Going all the way to the Emerald Isle and walking into an Irish pub only to order a Bud Light hardly seems worth the trip. Pub culture is a major part of life in Ireland, and yes, there are plenty of Irish drinks consumed between the live music and fun banter. We recommend the following ten drinks the next time you find yourself in Ireland, or even at your favorite neighborhood Irish pub, or while hosting your next St. Patrick's Day party. From the venerable Guinness to Craft Beer and delicious cider, the choice of the best Irish drinks is yours.
Whiskey - The Water of Life
Derived from the Irish uisce beatha (which means "water of life") and normally written with an "e", Irish whiskey was first distilled by monks about a thousand years ago. It was originally only used for medicinal reasons because it was thought to restore health. Today, Irish Whiskey is popular both in neat (straight and unmixed) or in Irish mixed drinks, though purists will insist on a drop of water only, if at all. Several well-known brands of Irish whiskey are available, with the most popular being Old Bushmills from County Antrim, Tullamore Dew, Power's, Paddy's, and Dublin's favorite, Jameson's. Whiskeys are available in blended form or as single grain and single malt pure produce, the latter is often quite a bit more expensive. Tourists should take note that high taxes make Irish whiskey actually more expensive in Ireland than in a lot of other countries—so buying a whiskey that is easily available outside of Ireland might not be worth the cost.
Guinness - A Pint of Plain
In 1759, Arthur Guinness leased the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin and soon after began brewing the popular London "porter". He and his family have never looked back and the porter or "stout" is now synonymous with the family name. The beloved Irish drink is available on tap pretty much everywhere and even used to be given to new mothers in Dublin hospitals. It is no longer considered a health supplement, but Guinness is still the quintessential Irish beer. Some consider it an acquired taste but Irish citizens will tell you that the beer is an entirely different drink outside of the Emerald Isle because it "doesn't travel well." Having said that, the Guinness Storehouse is Dublin's top tourist attraction and a great place to have a look over the city from the Gravity Bar (a pint is included in your entrance fee).
Other Beers - A Wider Variety
The Irish love their beers. Every pub will serve a wide variety on draft or in bottles. Popular Irish beers are Murphy's Stout, Kilkenny, and Smithwick's. English and Scottish "lagers" are preferred by the less discerning drinker in a hurry. Popular overseas brands include the Australian Foster's, the ubiquitous Bud Light, Mexican Sol, and a variety of Dutch and German lagers. And any off-license (liquor store) will provide East European, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese brands. Plus craft beers are making a big impact on Ireland, with new breweries springing up everywhere. Especially recommended are the products from the Boyne Brewhouse and Jack Cody's.
Cider - A Cold Drink in Summer, a Hot One in Winter
Brewed from apples (and the Armagh orchards are famous for their tasty produce), this alcoholic drink has become a very popular Irish drink in recent years that is consumed by the pint like beers. It often has a higher alcohol content which makes it more "effective" than most beers while being served ice-cold as a refreshing drink. The most popular Irish cider is Bulmer's, named (for trademark reasons) Magner's in Northern Ireland. In winter, a hot, spiced cider is also a popular pick-me-up after suffering the cold.
Cream Liquor - Not Just a "Girlie Drink"
Apart from the well-known Bailey's Irish Cream, several similar liquors are available and popular drinks in Ireland. While the ingredients are basically the same, their proportions vary and so does the taste of these liquors. Normally drunk moderately cool, they are also available on ice or as a shot in black coffee. It is also an ingredient in the "Irish Car Bomb", a drink that only clueless frat boys order in an Irish pub.
Mead - Traditional, But Rare
Mead has been a traditional Irish drink since the Viking raids and has made a comeback in the last few years as an alternative drink somewhere between beers and liquors. Combining the sweetness of honey with the bite of alcohol, meads are popular after-dinner drinks. The variety can be bewildering; some meads are similar to wine or beer, while others are medium-strength liquors.
Poitin - Now Also Available in "Legal"
This very Irish drink is essentially moonshine and can be described as a neat spirit distilled from whatever was at hand. More specifically, the word refers to a strong spirit (on par with German schnapps) made from potatoes. It has been produced for centuries in moonshine stills up and down the country by home brewers hoping to avoid Ireland's high alcohol tax. Today poitín (or poteen) can be bought legally and with fewer associated health hazards in most off-licenses.
Irish Coffee - That'll Warm You Up
Folk history has it that this Irish mixed drink was invented shortly after World War II by an enterprising Irish barman as a means to revive the flagging spirits of transatlantic air passengers. It combines a good shot of Irish whiskey, steaming hot and strong black coffee, topped with thick double cream poured over the back of a spoon. An Irish Coffee is an excellent restorative after a few miles of vigorous walking on a windswept beach.
Wine - Imports Rule (Reasonably)
Despite Ireland boasting only a few vineyards (it simply does not have the right climate for grapes), wine has become a popular drink especially with meals or on social occasions. It is also quite expensive, with the more affordable wines almost constantly being on the lower scale of the spectrum regarding quality and taste. There are not many exceptional wine experiences available in Ireland, though perhaps the quality of wine lists will improve as the public learns more about the drink themselves.
Alcopops - The Teenager's Choice
Alcopops are the bane of Irish society and immensely popular with the young crowd. Basically a concoction of water, sugar, food color, juice, and strong alcohol. They are available in many colors and guaranteed to hasten intoxication by masking the fairly high alcohol content. They often guarantee a splitting headache the next morning. Better avoided unless you want a spot of seriously "trendy" Irish drinking.