In my day job, I’ve worked with several teams based in Ireland over the years. I even had the opportunity to visit my colleagues in Dublin pre-pandemic. The entire time I was there, they insisted on drinking only one thing: Redbreast. Well, if the locals love it then it must be worth investigating… time to drink up and find out if the Irish really do know best.
W&A Gilbey was a wine and spirits merchant founded by Sir Walter Gilbey in 1857. Originally a purveyor of gin within England, by 1861 the company had opened a branch in Dublin to expand their operations. To cater to the local tastes, they began blending and selling their own version of Irish whiskey which was sourced from the Jameson distillery and aged in their own proprietary method.
The first iteration of Redbreast was produced in 1903 under the name “JJ Liqueur” — it was a 12 year aged expression in a similar bottle to the eventual Redbreast design and it sourced its spirits from the Jameson distillery. The “redbreast” name was added later, in 1912, to pay homage to the chairman of Gilbey’s at the time (who was an avid birdwatcher and had the nickname “redbreast” around the office).
Gilbey’s continued to source Redbreast from the Jameson distillery until it closed in 1971, when production moved to the new consolidated Midleton distillery. Production would continue there until Gilbey’s decided to discontinue the brand in 1985, eventually selling it to the Irish Distillers group (who also own Jameson) in 1986. The brand was eventually relaunched in 1991 and remains owned by the Irish Distillers group.
This spirit is sourced from the same stock that also makes Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, as has been the custom since bottling began in 1903. This spirit starts as a mixture of 50% malted barley (which has been soaked in water and allowed to sprout, turning the starch into sugar naturally) and 50% regular barley (which needs to be cooked to convert the starch into sugar). Those two grains are combined and fermented together to form the “distiller’s beer” that is the source of this spirit.
From there, the mixture is pumped into a copper pot still where it is distilled three times. Then the newly made whiskey is placed into a combination of American bourbon barrels and previously used sherry casks to mature for a period of at least 12 years.
Once the spirit has been properly matured, it is blended together with other barrels to produce the final desired flavor profile.
Truth be told, this is a rather boring bottle.
The bottle itself is a relatively standard shape, with a wide but short cylindrical body that tapers in at the shoulder to a longer neck. There’s a nice bulge in the neck that makes it easier to pour and control, at least. The whole thing is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
What makes me a little annoyed is that the entire bottle is a smoked green glass. I get that smoky green glass is kinda the “thing” for Irish whiskey, but I really wish sometimes that they wouldn’t do it. Or, at least, wouldn’t do it to this degree of opaqueness. You can barely see how much spirit is left in there, much less enjoy that amazing color until it finally comes out in your glass.
The label itself is downright boring. A faux aged piece of paper with a red breasted bird on the front, and a bunch of brand information in far too large a font.
It’s all obscuring the star of the show, and doesn’t add much to the experience.
The first thing I smell coming off the glass is dried fruit — specifically dried strawberries, bananas, and peaches. But underneath all that, there’s also a good malty base that’s reminding me of a fresh scone and some cinnamon spice.
Taking a sip, pretty much everything translates from the aroma to the flavor. There’s the dried fruit on the front (specifically peaches and bananas that lead the way), followed by a bit of malty bread-like scones, and a sprinkling of baking spices like nutmeg and cinnamon on the tail end. It finishes smoothly, with a bit of sweetness and a delightful flash of that peach flavor as it fades into the background.
Even with the added ice, the dried fruit aromas persist. Usually, more delicate aromas are the first thing to go when you add ice, but here those notes are defying the norm and sticking around.
In both aroma and flavor, ice tends to be very detrimental to fruity and light spirits like this one… and in this case a lot of the lighter flavors are in fact gone. The dried peach and malty scone flavors are holding up pretty well, but the baking spices seem to have run for the exit. I’m still pretty impressed that the fruit is persisting, though, so credit where credit is due.
I’m also getting something in here like… stale honey? I don’t think honey can actually go stale, but if it were, that’s what I’m getting. It’s like a muted sweet note with some floral aspects, and I don’t hate it.
If I were to compare this Irish whiskey to its Scottish neighbors, I’d say this is like a Glenmorangie that’s been kicked up a notch. There’s the similar fruit forward flavors, but they are better saturated and accompanied by a good bit of baking spices to keep it interesting. I’d drink this any day… and apparently, my Irish friends and colleagues are all one step ahead of me on that.
|Redbreast 12 Year Irish Whiskey|
Aging: 12 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $59.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
This is what Jameson wants to be when it grows up. And for good reason.