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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Redbreast 12 year old and ... Redbreast 12 year old

Many many moons ago, at the start of The Report, I gave Redbreast 12 year old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey a rave review without actually getting into much smell and taste detail.  Sometimes explicating the stuff I love proves difficult.  It's often easier to pan something or give a moderate review when the brain isn't overwhelmed with the shout of a happy limbic system.

That original report was back in 2011.  Towards the end of that year I'd heard rumors that a cask strength version of Redbreast 12 was coming to the US.  Not only did it arrive in early 2012, but it was just Batch B1/11.  A second batch (B1/12) arrived in late 2012.  That first batch garnered rave reviews everywhere, with Jim Murray and Whisky Advocate naming it Irish Whiskey of the Year.

If it seems like Irish Distillers (Redbreast, Midleton, Green Spot, Yellow Spot, John's Lane) dominate the Single Pot Still market, it's because they are the only company releasing single pot still Irish whiskies.  Cooley and a couple of the new Irish distilleries have started distilling Single Pot Still, but none of those products have yet made it to the market.  So someday we'll get some good competition in this category.  And by "competition", I mean in quality, not in quantity.  Midleton Distillery is expanding to 60 million liters of alcohol a year, 22 million of which will be pot still whiskey.  That's twice the capacity of Diageo's Roseisle monstrosity.  More than Glenfiddich and Glenlivet combined.  Midleton has size working for them.  What's extraordinary is that, largely thanks to Barry Crockett, they also have quality going for them too.

Yes, the vast majority of that pot still whiskey will go to Jameson's, Paddy's, Powers, and their other blends. But the best of those casks will come to us in Single Pot Still form.

In honor of Saint Padraig, here's today's report:
1. Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength B1/11 - at full strength, 57.7%
2. Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength B1/11 - at reduced strength, about 41-42%
3. Redbreast 12 year old - 40%

We'll see if the regular 12 year is just the Cask Strength watered down.  My bet is probably not.  They have hundreds or thousands of casks holding Redbreast-style pot still; some hit the mark better at full strength, but not so much when hydrated.  Then there are the (approximately) zillions of barrels of Redbreast-style that fit the brand best when reduced to 40%.

I'm also trying to figure out which version I like better.  I've been enjoying the Cask Strength stuff with and without water, so I'm not really sure how this is going to turn out...


StyleSingle Pot Still
Distillery: Midleton
Age: 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and first fill ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Country: Ireland
Batch: B1/11 (68 casks)
Bottle Code: L120231241 10:22
Alcohol by Volume: 57.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? Probably

The color is a medium gold, not the darkest of the three.  Perhaps a more conservative application of caramel e150a colorant that is applied in its cousin.  The nose is very very busy.  Mostly it sniffs like the two oaks are fighting for supremacy.  Vanillins clashing against dried fruit.  The notes are abundant: fresh apples, dried apricots, pencil shavings, a little bit of ocean, a little bit of plastic, Triscuits, milk chocolate, orange zest, and vanilla fudge.  It becomes denser with more time in the glass.  Meanwhile, the very creamy palate is milder.  Apples, butterscotch, and a wallop of barley keeps the sherry from surging (though it does strengthen with time).  Sweet fruit sugars emerge after a while as well.  That sherry is stronger in the extensive finish, but it's not overwhelming, as its raisins still grapple with vanilla from the American oak.  A good scoop of molasses brings up the rear.

It's a loud muscular whiskey, especially on the nose.  It's dynamite stuff, though it's never struck me as something to mellow out with, if served neatly.  That's when I put a splash of water into it...

(same as above, but ABV is reduced to 41-42%)

The color is pale gold.  Everything is quieter now, though still vibrant.  The nose holds molasses, barley, vanilla, roses, and is a little musky.  There's considerable vanilla leading the way in the palate.  Then there's whipped cream, sugar, dry sherry, raisins, and that great Redbreast crème brûlée character that makes me hug strangers.  The sherry seems sweeter in the finish as it sits above vanilla and bubblegum.

Now it's easy drinking and yet not boring.  The best of both worlds.  Let's see how this compares with the original.


StyleSingle Pot Still
Distillery: Midleton
Age: 12 years
Maturation: official website says only "Oloroso sherry casks", but other sources say there's a significant number of ex-bourbon casks mixed in
Country: Ireland
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Colored? Yes

Its color is copper, likely the darkest of these three.  The oaks don't struggle against each other in the nose. Instead they work in unison along with the barley: candied dried fruit, ocean, tropical fruits, white fruits, a little perfume, pencils (lead, wood, rubber, ink and all), hay, teriyaki(!), and then a green vegetal moment after a while.  The creamy custardy palate is simpler than the nose.  Subtle floral and citrus notes sit on a big blanket of honey, brown sugar, and vanilla.  It finishes with lots of honey.  Some floral and vanilla notes as well.  It's mildly sweet, but very lasting considering its 40% ABV.

This is one of the most impulsively drinkable whiskies I have ever had the pleasure of consuming.  You may note that it is less busy (evoked fewer notes) than the Cask Strength.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that the CS is better.  It just depends on what the drinker wants.  Complexity?  The CS has that.  Versatility?  You can add water to the CS to adjust the strength; though at a similar ABV it doesn't match the richness in the regular bottling.  The casual drinking experience?  Few things top the regular 12 year old.

It has been my pleasure to introduce Redbreast 12 to Scotch whisky lovers and non-lovers alike.  It's a pretty astonishing experience for the Irish whiskey drinkers who've been shooting Jameson's their entire (adult) lives.

May I recommend both to you?
Redbreast 12 for whenever-drinkin' and happiness.
Redbreast 12 Cask Strength for brooding, postulating, and pondering.


Availability - Many liquor specialists
Pricing - $60-$65
Rating - 91


Availability - Any respectable liquor specialist
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 94 [Ed. note: This score seems very high, even considering my Irish whiskey bias. I'll be reviewing it again in 2017 just to make sure.]