As Irish whiskey has evolved, so have the ways we enjoy it. The category spans widely distributed brands associated with shots as well as craft labels designed for slow sipping.
Cocktail lovers can attest that Irish whiskey drinks continually change in all sorts of ways, too. For example, the much-loved Irish Coffee helped save Ireland’s whiskey distilleries from near-extinction in the 1950s. In more recent years, the Pickleback introduced the Jameson brand to a new generation and ensured more drinkers would clamor for Irish whiskey in bars across the country.
To learn more about how to appreciate the spirit, try these recipes for classic and creative Irish whiskey drinks.
How to Make Irish Whiskey Drinks
Some experts believe Irish whiskey’s easy-drinking flavors make it especially suited to cocktails. “Because most Irish whiskey is blended, triple-distilled and not smoky, it is light and accessible to the newer whiskey drinker, and a favorite of bartenders,” Camper English wrote in the San Francisco Gate.
There are quality expressions at an array of price points. The Busker’s Irish Whiskey, one of Wine Enthusiast’s 100 Best Spirits of 2021, is finished in Bourbon, Madeira and Shery casks, and starts at $25 for a 750ml bottle. Meanwhile, Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey ($40) has notes of baked apple and vanilla and is elegant in cocktails or on its own, perhaps with a drop of water to highlight its citrus flavors.
Irish Whiskey Drinks to Try
While a couple of origin stories exist for this drink, the prevailing version is it was created by Joe Sheridan and served at Ireland’s Shannon Airport. But the drink’s popularity comes from Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista restaurant in San Francisco. Koeppler re-created the recipe with the help of travel writer Stanton Delaplane.
“I always say it was invented in Ireland, yet made famous in America,” says Tim Herlihy, U.S. ambassador for Tullamore Dew, who has researched this and other Irish whiskey cocktails. “Irish whiskey at the time was on its knees, close to extinction. What kept the pulse of whiskey going in the ’50s was the Irish Coffee. That was what kept the lights on in the few remaining distilleries.”
Recipe adapted from The Buena Vista, San Francisco
2 sugar cubes
1½ ounces Irish whiskey
Heavy cream, whipped
Fill a footed glass with hot water to warm the glass, then discard the water. Fill glass with hot coffee until about three-quarters full. Add sugar cubes, and stir until dissolved. Add Irish whiskey. Hold a spoon, rounded side up, over drink and gently pour whipped cream over back of spoon so it floats on top to form a “collar.”
“I don’t want to say it’s the most famous Irish whiskey cocktail, but it’s probably our most famous classic,” says Herlihy. The story behind this elegant drink, which first appeared in Hugo R. Ensslin’s 1917 book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks, is that a guest walked in, asked for a drink, and was humming the song “It’s a Long Road to Tipperary,” which was an anthem for homesick Irish soldiers in the British army during World War I. Of course, a drink named for Tipperary, a county in Ireland, would feature Irish whiskey.
Recipe courtesy Sean Muldoon, founder/general manager, The Dead Rabbit, New York City
1½ ounces Michael Collins Single Malt Irish Whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
½ ounce green Chartreuse
½ ounce chilled water
2 dashes orange bitters
½ teaspoon cane sugar syrup
Orange twist, for garnish
In a mixing glass, stir together all ingredients (except garnish) with ice. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Made with equal parts Irish and Scotch whiskey, this drink’s origin is attributed to Harry MacElhone’s 1922 book, Harry’s ABC of Making Cocktails. While no one seems to know who Cameron was, it’s become a staple of the modern cocktail canon. Cocktail historian David Wondrich is generally credited the drink’s revival in the mid-2000s. He first published the recipe in his 2005 book, Killer Cocktails (Harper Collins), which eventually landed it on cocktail menus across New York City. We’re glad he did, because it helped elevate Irish whiskey from mere shot status to cocktail essential.
Recipe courtesy The Cocktail Chronicles, by Paul Clarke
1 ounce Irish whiskey
1 ounce blended Scotch whisky
½ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce orgeat (almond syrup)
Orange twist, to garnish
Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake to chill, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.
Though we may never know who the first person was to take a sip of pickle brine after a shot of whiskey (and whether it was an accident or intentional), this odd-sounding Southern combination gained popularity in New York’s cocktail scene in 2006 thanks in part the bar Bushwick Country Club in Brooklyn, New York. Neighborhood scuttlebutt says the one-two of whiskey and pickle juice was observed being consumed there by a tourist from Florida, and emulated by the bartender and patrons using Old Crow Bourbon (not Irish whiskey), plus a “back” of spicy pickle juice from neighboring McClure’s Pickles. Eventually, the preferred way to prepare the shot switched to Irish whiskey, specifically Jameson. What started as a bartenders’ secret handshake soon became a phenomenon with myriad variations.
1 shot Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 shot pickle brine
Shoot or sip the whiskey first, then the pickle brine.
If you’re looking for an easy, three-ingredient cocktail with a zesty kick, this classic drink is for you. This variation was adapted from Gaz Regan, legendary author and cocktail consultant.
1 lime, cut in half
1½ ounces Irish whiskey
4–6 ounces ginger ale
Squeeze the lime juice into a Collins glass and drop the spent lime shells into the glass. Add one or two cubes of ice and the whiskey. Top with ginger ale.
This spin on the classic Brown Derby cocktail swaps in Irish whiskey for the bourbon and adds a dash of bitters to balance the drink.
Recipe courtesy Phil Mauro, then a bartender at Rye, San Francisco
2 ounces Irish whiskey
¾ ounce fresh grapefruit juice
½ ounce honey
2 dashes Bittermens Boston Bittahs
In a mixing glass, shake all ingredients with ice, and fine strain into a coupe glass.
This hot toddy variation balances the fresh, bright flavor profile Irish whiskey with touches of pumpkin, walnut and blackstrap molasses. The key ingredient here is nocino—a liqueur native to Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy, made from green, unripened walnuts.
Recipe courtesy Colicchio & Sons, New York City
2 ounces Irish whiskey
½ ounce nocino
¼ ounce lemon juice
2 teaspoons blackstrap molasses
2 teaspoons pumpkin purée
2 ounces hot water
Lemon twist, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a mug and stir until well incorporated. Garnish with a lemon twist.
This article was updated on February 14, 2022 with additional recipes and information about Irish whiskey.