Redbreast – 12 “High on the Pot Part II”

The whisky formerly know as “Pure Pot Still” has had a tumultuous history. It was created as a middle finger to the government, who imposed a malt tax in 1785. Irish distillers set about modifying their whisky recipes to include a portion of unmalted barley and other grains (often oats but wheat & rye were used). Not unlike the mixed mashbill of American distilleries.

Turns out it was pretty tasty and in turn it created a unique category of whisky that set them apart from their Scottish counterparts. Each facility used their own proprietary mix of grains in their whisky creating brands with a loyal following. The eventual decline of the Irish whisky industry caused all major players to consolidate under one large umbrella that became IDL. They continued to fabricate pot still whisky at Middleton but it was mostly used as “flavouring” agent in the blends they were forced to create in order to compete with the Scottish who had found much success with this formula earlier.

The variety of “pure” pot still whisky dwindled down to a few (Redbreast and the contract brand Green Spot) and the recipes used also were streamlined to the following rules. A minimum of 30% unmalted barley and a minimum of 30% malt with a maximum of 5% “other” grains.

As Midleton was the only producer of Pot still Irish whisky they were able to dictate that their preferred ratios be the one to define the category in the IGP, despite the fact that it flies in the face of the history of the many brands they actually use to market their products. There is an interesting set of articles about this controversial IGP on Blackwater distilleries blog blackwaterdistillery.ie/heritage-3/

They are also able to corner the market price on premium offerings of this category since there is literally no competition to bring those into the realm of reason. Many Midleton special editions sell for 300$+ without an age statement or reason to validate this kind of premium. So what’s all the fuss? What does this stuff taste like and will we be able to pick out a common thread to these different brands? Let’s find out.

Nose: Mineral, sweet dried fruits, slight varnish note, almonds, a subtle yeasty sherry note. Putty or perhaps plasticine, there’s a touch of mint too. Some leather, plums, dusty grains and chamomile.

Palate: Light, all on the interplay between the dark dried fruits and the thick pot-still texture. Prunes, buttercream, old oak, spices, some bready notes too.

Finish: Lots of dark notes, paraffin, a slight sulfur. Rubbery notes at the end hold it back a touch.

Notes:¬†Elegant and classy, I didn’t understand the fuss about this whisky at first in fact I reviewed it quite poorly before. It requires attention as it doesn’t jump out at you.

Redbreast 12

40% ABV

87/100

Redbreast 12

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Redbreast 12 yrs old

40% ABV

79/100

The Irish whisky market is drastically different than that of Scotland, beyond the differences in production style (triple distillation, grains, pure pot, single pot) The situation was born out of consolidation that created a monopoly of just a few large distillers to remain in action.

With all the consolidation the emphasis is on brands rather than on the distilleries themselves, especially considering at one point in the 80’s and early 90’s there we’re only two actual functioning distilleries.

Some of the brands we’re born out of partnerships with wine merchants, who at the time (late 1800’s) had access to better casks in their trade, would sometimes keep bonded warehouses of maturing whisky for both the distillers and for their store trade. I believe Redbreast and Green spot to be the more prominent blends to be created of such a system.

Redbreast was an emblematic choice to represent Irish whisky for our March club meeting. There are few representative of the Single pot-still (formerly pure pot still) style of Irish whisky, it consistently receives praise across most of its expressions. With it’s proportion of Sherry matured whisky I thought it would be a style that would be familiar to our members, a good starting point. I didn’t count on the 12 year old being austere to the point that it would go unnoticed, it didn’t help that it was preceded by the stunning Teeling single malt (review to come).

Redbreast 12 is a vatting of both bourbon and sherry matured spirit, it’s a single pot still whisky meaning it is a blend of malted and unmalted barley, double or triple distilled in those huge Irish style pot stills.

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Nose: Freshly poured concrete, sherried oak, soaked fruitcake, plasticine, a hint of pears. Marzipan, tobacco, buttered toast, wet cardboard, it’s not very fruity.

Palate: Despite it being 40% it’s got a nip, almost like a cognac, soaked raisins, honey nut cheerios, ginger, a carpenters shop floor, wood shavings, mineral oil. It then turns dry, a smidgen herbal, dried lemon zest, a bit of toffee with nutmeg and cloves.

Finish: astringent, green peppercorns and oak shavings a bit of the plum pudding and almonds but it’s gone so quickly and that’s perhaps where the low ABV hurts it.

There are elements of this whisky I love, the interplay of the robust grain and plasticine notes with that of the sherried oak. Airing out the bottle helped bring some definition to the palate but ultimately I’m still unsure how I feel about this whisky. It’s certainly well crafted and while I’m curious about the cask strength version, I’m not certain the higher proof would fix my qualms with it. Perhaps that short finish?

Franck