Where To Find Irish Whiskeys In Honolulu Bars

Irish whiskeys are enjoying a renaissance, at home and in Honolulu.

Did you know? Irish whiskey gets distilled three times—once more than Scotch—yielding a whiskey that is generally lighter in color, boasting fewer impurities and a higher proof.

Photos: Michael Keany

With St. Patrick’s Day approaching (on a Monday this year), it’s worth noting that Irish whiskeys are having their moment in Honolulu bars.

It would take you nearly a month to try every bottle in the lineup at O’Toole’s—26, by our count—if you tried a different one every night. Keep an eye on irishpubhawaii.com for a schedule of monthly tastings (which also feature the pub’s equally wide range of Scotches and American whiskey) and for monthly whiskey specials.

Ferguson’s Irish Pub in the Dillingham Transportation building, also, is bringing the whiskey. It’s been nearly two years since an extensive renovation to this small Bishop Street pub and, since then, partner and bar manager Brian Blair has expanded the lineup beyond the familiar Jameson and Bushmills to at least 13 mainly top shelf varieties. Says Blair, “The higher end Irish whiskeys seemed like a perfect fit for the classic, sophisticated neighborhood pub we’re building.” Blair is a fan of the stuff, more than happy to describe the qualities of the different labels to steer you to one you’ll love.

How different can Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky be, beyond the obvious disagreement over the spelling of “whisky?” Quite a bit. To cite just one key difference: Both start with malted barley—that is, barley seeds which have been soaked in water until they just begin to send out tiny shoots—but Irish distillers then dry their malted barley in closed kilns while the Scots do so over open peat fires, giving all Scotches their typical smoky, peaty quality.


Thirsty? Here are a few of our favorites around town to try:

Powers Gold Irish Whiskey

A survivor, John Powers & Son was one of the three Irish distillers left standing by the 1970s. Caramel and a little spice, a good companion to Murph’s famed Gaelic steak.
$6, Murphy’s Bar and Grill, 2 Merchant St.


Kilbeggan and Midleton Very Rare

When the Kilbeggan distillery celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2007 it had something else to celebrate, namely, restarting production after a 53-year hiatus. A rougher pour, a bit raspy on the throat—think of it as the grit of a comeback kid. The Midleton? A clean, grassy revelation. Your wallet will be sorry you ever met it.
Kilbeggan, $6, and Midleton Very Rare, $25, O’Toole’s Irish Pub, 902 Nuuanu Ave.


Knappogue Castle 12-Year Single Malt

While we greatly enjoy the full-bodied Jameson 18 Year ($17), it’s the Knappogue that really thrills. Thin, light, slightly honeyed, it exemplifies the flavor and texture distinction between Irish whiskey and its Scottish, American and Canadian cousins.
$9, Ferguson’s Irish Pub, 729 Bishop St.


An Irish Affair

If you’re not quite ready for whiskey, neat, this cocktail makes good use of Irish whiskey’s signature lightness, combining it with lemon juice, Combier Orange Liqueur and a splash of VSOP for a bright, citrus-y experience.
$10, Pint and Jigger, 1936 S. King St.