and aged for at least three years in a mixture of single-char bourbon casks, double-char bourbon casks and oloroso sherry casks. Its nose imparts sweet malt, vanilla and apples, and the whiskey proves very light and mellow in body. On the palate, those advertised notes of sweet malt pick up first, followed by apples, peaches, bright berries and vanilla cream. Though an homage to a famously ferocious fighting unit—the regiment counts seven Medal of Honor recipients among its ranks—Fighting 69th is the prototypical “smooth” Irish whiskey, an easy-drinking blend of malty cereals and bright fruit. 40% ABV / $34.99 – $37.99
Grace O’Malley Blended Irish Whiskey
The flagship expression of the Grace O’Malley label, which is named in honor of a 16th century pirate queen, was released in the U.S. in April 2020. The blend is composed of Irish whiskeys aged between three and 10 years in a mix of bourbon, rum and French oak casks.
On the nose, vanilla crème brulee and orchard fruits feature prominently, with touches of burnt caramel and oak spice. It’s gentle and creamy on the palate and presents vanilla bean and biscuit followed by sweet orchard fruits; the combination reminded me of shortbread biscuits soaked in peach and plum syrup. It ends nutty with sweet almond, driving home that fruity-dessert quality. 46% ABV / $36.99
Proclamation Blended Irish Whiskey
Launched in the U.S. last September, Proclamation comes from the same company and master blender responsible for Grace O’Malley and also finds its inspiration in Irish history. In this case it’s the 1916 Proclamation, which declared Ireland’s independence from Great Britain during the Easter Rising. The whiskey is triple-distilled and aged in bourbon casks and counts a small portion of sherry-finished malt in its blend.
The whiskey is characterized by soft malts and fruits on the nose and proves to be robust in body with plenty of malt, honey and chocolate with a touch of dry sherry to finish. Its own label proclaims it to be “Full bodied, extra smooth whiskey,” which may sound like an oxymoron cooked up for marketing purposes, but it happens to be true. The experience is full and flavorful, but with a round, rolling quality that does indeed bring “smooth” to mind. You may consider Proclamation to be the bridge between the lighter blends produced by big brands and the more earthy, unctuous spirits coming from newer makers. 40.7% ABV / $29.99
Two Stacks Irish Whiskey Dram In a Can
Dram in a Can happens to be the world’s first canned Irish whiskey, an intriguing novelty that shouldn’t overshadow its maker’s mission. Two Stacks aims to revive Ireland’s long history of independent bottling, which was once practiced by merchants and grocers. Like the indie bottlers of old, Two Stacks sources its juice from distillers across Ireland. In the case of Dram in a Can, that means grain, malt and pot still whiskey.
The breakdown of the blend—which is illustrated on the side of the can—is as follows: 40% dark grain aged in virgin oak casks, 40% light grain aged in bourbon casks, 8% pot still aged in oloroso sherry casks, 10% double malt aged in bourbon casks, and 2% peated malt aged in bourbon casks.
It’s sweet on the nose, with aromas of nougat, caramel apples and brown sugar. The palate is soft in character with flavors of brown sugar and chocolate at the start, followed by sherried raisin in the middle and a warming finish with red berries, oak spice and chocolate malt.
Two Stacks also sells a “Blender’s Cut” version of the same blend, which is bottled at a cask-strength of 65.1% ABV, and perhaps wisely, does not come in a can. It doubles-down on the blend’s existing flavors and serves them up hot, resulting in far deeper sherry flavors, more oak spice, and warming hot chocolate mix. 43% ABV / $18.99 (100 mL can 4-pack)