I’m not afraid to say it, but as my bio suggests, I really got into whiskey around seven years ago, having stereotypically only used a few desirable brands to force a state of inebriation quicker and cheaper than usual. Fortunately, my best friend introduced me to a whiskey called Redbreast and their 12-year-old expression at a very reasonable price, and it was from that moment that my gateway whiskey was established and allowed me to delve further into the myriad of brands and expressions. My love for Irish whiskey has endured ever since.
I can’t say that there are many whiskies that I always go back and keep buying a bottle; currently, Irish whiskey represents a utopia of small to big brands producing some fantastic and innovative liquid, but I will always hold a bottle of this on my shelf, but why so?
Redbreast is a name synonymous with Irish whiskey. It’s the largest selling single pot still whiskey in the world, and its history can be traced back to 1857 with the foundation of W & A Gilbey in London. Gilbey’s success resulted from the newly founded off-licence system, which allowed them to expand their business into Dublin, where they were described as wine importers and distillers, carrying over 140 different wines and holding between 700 and 1,000 wine casks under bond. By 1874, Gilbey’s delved into the whiskey world, holding over 300,000 gallons in stock of sourced whiskey, which increased up to 1875, making them the largest whiskey stockists. The name Redbreast was first coined in 1912, and its demand up to 1960 was evident, with batches being produced in the thousands to satisfy an insatiable consumer base. Gilbey’s last bottled Redbreast in 1985, and the brand was eventually sold to Irish Distillers, who revived the brand in 1991 after a lamented absence of 10 years.
During the infancy stages of Irish Distillers’ acquisition, Redbreast was revamped; the 10-year-old transformed into a 12-year-old, there was a new wood programme and an overhaul of the brand and image, and a very successful one at that. What made Redbreast whiskey unique was their personification of single pot still whiskey. Initially, a loophole around the English based taxed system, the inclusion of unmalted barley, may have been a happy accident as the popularity of this new mash bill surged as a result. Having been undaunted by the popularity of blends in the 20th century, Redbreast firmly stuck to their guns and continued to create the traditional whiskey.
Having no idea about any of the history before I took my first sip, my first thoughts and general contemplation was, “Hey, this is pretty nice actually.” I admit that I had probably killed it with heaps of unnecessary ice, but the warmth of the spice and softness of the dram instantly got me hooked. At the time, Sainsbury’s sold it for £33, which to me back then was ridiculous for whiskey; oh how wrong I was. This whiskey has had around 13 awards over the last eight years; it is acclaimed throughout the world as one of the best expressions of a pot still whiskey.
Redbreast 12-year-old is made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley and then triple distilled in copper pot stills. It is subsequently matured in a combination of Bourbon seasoned American Oak barrels and Oloroso Sherry seasoned Spanish oak butts. It’s unclear whether it is non-chill filtered as this is not stated on the bottle; however, Master of Malt has declared it has colouring added to it.
Price: Expect to pay anything from around £37-50. I got it at £37 on Amazon.
Colour: Striking gold
First of all, it’s characteristically pot still. The spice that engulfs the senses is evocative and enticing. The beautiful Christmas pudding type smells of dried raisins and figs are instantly distinguishable. There’s a delectable fruity note that comes through too, almost melon-like, with it being balanced with some zesty limes too. This truly is a fresh nose and comes across as quite pleasant. There’s no wonder why I was instantly hooked the first time I tried this.
More pot still yumminess coming through again with the spice. This time it’s more ginger which brings a helping of warmth which is then thoroughly balanced with a helping of honey mixed with sweet sticky toffee pudding and caramac bar. There are almost certainly many nutty-type notes too, with toasted almonds being most prevalent. What’s really delicious is the silkiness of the texture, the ease with which it rolls around the palate, coating the mouth and emulating a spicy-sweet desert.
The finish for me is on the far right of the medium to long finish. It’s perfect for what it is, the spice holds nicely, providing warmth, whilst the tongue tingles from the sweetness of the Christmas pudding.
Firstly, I’ll answer the question I posed at the start: I will always keep a bottle of this on my shelf, but why so? Because it’s delicious! Is there some sort of sentimental affiliation between me and this whiskey? Perhaps. Is it because it reminds me of my mate, who happened to be my best man at my wedding? Could be. But honestly, this whiskey is just so good for its current price. I feel that for a first-timer, the whiskey does not exhibit any horrible burn sensation; it sits at a standard 40%, it’s cheap enough to make you feel less uneasy about buying a bottle and expensive enough to know you’re buying a ‘premium’ whiskey. My only criticism is the ABV, which, if raised above 50%, would easily score an extra point (yes, I am aware that particular delight exists…) as the flavours would just be accentuated that little bit more.
The whiskey itself is seriously very good for the price. I tend to always ‘have a go’ in my reviews, but the price I paid for this whiskey should also put the marker down for other brands. I know some brands aren’t as big as Redbreast, obviously, and can’t afford to price that low, but at least get one thing spot on, the whiskey or the price. Redbreast has done both here.
A couple of months ago, Mike talked about gateway whiskies and offering up recommendations for non-whisky drinkers. Redbreast 12 is that whiskey for me. I have banged the drum for some time and will continue to do so; to me it is exceptional.