I’ve recently tasted a somewhat lacklustre sequence of whiskeys that haven’t aided the flow of my pen, some not worthy of the ink, others which have caused me to question the incontestable buzz surrounding certain brands, and the opinions of bloggers or so-called whiskey influencers offered across social feeds daily. But then, my views are also only an opinion, not to be take in offence and certainly not to be defended by me. Today, however, I offer up a brand that is almost unanimously uniting Irish Whiskey fans across the world, steadily become a force to be reckoned with, with plentiful features on Malt as well as everywhere else online, Redbreast uniquely stands apart from the crowd.
After a rather busy start to 2021, it seems I haven’t had the opportunity to put as much time into reviewing as I had intended, but every now and then something inescapably stunning pops through the letterbox which provides the stimulus to start typing once more. Or unavoidably poor in Phil’s most recent case. The joy of these extremes is that for me anyway, the words tend to flow, driven by undeniable satisfaction or irrefutable disappointment in not sipping on something superior. In this case, the former shines through, luckily.
Redbreast, a Single Pot Still brand steeped in Irish Whiskey history, which Phil re-capped proficiently in his enjoyment of the Redbreast 12 Cask Strength in 2017. The style, Pot Still Irish Whiskey, in its current form is beginning to slowly grow in markets across the globe, only because of Pernod Ricard’s investment in the Redbreast brand. In the past century, the demise of Irish whiskey as a whole, the emergence of Scotch Single Malt in the 1980s and the general dominance of Blended whiskies as a whole have left Pot Still Irish whiskey as a generally misunderstood category.
When discussing with someone unfamiliar with the category, it can be somewhat confusing given the variance in mash bills for Pot Still whiskeys nowadays compared with historic Pot Still whiskeys. I attempted to give a brief overview of these variances in my review of the most recent Dingle Single Pot Still releases.
In this review, I can happily showcase the differences in a re-imagination of a Pot Still whiskey of the past, as this past week saw the re-release of Redbreast 10 Year Old, and due to the kindness of Chris Hennessy, Irish whiskey advocate & bartender extraordinaire who’s generosity with historic samples cannot be understated, I recently tasted a 1960’s edition of Redbreast 10 year old. The sample of the new release of Redbreast 10 year old was kindly provided by Irish Distillers to myself among many whiskey writers too, hopefully, be enjoyed and tasted during the virtual launch for the product.
Before jumping into the review, I’d like to give some insight into the recent explosion in popularity for the Redbreast brand. The brand has been a staple within the Irish Whiskey category for the past 10 years and with the continued expansion of its core range, it has many whiskeys at many different price points which serve to satisfy most whiskey drinkers.
In recent years, Redbreast Single Casks have begun to popularise through retailers such as La Maison du Whisky, The Whisky Exchange, Master of Malt, The Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin, and The Friend at Hand, Belfast. It has also become part of Irish Distillers offering in partnership with bars across Ireland, those who can afford it, with the price putting the brand out of range for many bars, starting in and around €86k up to €180k per cask. Although we have seen some absolutely superb releases, with an honourable mention for The Palace Bar, Dublin, who’s 17year Single Cask truly raises the bar for pub bottlings of any kind. These Single Casks have served to delight many drinkers, but until recently many were slow to sell & with some still readily available. Although due to the success of the Redbreast 10 year old I am about to review, the demand for unique Redbreasts is sure to continue to rise.
Released to celebrate 30 years since Irish Distillers reintroduced the Redbreast brand in 1991. An online exclusive, sold through their member’s club ‘The Birdhouse’ at noon on the 11th of March, 7000 bottles at €100 each sold out in around 6 hours, with a limit of two per person. And even more impressively, they ruled out their biggest market by not offering shipping to the USA. €700,000 in sales in a day is no mean feat and it shows the rise of e-commerce as a superb platform to engage directly with your brand’s core audience. I can tell you first hand that if the same support, through sales, was shown to smaller distilleries or brands on exclusive releases such as this, that it could make their year & in many cases fund expansion.
During the online launch, we were guided by Midleton Blender, Dave McCabe, one of the younger public-facing stars involved in product development at Midleton. Making his way from working in the Midleton visitors centre to being the original Midleton Academy tutor before becoming Master Blender, Billy Leighton’s apprentice. He was joined by Midleton Archivist, Carol Quinn, covering the history of Redbreast, one of the most eloquent speakers you could have the pleasure of listening to. And, also the aforementioned Master Blender, Billy Leighton brought the crowd through a tasting of the product while discussing the components used.
