It’s that time of the year again! Shops are tentatively opening, and with Father’s Day right around the corner, many of us are no doubt wondering what to get the father figure in our lives. If novelty socks and underpants are for Christmas, and golf gear is for birthdays, the question then is what exactly is left for Father’s Day? The answer is whiskey of course! With the modern resurgence in interest around whiskey and global awareness of the different styles and quality ever growing, there is no better time for broadening someone’s whiskey horizons with something new or introducing someone to a delicious and high-quality whiskey in the first place. Now I am based in Ireland and no doubt am writing for an audience whose fathers would at least have some experience of an Irish whiskey, be it that bottle of Jameson they get every Christmas, or the last drink of the night when they’re at the pub and everything in between. For many Irish fathers Irish whiskey suits them down to the ground, however, this guide is for those who have yet to discover the American whiskey frontier and all the rich spoils that have come across the pond to grace our shelves and taste buds. Contained herein will be many of the best American whiskey offerings you can easily get your hands on in Ireland as well as where to find them, and all within a reasonable budget.
For those whose fathers haven’t already been formally introduced to American whiskey or who have a limited experience to date, a quick recap of what exactly makes American whiskey unique and separates it from the likes of Irish or Scottish whiskies will no doubt be needed. American whiskey, as the name suggests, is whiskey made to a strict set of laws within the United States. These laws govern everything from what percentage of what grains are needed for the final product to be labelled a specific type of whiskey, to how long it has to be aged to be labelled straight whiskey or Bottled In Bond, to even going as far as to specify what kind of container the whiskey has to be stored in to again qualify as each of the particular types. Here are some of the most common types of American whiskey we get in Ireland:
The origin of bourbon as a distinct form of whiskey is not well documented and is subject to many conflicting legends and claims, with some being more credible than others. However, what we do know is that distillation was brought to the US by early 18th century settlers and bourbon developed into its present form in the late 19th century. By law modern-day bourbon must be made in America, be aged in charred, new oak barrels, cannot have any flavourings or colouring added, and must come from a mash containing at least 51% corn, with the remainder typically being ‘flavouring’ grains like wheat or rye, and malted barley for enzymes. Bourbon whiskey that has been aged for at least two years and has not been blended with other spirits may be further designated as straight, as in “straight bourbon whiskey”. Flavours like caramel, vanilla, and cherries, are typically characteristic of bourbon whiskey with the brand new charred barrels adding flavour, a deep colour, and removing unpleasant flavours via interaction with it’s charred surface.
America’s pioneering spirit, rye whiskey was the first whiskey produced by early settlers from excess grain. In the US, rye whiskey, by law, is made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye – with other ingredients in the mash usually being corn and malted barley. Like bourbon it’s aged in charred, new oak barrels and rye whiskey that has been aged for at least two years and has not been blended with other spirits may be further designated as straight, as in “straight rye whiskey”. According to many, rye whiskey is the great bridge between Scottish whiskey, Irish whiskey, and a American whiskey with toffee, baking spices, and cinnamon being the characteristic flavours.
Tennessee whiskey, again as the name suggests, is a particular style of American whiskey that is produced solely in the state of Tennessee and uses a variety of additional processes that distinguish it from standard bourbon or rye whiskies. Most important of these is the Lincoln County Process whereby the newly made whiskey is filtered through or steeped in charcoal before being put into the barrel for ageing. Although Tennessee whiskey is a bourbon up to this filtration step, many argue, including some producers, that this step adds flavour to the whiskey and therefore it cannot qualify as a bourbon any more. Opinions on this differs and therefore the ensuing argument is undoubtedly the industry’s most flogged dead horse. Once this filtration is complete the whiskey then enters a new charred oak barrel and ages as usual with the resulting whiskey being described as more mellow and smoother as a result of the added filtration before ageing removing unpleasant flavour compounds. The most famous example of Tennessee whiskey is no doubt Jack Daniel’s who have been producing this style of whiskey for more than 150 years.
