Dingle Bar – Dublin
Talk to people outside Ireland about Irish whiskey and they’ll probably tell you it’s all about light, easy, triple distilled spirits. Prop up the bar at Dingle on Dublin’s Nassau street for a few hours and you’ll learn just how broad and varied Irish whiskey is. The sheer number of styles on offer speaks to the richness of Irish distilling culture that’s so often overlooked.
You can sample thick, peated malts and deep, spicy pot still whiskies that rival those from anywhere in the world with their character and complexity. Obviously if you find yourself in Dublin for St. Patrick’s day you’ll have no shortage of options for whiskey drinking – Jasmine bar at the Brooks Hotel and the Temple Bar Whiskey Room are both excellent, to name just a couple – but this is a great place to start out.
The curved back wall of the softly lit bar street is covered with oak staves, inscribed with the names of the people who purchased the first 500 casks filled at Dingle distillery in Kerry. It’s a nice touch that befits this temple to whiskey in all its forms. Order a shot of Dingle’s own small-batch malt and open your mind up to the wide world of Irish whiskey.
The Sun Tavern – London
A beloved Bethnal Green drinking den, the Sun boasts London’s most comprehensive selection of Irish whiskey. The usual suspects occupy space on the menu alongside bottlings from newer distilleries like Boann in Drogheda – so you’ll find no shortage of friends old and new on the bar. For the real whiskey enthusiasts there’s also a number of rare and vintage whiskies available at very reasonable prices. You won’t find many places with a bottle of Old Comber open, but at the Sun you can try this 30yo pot still whiskey distilled in County Down the 1950s. A rare treat packed with tropical fruits, spice, and rum-like funkiness that speaks to another era of distilling.
The Sun is a reliably buzzy spot with DJs and live music throughout the week so expect Patrick’s day to be a total blowout. In addition to whiskey there’s also a solid list of Poitin, traditional spirit made from, well, whatever you’ve got – grain, molasses, potatoes, whey, anything. With some examples exceeding 70% ABV it’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’re feeling adventurous it’s not to be missed. For £25 you can book in a tasting with a member of the Sun’s knowledgeable staff who will talk you through this oldest of old-school Irish spirits.
The Whiskey Jar – Manchester
This bar and music venue has long been a hub for whiskey lovers in Manchester’s Norther Quarter. There are over 100 whiskies available by the measure, with a healthy amount of shelf space given over to Ireland. This includes a few lesser-seen expressions, including single cask bottlings of Redbreast – a rich, sherried single pot still whiskey that’s a perfect example of the style – and soft and fruity Teeling malt finished in Sauternes barriques. This is a great place to familiarise yourself with different styles of Irish whiskey, with a knowledgeable staff to guide you and a regular programme of tastings. However, the Whiskey Jar isn’t really a place for po-facedly contemplating your dram on an academic level – it’s far too much fun for that.
There’s a legendarily good open mic night upstairs every Tuesday, regular live jazz, and a whiskey festival every month at which you get four whiskies, cheese, and DJs till late for £12. Readers in London will probably think that’s a mistake; but no, that’s just Manchester. You get better craic for less money. There’s a comfiness and warmth to the Whiskey Jar which makes it the perfect place to ring in St. Patricks day but there’s no need to wait till then to check it out, it’s a safe bet for a good night out any time of the year.
Milroy’s – London
Milroy’s of Soho has been the centre of the London whisky scene since 1964. The small bar and bottle shop is packed most nights with regulars and visitors from around the world and so a second outpost was definitely necessary. Milroy’s of Spitalfields is spread over four floors, comprising function rooms, a members club, and a cocktail bar in the basement. The menu features whiskies from around the world, including an interesting selection of offerings from Ireland. Try the Boutique-y Whisky Company Irish single malt – it’s a thoroughly likeable dram full of apple, pear, coconut, and vanilla. It also comes in a bottle with a lovely horse on it, just the thing to toast St Patrick.
Though grander in scope than the original bar, the new Milroys retains the same clubhouse feel. It’s a great place to chat about whiskey, learn a few things from the staff and your fellow patrons, and just plain enjoy a few drinks.
The Duke of York – Belfast
This historic pub in Belfast’s Cathedral quarter is a museum of whiskey history. It’s glass display cabinets are filled with exceptionally rare bottlings, including examples of Skylark and Sullivans thought to the be the only ones left in existence. While those particular whiskies aren’t available to sample you won’t find yourself short of options on a menu that spans the geography and history of Ireland. There’s a particularly extensive range from Bushmills, the world’s oldest licensed distillery and still the heart of Northern Irish distilling.
It’s well worth checking out vintages from the late 80s and early 90s – vibrantly fruity and tropical-tasting spirits that aren’t just among the best Irish whiskies, they stand proudly as some of the best whiskies ever made anywhere. They might not be the cheapest things on the menu but they’ll still come in reasonably priced at around £20 a throw, and anyway, it’s St Patrick’s day and you’re celebrating.