Normally, we wait until spring for the first appearance of the robin redbreast, and a lot of us hold off at least until St. Patrick's Day to start quaffing Irish whiskey, but this year neither should be delayed so long.
Beginning in February, Redbreast, the only remaining traditional Irish
pot still whiskey, will begin rolling out a 12-year-old cask-strength
version of the fast-growing brand that is exceptional.
The news further bolsters the small brand, which has been sustaining large growth of late. Irish whiskey as a category has also been strong with Jameson—made, like Redbreast, at the Midleton Distillery—showing phenomenal double-digit growth. Beam Inc., maker of Jim Beam Bourbon and a company that many assumed would be up for sale, also turned heads recently with its announcement that it would spend $95 million to purchase Ireland's Cooley Distillery, makers of Kilbeggan, Connemara, Tyrconnell and Greenore, to enter the Irish whiskey market.
Wayne Hartunian, vice president of whiskeys and Cognac for Pernod Ricard USA, which imports Redbreast, has said that the release of the newest Redbreast is a response to call from whiskey enthusiasts and fans of the brand for a taste of the whiskey bottled straight from the cask before being diluted to a lower proof or being chill filtered. Water is typically added to spirits after production to bring it down to the alcohol percentage at which it’s bottled.
The standard Redbreast 12-year-old comes in at 80 proof (40 percent alcohol), while this expression is offered at 115.4 (57.7 percent). Chill filtering is a cosmetic process applied to most whiskies whereby they are cooled to clot fatty acids and proteins that are then filtered out. It keeps the whiskey from becoming cloudy when ice is added, but some enthusiasts feel it alters the flavor.
Irish pot still whiskey is a category that differs from Scotch single-malt whiskies in that, while both are made in pot stills, the former combines both malted and unmalted barley. The Scotch product is made purely from malted barley. Malting is a process in which the grain is germinated to release enzymes that help in the creation of sugars that are later converted into alcohol by yeast in the fermentation process.
Irish pot still whiskey is now an anomaly in Ireland. While traditionally distillers made whiskey almost exclusively that way on the island nation, they turned to blended whiskies when its industry fell on hard times during the 20th century. Now most Irish whiskey is sold as a blend of spirits distilled in pot stills and the more efficient column stills.
Redbreast 12 Cask Strength (115.4 proof or 57.7 percent alcohol by volume, $65 for 750 ml)
APPEARANCE: Light, almost Champagne color, with nimble legs that seem as though they’ll never drizzle down.
NOSE: Not a particularly informative aroma, slightly floral with honey and pear, but then…
PALATE: ...when it hits the tongue it opens up in wondrous ways. The fruit quotient burgeons, bringing on peaches, currents, berries and grapes. The honey searches out the roof of the month and becomes slightly spicy. Also flavors of ginger, cinnamon, graham cracker, toffee and even some cocoa arise. The high proof gives it a slight burn—which is welcome especially for lovers of Bourbon who appreciate a good bite.
FINISH: The bite lingers a bit on the tongue and then dissipates to reveal even more honey and graham cracker. The next act is a fruit encore before the finish slowly fades. At this point rise and give it a standing ovation.