Armed with this very basic understanding let’s now look at the various different American whiskies that are available in Ireland and would make a great Father’s Day gift. For the purpose of this guide I have split these into: those you can easily get your hands on from a range of supermarkets, and those that you would have to visit an independent off-licence or off-licence franchise to get your hands on. I also won’t be including own-brand bourbon products found in the big chains such as LIDL, ALDI, and Tesco, as more often than not these are mass-produced with zero transparency, provenance as to where they are coming from, made to unknown standards, and so are understandably priced accordingly – very cheap. Instead, I will focus on some of the larger brands which, in many cases, bring with them a proud history of distillation as well as the promise of a good quality whiskey. As with all things prices do differ between shops but the nicer stuff will no doubt set you back a little more. Let’s begin!
The Bourbon Whiskies
#1. Buffalo Trace Bourbon – 40% abv – €34 Supervalu
First on the list is a straight talking bourbon from the longest operating distillery in the US, Buffalo Trace bourbon. With over 200 years of experience under their belt Buffalo Trace aim to create the best bourbon they can and are so happy with the result they name the bourbon after their distillery. This bourbon is a mid-shelf classic among bourbon drinkers of all levels and is made using Buffalo Trace’s #1 bourbon recipe (featuring 10% or less rye as a flavouring grain). A smooth and very flavourful bourbon, this bourbon combines sweet caramel and vanilla, and delicately balances it with an oak spice that offers it’s drinker a true bourbon experience that they won’t want to end. Currently available in all Dunnes Stores with a premium spirits fixture for the absolute bargain price of €37 and has been known to dip as low as €34 on special offer.
If we’re doing American whiskey with an animal theme have you got anything better than an angry, hairy cow?
If the mighty Buffalo won’t cut the mustard and you’re looking for something with a bit more majestic flair that both hits just under the €50 mark, and ups the game significantly, then why not pick up a bottle of Eagle Rare instead? Also from the Buffalo Trace distillery, this 10 y.o. age-stated bourbon comes from exactly the same recipe as Buffalo Trace bourbon, but what it picks up in those added years of ageing is lots more vanilla and sweet caramel – not to mention it clocks in at a respectable 45% (5% more than Buffalo Trace). Currently available from the Celtic Whiskey Shop for right on the budget for €50 here!
#2. Bulleit Bourbon – 40% – €30 Tesco
Second on the list is a bourbon that looks more like it belongs on the wild Frontier than the shelves of Tesco and supervalu, Bulleit Bourbon. Owned by spirits giant Diageo, Bulleit bourbon is a high-rye bourbon that packs notes of citrus, caramel, baking spices, and a touch of smoke. The hallmark of Bulleit is that high rye grain content which gives this bourbon a bold and spicy taste with a warm, delicious finish. A great bourbon for anyone looking to expand their tastes to something with a bit more rye spiciness, and fits perfectly into your favourite whiskey cocktails. Currently available from both Supervalu and Tescos on special offer for €35 (usually €42) until the 27th of December.
This is nice, but I prefer something with a higher calibre.
The newest bourbon to grace Irish shores, Bulleit 10 takes your standard 6 shooter and replaces it with a Glock 45. This straight shooting bourbon is aged a full 10 years and offers a much-improved flavour experience over it’s non-age stated younger brother. Currently available from the Celtic Whiskey Shop for €57.95 (above budget but well worth the extra few euros)
#3. Jack Daniel’s – €30 Tesco
Probably one of the most recognizable American whiskies in the world, Jack Daniel’s with its square-shaped bottle and it’s iconic branding and celebrity affiliations makes it the perfect present for that classic rock loving dad or father figure that loves the brand and also likes a whiskey that goes very well into a cocktail (Jack and Coke anyone?)! Although technically not a bourbon (we’ll not get into the argument here!) I’ve decided to stick it in here regardless as it’s essentially a subset of the Bourbon category (see, compromise!). Made from a recipe that uses a decent helping of rye and is charcoal filtered before ageing, this whiskey is a lot smoother than traditional high-rye bourbons and offers a sweet earthy experience. Wide availability and a price that falls well below budget this is the perfect last-minute gift and you might even get lucky and find a gift set or two available specifically for Father’s Day.
