Redbreast 12 Year Old
Redbreast gets a lot of attention from whisky enthusiasts – especially those who typically specialize in single malts. It is an example of the Irish pure pot still style (aka single pot still), which is the traditional method for Irish whisky production.
This process involves a mix of malted and unmalted barley that has been combined and triple-distilled in a large, single copper pot stills. This method introduces a distinctive “greasiness” in the mouthfeel of the whisky, while still maintaining a lot of classic malt whisky flavours.
You may not have noticed this before in Irish whiskies, since most are actually blends of single pot still whisky and lighter grain whisky (e.g. Jameson’s, Powers, etc.). In this sense, a single pot still whisky (like Redbreast 12 Year Old) is closer to a classic single malt, while the more common entry-level Irish whiskies are closer to scotch blends.
Indeed, many enthusiasts are comfortable describing the flavour of pure pot still whiskies in the same terms as single malts (in this case, cluster E on my flavour map). That would place it in the same category as a number of the traditional vatted speyside/highland single malts that have some proportion of wine cask-aged whiskies in their mix.
Produced by Middleton, Redbreast 12 year old is a very affordable whisky – by comparable quality single malt standards. It currently sells for $75 CAD for a 750mL bottle at the LCBO. While bottled at the standard 40% ABV, there is a cask-strength version of the 12yo (57.4%) that you can pick up here for $110.
Here is how it compares to a number of whiskies of similar flavour and price in my Meta-Critic Database:
Aberfeldy 12yo: 8.16 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.29 ± 0.25 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 12yo Doublewood: 8.45 ± 0.34 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 12yo Single Barrel: 8.61 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.45 ± 0.26 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.04 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak: 8.59 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Monkey Shoulder: 8.27 ± 0.38 on 15 reviews ($$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.78 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.05 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.71 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.38 ± 0.30 on 6 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew 10yo Single Malt: 8.00 ± 0.79 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.48 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$)
Again, for the price and flavour cluster, you can see the Redbreast 12yo does very well. Indeed, it is the Meta-Critic score leader for this cluster in the <$75 group ($$$).
Here is what I find in the glass for the standard 12 yo Redbreast:
Nose: Nutty and slightly malty (the latter fades with a bit of time in the glass). Spicy, with pepper and a bit of black licorice (anise). While not overly sherried, I suspect some proportion of this whisky spent time in a sherry cask – I get hints of light berries and milk chocolate raisonettes. A touch of solvent smell, but I can’t place it.
Palate: Rich up-front hit of brown sugar, vanilla and honey. Slightly flat cola too. Light fruits again, with tart citrus kicking in now. Very oily and juicy, giving it a chewy mouthfeel that is quite distinctive. Much more substantial than most Irish whiskies I’ve tried. Just a touch of bitterness comes in at the end, which some may find harsh if used to the lighter Irish whiskies.
Finish: Moderately long, with persistent spice – and that cola effect is back. Not a lot of variety, just a consistent fade out. The bitterness persists as well, encouraging you to take another sip. Not particularly complex, but longer lasting than most Irish whiskies.
The Redbreast 12 yo is a solid performer, with more substantial character than most commonly available Irish whiskies. But it still carries through the typical Irish sweetness, just mixed with a single malt-like balance of flavours. This makes Redbreast 12 yo somewhat unique in my experience – sort of a hybrid of a typical Irish whisky and a sherry cask-matured speyside single malt.
Ideally, I think it best suited for those wanting to take their Irish whisky experience up to the next level. Or those who find some of the stronger sherry-finished highland/speysides to be a bit much (i.e., think of it as a sweeter Glendronach 12 yo). Indeed, I would personally rate it much closer to the Glendronach 12 yo (which gets a Meta-Critic score of 8.58 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews). But that still makes Redbreast 12yo a great value.
For a range of opinions on this whisky, the lowest scores I’ve seen come from André and Patrick at Quebec Whisky and Ralfy. Most seem to be of comparable opinion to Serge of Whisky Fun or Jim Murray. The highest scores I’ve seen come from John Hansel of Whisky Advocate and Michael of Diving for Pearls.