This limited edition Redbreast 10 Year Old was bottled at 59.1% Cask Strength and was made from three separate distillates, matured for between 10-15 years in ex-bourbon & oloroso sherry casks, as is the norm for the core Redbreast range. They state that there was the inclusion of the famed Traditional style of Single Pot Still, Trad Pot distillate, to pay tribute to the old expression of Redbreast.
The 1960’s sample of Redbreast 10 year old, which I sampled a few weeks prior to the event, unaware that it was on the cards for a re-release, would have come from some of the final parcels of Redbreast 10 year bottled by original creators W.A Gilbeys. Gilbey’s would have their own sherry casks filled with Pot Still spirit from Jameson’s Bow Street distillery and left to mature. We can assume that the spirit was distilled in the late 1950s when Jameson was producing Pot Still spirit using malted & green barley, along with oats, wheat & rye in some cases. Bottled at 70 imperial proof, which translates to 40%abv.
Redbreast 10 Year Old 59.1% Cask Strength – review
Colour: Vibrant amber with orange hues, noticeably viscous in the glass.
On the nose: It opens distinctly pot still, spice-driven, very little alcohol with a cinnamon-dusted candied apple bite going on. There are intense wood notes, like burning a cedar board for your smoked old fashioned, roasted walnuts before turning quite sweet. The sherry influence is there but quite relaxed, a little hint of leather among the wood notes, with a touch of berries and warm butter-soaked crumble.
In the mouth: Upfront with dark dried & berry fruits with a touch of clawing tannin. The oak spice follows through with a rounded nutty, toasted almond character. The sweeter notes intensify within the aromatics, figs, vanilla & chocolate all flow throughout. The back palate delivers tobacco and a hint of menthol with anise. The texture is rounded & developed delivery both fruits & more herbaceous notes like strawberry leaves. The finish is long, spiceful, almost gregariously warming.
Redbreast 10 Year Old 1960’s 70 Imperial Proof(40%abv)- review
Colour: Rich amber.
On the nose: Initially a touch musty, typical waxy notes turning to linseed oil & plain candle wax, very typical of distillates from this era. There are touches of ripe fruits, orange oils, apricots and an incredible note of red wine gums. Very little wood notes but a touch of spice is evident.
In the mouth: There’s a touch of oxidation but it’s undeniably fruity, rich fruits, sultanas & raisins with dried hazelnut praline. These notes develop sweeter tones that become unmistakably like marzipan. The texture is oily, in some places dusty with the wood tones becoming almost smoky. The finish is short, pleasant, but tiny and lacking, not surprising given its age.
I’ll start with the 1960’s Redbreast 10 year old, which gives the sampler a clear display of how these older pot still distillates behave, the flavour delivery tends to be solid, waxy notes to delight, the fruits in almost all cases get their time to shine, and there’re unmistakable layers. Unfortunately, this sample was just a small bit tired, although it gives me thoughts that it may well have been an 8 or higher in its day.
The new release, however, is simply fantastic, certainly the most enjoyable sample I’ve had come across my desk this year thus far. It has tremendous depth, clarity of flavour and a balance which is awe-inspiring given its abv. I’ve heard many other tasters claim with glee that they thought the ‘Trad Pot’ distillate stood out, offering heavy pot still notes that would delight. I disagree, I don’t think it delivers more of the texture or heavy notes that are common in ‘Trad Pot’ forward pot still whiskeys. I do, however, feel that it combines with the other distillates to give an unbelievable elegance & refinement.
Now all these positives possibly warranted a 9, although I feel there was a missed opportunity here. Given that this was a direct-to-consumer release, bypassing any distributors or retailers, taking the complete margin for themselves, I feel there was an opportunity to give tremendous value to their loyal fans. Looking at the pricing of the recent Blue Spot release or even the standard pricing of the Redbreast 12 Cask Strength, I feel this could have been offered at a slightly lower RRP. Although, that hasn’t stopped me & my fiancé from purchasing our 2 bottles each per person. If you get a chance to buy it or try it, take it.
Photographs of the latest 10 year old kindly provided by Redbreast.