Look, he’s already tried this and loves it but I want an even better-looking bottle and even more complexity – the man has earned it!
Already have a fan of Jack Daniel’s that may be looking for something with even more style and flavour? Well here you have it, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel.Whilst the standard JD is a decent and very versatile Tennessee whiskey, Single Barrel is a whole new level. It features whiskey from the standard Jack Daniel’s whiskey recipe but from select casks that have been aging for longer than the standard release in the warmest spots of the ageing warehouses to give a more robust and complex whiskey. Each barrel designated for Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel has been individually hand-selected for its unique taste and smooth and aromatic qualities by the Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller and his team of Master Tasters. Once chosen, the whiskey is bottled a single barrel at a time, never mixed with whiskey from other barrels. and because each individual barrel imparts its unique flavour to the whiskey, every bottle is hand-labelled and marked with the number of that barrel, its rick, and the bottling date. As mentioned already, the flavour profile you can expect here is a massive step up from what you get from their standard black label offering and with the added benefit of coming bottled in an ornate square decanter with a sturdy wood stopper, it looks the part of a great Father’s Day gift and is only a touch outside the budget at around €60 from any major supermarket.
For those who want to go the extra mile here O’Brien’s Wines has recently selected two unique barrels of Jack Daniel’s single barrel that have been bottled exclusively for them. Offering an even more unique flavour profile than the standard Single Barrel offering, these select bottlings are the absolute cream of the crop and offer the opportunity to experience an even more unique expression of Jack Daniels. Coming in a presentation box, with a metallic neck tag, and being a bespoke bottling of Jack Daniel’s single barrel I cannot stress enough what a bargain these are at €59.25! Exclusively available from O’Brien’s Wines either online or in store.
#4.Woodford Reserve Bourbon – 43.2% – €43 Dunnes Stores & O’Brien’s Off Licence
The fourth bourbon on the list is Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select. Featuring a blend of triple-distilled pot still and column still bourbon, Woodford Reserve has a unique mellow taste that gently beckons without overwhelming its drinker. Long hailed as the perfect bourbon for introducing those that already have a taste for Irish and Scotch Whiskies, Woodford shows off classic bourbon flavours of caramel, vanilla, baking spices, and a crisp maltiness that smells like cherries dipped in dark chocolate. Despite having a high percentage of rye in the recipe (18%) there’s a lot more balance when it comes to Woodford reserve and all the flavours combine to create a very well rounded bourbon that’s smooth and easy enough to drink on its own, yet carries its flavours well enough to hold its own in a whiskey cocktail like an Old Fashioned or Whiskey Sour.
Please sir, can I have some more?
Want more Woodford goodness but not sure how to get it it? Luckily the good people over at Woodford Reserve have heard your call and have come back with a solution: Woodford Double Oaked. If ageing in heavily charred barrels gives bourbon those fantastic caramel and vanilla flavours, then imagine what another few months in a cask that’s very lightly charred but heavily toasted will do. Without going too much into the technicalities of it, toasting a barrel brings out all the wood sugars and vanilla flavours from the wood whilst mellowing out any harsh flavours a barrel might add. This bourbon is the standard Woodford Distiller’s Select that has been aged further in virgin oak barrels with a heavy toast and a light char. The results are a bourbon that is darker, richer and has an amazing taste of toasted wood and maple syrup that really rounds out the traditional Woodford Reserve experience at the same abv of 43.2. Personally, I always end up going for the Double Oaked over the Distiller’s Select, and luckily this bourbon is now available exclusively from the Celtic Whiskey Shop in limited quantities for €65.95 and is well worth the price.
