Redbreast 12 Year Irish Whiskey is a blend of malted and unmalted barley. Soft, creamy flavors of hazelnuts, crackers, and spice lead to a dry and tidy finish.
- Classification: single pot still Irish whiskey
- Company: Pernod Ricard
- Distillery: Midleton Distillery, County Cork, Ireland
- Cask type: Ex-bourbon and ex-Sherry
- Still type: pot still
- Released: 1991
- Proof: 80
- Aged: 12 years
- Mash bill: malted and unmalted barley
- MSRP: $66
- The beautiful ripe and rich aromatics of Redbreast 12 Year will likely appeal to whiskey fans and novices alike.
- Its combination of fruit and spice notes make it pleasing yet easy-drinking; you don’t need to think too hard about this bottle.
- Although this is the entry-level bottle in the Redbreast line, it comes at a relatively high price point.
Color: A rich, golden honey-amber
Nose: Dried and ripe fruits, such as yellow raisins, clementine skin, peach, and dried mango, along with notes of honey, vanilla bean, and caramel.
Palate: Here’s where the blend of malted and unmalted (green) barley really shows itself. Redbreast is at once full, soft, mouth-filling, and gently creamy, but quickly becomes nutmeg and pepper-spicy and a little nutty, with both the satisfying bitterness of hazelnut skin and round fatness of hazelnut meat. It feels plush and a little slick on your tongue, but snaps like a cracker into a dry exit.
Finish: If the attack on the nose is all soft fruit, the strength of this whiskey’s finish lies in the sprightly spice and drying tannin, likely from the first-use ex-bourbon casks in the blend. It finishes tidy and dry—which only serves to make you want more.
The precursor of Redbreast came into the world in 1903 under the name Castle “JJ” Liqueur Whiskey 12 Years Old from the company W & A Gilbey, a sort of wine and whiskey negociant in Dublin, Ireland. By 1912, it had the nickname Redbreast and it enjoyed a long run of popularity until Gilbeys folded and with it, the production of Redbreast. Irish Distillers—one of the three major distillery holders in the country and home to iconic brands like Jameson, Powers, and Midleton, among others—bought the name and relaunched the iconic Irish bottling in 1991. Since then, this gorgeous single-pot still spirit has seen the launch of several well-considered new expressions, but the original, double-distilled 12 remains an Irish icon.
Of all the things that could have been lost when Ireland’s distilleries were struggling to climb back to their once-heralded popularity, it’s a gift that Redbreast 12 was resuscitated. Now-retired Master Distiller Barry Crocket took over the work of whiskey at Midleton Distillery when his own father retired from the position in 1981, and was part and parcel to reviving the single pot still style via nearly lost names like Redbreast.
The whiskey, which also offers 10-, 15-, 21-, and 27-year-old expressions, among other strength and finish options, is easy to love with its alluring fruit bounty of a nose that plays off both the dried fruit notes from its time in ex-sherry casks and the rich, cake-y aromatics of ex-bourbon barrels. This is not a shot-and-a-beer Irish whiskey, it’s better as a neat pour to be savored and sipped.
The whiskey got its colorful nickname (which turned into its actual name) due to the original company’s ornithology-minded chairman uring its initial years of production around the early turn of the last century, who was fond of robin redbreasts. While the label recently went through a little refresh, making its namesake bird a prominent feature, the old stocky pot still-like shape remains part of its visual charm.
The bottom line: Redbreast hits the happy point of being a good gift for whiskey lovers both new and seasoned and also a bottle you’d be happy to pour for yourself.