The best bottles of Irish whiskey at the LCBO

The best bottles of Irish whiskey at the LCBO

North American St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are pretty much all the same, and not usually all that enjoyable: crowded bars, garish novelty apparel and (ugh) green beer. But if the day’s sole virtue is to remind us of the subtle greatness of Irish whiskey—too often overshadowed by bourbon and scotch—then maybe the annual headache is worth it.

Under $50

Bushmills Black Bush

$36.95 | Blend
Bargain-hunting whiskey hounds know the best Bushmills (and Jameson) whiskeys aren’t the brands’ original versions, but ones a notch or two above the basic bottles. Those few extra dollars yield stunning complexity in the case of Black Bush, which starts with orangey oak aromas, moving to raisin, creamy caramel and banana bread on the palate. It’s remarkably smooth with a long finish—and more than qualified to serve as your basic everyday Irish whiskey. LCBO 61374
 
 

Powers Gold

$39.95 | Blend
A blended Irish whiskey is a mixture of simple grain whiskey and a smaller amount of spirit made in a pot still; the latter is valued for its complexity and robust sweetness. Powers Gold starts with a nose on the sweet side (hints of cream soda, Jack Daniel’s, maple syrup) and then plunges into the sweet spice of pot still whiskey with the first sip. The Irish, who know what they’re doing, have long made Powers the best-selling whiskey in Ireland. LCBO 428409
 
 

Jameson Crested

$44.95 | Blend
As with Bushmills, the basic Jameson is quite good—but it gets even better if you invest a few more bucks. Jameson Crested is a whiskey that isn’t trying to be anything more than sweetish and nuanced—in other words, a typical Irish whiskey. Smooth-talking vanilla and butterscotch aromas nearly cover the expected apple, and are complemented by a lovely floral quality. Add a splash of spring water, and the scent of dark, dried fruit rises to round out the bouquet. LCBO 271106
 
 

The Tyrconnell

$45.95 | Single Malt
Not a big name in Canada, The Tyrconnell makes an excellent case for exploring the (small) world of Irish whiskey beyond the well-known brands. Jam-sweet and silky, it tastes of sherry, orange peel and blackcurrant, and it’s known especially for an alluring flower scent and smooth texture. Take this one slow, and pay close attention. LCBO 402396
 
 

$50 to $100

Writers Tears

$50.10 | Pot Still
The story here is the usual Irish one—fruit, butterscotch, mild spice, warm finish—but there are parts of the tale that Writers Tears tells in especially vivid detail: the orange is sharp and sweet like marmalade; the apple bright and green. Legions of Irish whiskey fans will tell you it’s the tastiest one around, dollar for dollar. (There’s a cask strength Writers Tears as well, but at $179.95 it’s not especially good value, and we don’t know many writers who could afford it anyway.) LCBO 271106
 
 

Teeling Small Batch

$55.95 | Blend
Delicious layers of fruit, spice and wood more than make up for an acetone note that betrays the whiskey’s youth. It’s partially aged in rum casks for a sunny, fruity zing, and it gives off a wisp of smoke, too, but that comes from the insides of charred barrels. If you want full-blown peat smoke, go with our next selection. Vintages 375139
 
 

Connemara

$61.35 | Peated Single Malt
Ireland’s only peated whiskey is smoky—as one would expect—yet it’s surprisingly fresh and lively, with an interesting fruit/herb/agave character in the nose. The finish is as wild as the start, with prickly pepper, black cherry and campfire smoke. Connemara is beautifully calibrated, yet interesting enough to serve as a counter-argument to anyone who insists Irish whiskey is super mellow and boring. Hand a glass to the mezcal lover in your life. LCBO 27946
 
 

Redbreast 12 Year Old

$79.95 | Single Pot Still
The Redbreast brand paved the way for pure, unblended pot still Irish whiskey in North America. It’s bold for an Irish whiskey—that familiar apple aroma is polished and bright, the caramel smooth and rich. Irish whiskey cocktails are rare, but if you’re planning to make some, here’s your ideal base. (Meanwhile, it’s a bloody shame that Redbreast’s bourbon-barrel-aged cousin, the delicious Green Spot, isn’t available at the LCBO for St. Patrick’s Day this year. Look for it at bars with a good Irish whiskey selection.) LCBO 271106
 
 

Jameson The Blender’s Dog

$99.95 | Blend
It takes a certain quotient of blarney to sell a no-age-statement blended whiskey for a nickel under $100. The Blender’s Dog delivers, with woody butterscotch and grape on the nose, proceeding to fat sweetness with the throat-tickling feel of grain whiskey and a complex, spicy finish. It exhibits a mixture of prickly spice and sweetness that would suit a fan of Canadian whiskey. LCBO 476697
 
 

Costs a pot o’ gold

Midleton Very Rare

$215.55 | Blend
A whiskey for those who like theirs as sweet and comforting as a village bakery, Midleton Very Rare greets your nostrils with Christmas spices, raisin, brown sugar and apple pie (as well as a whiff of rain-soaked wood). And for your mouth? More sweetness: floral vanilla and crème brûlée. Midleton Very Rare offers neither terrific value for your money nor a bracing flavour challenge—just nuanced, indulgent sweetness. Enjoy it at dessert, obviously. LCBO 641589
 
 

Redbreast 21 Year Old

$249.75 | Single Pot Still
All the familiar Midleton aromas are here, but transubstantiated by a long slumber in a sherry barrel. The basic citrus morphs into warm marmalade on brioche; the wood becomes the leathery scent of an antique table; the apple explodes into mango and pineapple and banana and hard peaches; and the caramel is tinged with maple sugar. Everything about this whiskey is so dizzyingly complex that you might decide, contrary to the garrulous spirit of its home country, to appreciate it in contemplative silence—or perhaps, even prayer. LCBO 446799