#5. Wild Turkey 81 – 40.5% – €33 Tesco
The final bourbon on the list is Wild Turkey 81. Regardless of your level of previous experience in whiskey, I’d argue that anyone should be able to enjoy a pour or two of Wild Turkey 81. However, for this guide, I’m going to aim this bourbon specifically at the newcomers to the bourbon table. Newcomers typically want something that is flavourful, well-balanced, and easy to drink both neat or in a cocktail, but doesn’t overwhelm with a crazy high ABV content. This sounds easily done but it’s important to remember that the lower the ABV, the more water in the mix, and the more water in the mix the more you’re dampening those incredible flavours that bourbon is famous for – but not this time! Thanks to Wild Turkey’s way of doing things you’re getting a fantastic blend of 6 – 8 year old bourbons with all the flavour trimmings at a respectable 40.5%. ‘What is this dark magic?!’ you ask? This miracle of bourbon is made possible through the use of heavily charred casks (more flavour) and a high-rye recipe (even more flavour and earthy, spicy balance) which combine to give you huge flavours even at a low ABV (take a bow Wild Turkey!). Always a great choice and currently €28 in Tescos? You’d almost be mad not to!
Dad’s a turkey and ham man, you’re going to have to do better than that to impress him!
Already a few months into a relationship with Wild Turkey 81 and ready to take the next step? Then Wild Turkey 101 is the big Tom for you! Big and bold bourbon flavours await all ye who dare to pass. Wild Turkey 101 was my first taste of bourbon and to this day, all bias aside, still remains one of the best bourbons I think you can spend your money on. Choosing this over the 40.5% Wild Turkey 81 is similar to the difference between listening to your favourite song on a standard car radio versus seeing the performer live, and being blown away by how much better it is, i.e., you’re in for a big surprise in the best way possible. This Wild Turkey expression has those same flavours found in the 81 but at a whole new level. For many the 10% ABV jump might seem like a lot but once you taste this bourbon you’ll be happier for it – trust me! The catch is that this expression isn’t the easiest to source but a quick google search turned up the promising result of it being in stock at the Celtic Whiskey Shop for €45 – again well below the initial budget.
The Rye Whiskies
Rye whiskey in Ireland is a relatively new category and as such can only be found in good off licences. They may not favour the last-minute shopper with wide availability, but the effort it takes to find the right bottle of rye will always be rewarded with an amazing American whiskey experience. Most if not all of these rye whiskies are available from the Celtic Whiskey Shop, L. Mulligan’s or any independent off licence with a decent selection of American whiskey. Here are my thoughts on the rye whiskies available in Ireland!
#1. Michter’s US☆1 Single Barrel Rye
The newest American whiskey to enter the Irish market, Michter’s Distillery is based out of Kentucky and produces a wide range of whiskey styles under their flagship US☆1 range. The crown jewel of this range, Michter’s US☆1 rye whiskey is a great example of a very well made Kentucky rye. Coming from a single barrel and bottled at a modest 45.7% abv Michter’s style is a whiskey that is both packed with flavour and very easy to drink – with this rye being no exception. As a rye whiskey it’s a perfect balance of rye’s green apple character, white pepper, a touch of tannins from the barrel, and a great proof. An interesting element is that this is a single barrel offering which means there’s no hiding inferior whiskey behind good blending. As a flagship rye whiskey, Michter’s have truly set the bar very high with the level of quality you get and this one is very hard to beat. For a true show-stopper ask about their 10 year old rye or bourbon which are currently in Celtic Whiskey shop.
