Other than the ubiquitous Jameson, there may not be a more well-known Irish whiskey than Redbreast. Once one graduates on from Jameson or Bushmills and starts exploring the “higher end” of the Irish whiskey aisle, Redbreast is always in the conversation. Although the Redbreast label has been around since the 19th century, the whiskey has existed in its modern form since the 1980s, when Irish Distillers Limited purchased it from a small merchant to add it to their ever-expanding portfolio of brands. I’ve gotta pause right now and give a short history lesson…
In 1966, due to the declination of the Irish whiskey category as a whole, the big boys of the industry – Cork Distilleries, John Jameson & Son, and John Power & Son – merged together to form Irish Distillers Limited (IDL). Fast forward a few years, and Bushmills joined IDL as well, essentially monopolizing Irish whiskey production, and production for each brand was centralized to a new massive distillery in Midleton. Fast forward a few years after this, and IDL was bought by world spirits giant Pernod Ricard in 1988, who still owns IDL, the Midleton Distillery, and all its brands today (Bushmills was sold to Diageo in 2005 and is no longer produced in Midleton).
Why is this important to know? Because from Midleton’s 3 massive pot stills and 3 even more massive column stills comes the vast majority of Irish whiskey on the market, including Jameson, Powers, Tullamore Dew, Redbreast, Midleton, and Green/Yellow/Red Spot. However, each of these whiskeys is NOT created equal. You see, there are 3 different styles of Irish whiskey, and each of them are produced in Midleton. Here is a brief rundown of each:
Single malt: just like its Scottish cousin, this whiskey is made from 100% malted barley, and produced by one single distillery entirely by pot still.
Single pot still: While also produced by only one distillery and entirely by pot still, this style is peculiar to the Irish whiskey category, and contains both malted and unmalted barley.
Blended: This style is a blend of both pot still malt whiskey and column still grain whiskey. It may contain distillate from corn, barley, wheat, or (less commonly) rye. Given the loose guidelines, this whiskey is the cheapest to produce.
Redbreast falls into the single pot still category, which contains some of the most peculiar whiskey on the market.