I buy Redbreast because, as the old Redbreast advert describes, “You could not wish for a stauncher truer friend. Always ready to help. Refreshing you through the sultry, thirst making, days of summer, shielding you from the piercing winds and driving rains of winter, and in every season proving itself a most welcome and peace-bringing nightcap.” It’s an all-rounder.
Billy Leighton, Redbreast Irish Whiskey master blender, secretly the king of Phrygia, Midas, as everything he currently touches turns to whiskey gold. Even with a hefty price tag, dream casks sell out near instantaneously, ballots are oversubscribed tenfold, bird feeders shielding a bottle of Redbreast 12-year-old fly off the shelves, and single casks going for high auction prices is a certainty nowadays. Yes, Billy Leighton really is the master, and when it was announced that Redbreast would be re-releasing their flagship 10-year-old, it’s fair to say that fans flocked to get some (pun fully intended).
I’ll not go into a full-on history download, as I will save that article for another day (preferably when I make the pilgrimage to the distillery). Still, I will allude to the journey and popularity of the original 10-year-old whiskey. Gilbey’s were the original producers of Redbreast Irish Whiskey, launched nearly 100 years ago and last produced just over half a century ago until the new custodians of the Redbreast brand, Irish Distillers, promptly revived the legend. The popularity of Redbreast Irish Whiskey rose, and even during 1920’s Ireland, considering the political turmoil and economic uncertainty most of the country, including the clergy, enjoyed Redbreast. The brand even became affectionately known as ‘“The Priest’s Bottle” after finding its way into many a church presbytery in Ireland. Gilbey’s was no longer producing Redbreast in 1985 and sold it to Irish Distillers in 1986.
Good things come to those who wait, and it’s just as well we are all patient, as it took Irish Distillers another ten years to produce Redbreast Irish Whiskey.
Anyway, fast forward 34 years and Redbreast announced their intention to re-produce a classic in a limited edition. Some 7000 bottles were initially produced by Redbreast, which were snapped up by their birdhouse fans within around 6 hours of launch; impressive considering there was a limit of 2 bottles per enthusiast.
For me, Redbreast has probably been the pinnacle of affordable (more on that in a bit) Irish whiskey, and their packaging has always been stylish, apt and recently modernised. Some little quirks from the original 10-year-old whiskey were taken into the design for this bottle to “enhance the traditional credentials of the Redbreast brand”, including the red lettering of the first letters of ‘Single Pot Still’ and ‘Ten-Year-Old,’ and the box it comes in, which looks and feels modern but still has a vintage feel to it, with prominent red and white throughout. So, credit to whoever designed it.
So, the whiskey itself. It’s a ten-year-old, and the spirit is composed of three different distillates, ranging in age from 10 to 15 years. Each one has been matured in both American ex-Bourbon barrels and Oloroso Sherry casks. It’s bottled at 59.1% ABV and has an RRP of €100. It’s definitely overpriced, but for a limited edition, for which you’re probably likely to pay double at auction, fans were always going to pay a premium.
If I’m nit-picking, the only issue for me is that Redbreast bizarrely annotated ‘Batch 1’ on the label when there is absolutely no intention (apparently!) to produce a second batch. Redbreast, you tease!
Nose: traditional pot still straight away, and you can tell the inspiration of the vintage ten-year-old is there. A natural heavy nose gives way to lots of wood, leather, and spices, including cinnamon, cloves, and a hint of rosemary. Some sweetness cuts through it, with red berries and peaches from the sherry influence.
Palate: A beautiful concoction of sweetness and spice again, this time accentuated. Lots of bitter dark chocolate, coffee beans, and caramac bar with a dollop of cream on top. It’s balanced very well with the fruit notes of red apples and berries. The leather and wood still exist from the nose, but it’s more a passenger this time, with the sweetness taking centre stage.
Finish: Absolute mouth filler, lots of warmth and spice throughout. The aftermath of pepper and liquorice coats the whole mouth—long finish.
For those that have tried the original will know that it was originally matured in sherry casks due to the close proximity of John Jameson nearby and that the iconic single pot still distillation was characterised by the range and depth of ‘heavy’ flavours imparted on to the whiskey. I am happy to announce that this whiskey has not disappointed and follows the heritage before it. It is a beautiful example of a Redbreast cask strength whiskey. It’s beautifully done, and Billy has restored it perfectly.
Nose: Sherry and spice and all things nice. Sultanas, cinnamon, walnut, and cloves. There is a woody, oily note as well – like an old table that’s been freshly waxed.
Palate: sherry notes initially dominate, with a big hit of dark fruits, figs, and plums. There are some sweet notes too – honey, vanilla, caramel, balanced against chocolate and leather. It’s Christmas pudding with custard. The cask strength bottling really comes through with a warmth linked to hints of spice and pepper.
Finish: Pepper endures with plum jam and even a touch of chilli chocolate. A long, lingering warmth.
Initially quite feisty, this is a whisky that opens up with every sip. The complexity is initially well hidden, but it shyly emerges as you get to know it, gradually becoming a pleasant and outgoing drinking partner. For those not comfortable with big sherry flavours or punchy Irish cask strengths, this may be one to avoid. However, for those who seek that sort of thing out, this is an excellent prospect and a well-executed sample of the genre. Price will, however, be a massive obstacle, particularly with availability now only being through auctions.
Mike must really love me as a friend and co-editor, not only did I get him involved with Redbreast whiskey, but I also ensured he got himself a bottle of the Redbreast 10, fortunately for him (and me!) he loved it. It’s hard not to. I will fully admit to getting a ticket on the hype train every time it comes around, but for Redbreast it’s always worth it, it’s just quality whiskey. We both look forward to the many more releases from Redbreast to come!