Class: Irish Single Pot Still
Reviewer: Andrew Owen
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 as you’ll see from my tasting notes, contains some of the most peculiar whiskey on the market.
- Triple distilled in typical Irish fashion
- Likely aged in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks that are then vatted together.
- Bottled at the legal minimum 40% ABV, which is also (unfortunately) typical Irish fashion.
- It is most certainly chill filtered, and may or may not be colored.
Nose: Sweet coconut flakes, creamy malt, and the most peculiar “copper pot still-ish” complex, which I can best describe as oily and coppery…kind of like bacon fat mixed with pennies. Underneath this top layer are hints of oak, soap, and some floral notes. Its altogether appealing, albeit somewhat thin.
Palate: Coconut meats, heavy whipping cream, and bacon grease, with some sweeter malted vanilla arriving after a couple seconds. The mouthfeel is thick and oily. Like the nose, this is tasty but just…thin. Anemic. Lacking depth.
Finish: The coconut sweetens up, with vanilla cream and young/vegetal oak (like the green stuff under the bark) rounding things out. Fairly short lived.
Buying Recommendation: Don’t spend your money on it. The problem here is not that this is bad whiskey. The problem is that there’s not enough there. What could be a very promising whiskey (see my Redbreast 12 cask strength review) is diluted to the point of shallowness in the aroma and flavor. At around $50, this makes this whiskey not worth the money, especially when its cask strength version sits on the shelf next to it for only $15-25 more.
The Rating Scale
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: truly exceptional
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