#2. Templeton 6 y.o. Rye Whiskey
Coming from a distillery situated in the small town of Templeton in rural Iowa, Templeton rye is a sourced rye whiskey and the only brand that you will get an age-stated rye whiskey from without breaking the bank. At 6 years old this whiskey towers over its 4 y.o. little brother and boasts a recipe of 95% rye with rye-forward notes of red fruit and baking spices galore. It fits seamlessly into cocktails (Sazerac anyone?), begs to be enjoyed neat, and was sourced from a distillery that produces some of the most renowned rye whiskey in America – MGP. With a very reasonable price and bags of flavour in every drop this is another you won’t want to miss regardless of your level of rye experience.
#3. Sazerac Rye
Another whiskey from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, Sazerac rye traces its roots back to New Orleans and symbolises the tradition and history of New Orleans dating back to the 1800s. Albeit not age –stated this is understood to be around 6 years old on average and is the 90 proof version of Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye from the coveted Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Known for its versatility, crisp rye notes and solid oak backbone, Sazerac Rye Whiskey was used to make the original, first and only branded American cocktail—The Sazerac. Whiskey aside, the bottle is one of the best looking in the business and makes a great-looking, great tasting stocking filler.
#4. Woodford Reserve Rye
Another Kentucky-style rye, Woodford Reserve’s Master Distiller approached this whiskey with the same laser-keen focus on flavour as with all their other releases and spent the better part of a decade perfecting it. Made with only 53% rye this is another easy-drinking and delicious rye whiskey for those treading the shallows of what rye whiskies offer and is again perfect for beginners or those taking the brave step outside of their particular whiskey comfort zone be that Scottish whiskey or Irish whiskey. Bottled at a decent 45.2% abv this rye whiskey will not disappoint any recipient and comes in Woodford’s iconic flat bottle shape.
#5. Town Branch Rye
Named after the river that cuts through the city of Lexington, KY, the Town Branch Distillery was founded by Irish businessman Pearse Lyons (ring a bell?) under Alltech and has been producing bourbon, rye, and American single malt since 2012. Bottled at 50% abv Town Branch rye is the heaviest hitting of the rye whiskies and gives a traditional rye whiskey that’s aimed at those who have already wet their feet with rye. This rye whiskey is delicious and goes well into anything be it a Manhattan cocktail or just neat into a glass.
#6. Bulleit Rye
Another whiskey from the Bulleit Distillery, Bulleit rye is also sourced from MGP and again features their 95% rye mashbill. Aged around 4 years it goes best into rye-based cocktails but still tastes great neat. Another solid entry-point for those who want to explore some of the best rye whiskies that’s on the market without breaking the bank or without requiring any previous whiskey experience. This one particularly goes down very well with Scotch and Irish whiskey drinkers who are curious about other whiskey styles.
So there you have it, 16 of Ireland’s best American whiskies with many being readily available for less than €50. I’ve even made some further recommendations (most within the €50 budget) for those that will have access to independent off-licences such as the Celtic Whiskey Shop or others in the run up to the big day. Like I said, most of the bourbons featured in this article are some of the best you can buy for a €50 budget, and now with easier access than ever before there’s no reason for any whiskey loving Fathers or newcomer dads to be left disappointed on the big day.
Should you still find yourself wondering what to get the father figure in your life before the big day I would highly recommend a trip or a phone call to the very helpful people over at the Celtic Whiskey Shop. The reason these guys show up so much in this article is for the simple reason that they have probably the most diverse bourbon and rye selection in Ireland and on the shelves at the moment (especially the more premium bottlings), and their staff are very knowledgeable when it comes to recommending something for even the most difficult of people. Now go forth with the confidence that the perfect Father’s day gift can be as easy as taking a trip to your local supermarket, and remember to sip responsibly (try not to spill any – it’s frowned down upon).
This guide is again very much geared towards my Irish readers, however, a love of American whiskey knows no country lines so if you’re anywhere else in the world and the father figure in your life sounds like he’d benefit from trying one of these whiskies feel free to source them from your local supermarket or off-licence depending on distribution. Cheers and Happy Father’s Day! All prices correct as of time of writing.