Redbreast 21 Year Old
The oldest member of the Redbreast family, this 21 year old expression is currently the highest ranking Irish whisky in my Meta-Critic database.
As I previously introduced in my review of the popular Redbreast 12 year old, the classic Irish pot still style involves a mix of malted and unmalted barley that is triple-distilled in single large copper pot stills. This method introduces a distinctive sticky mouthfeel in the whisky (sometimes referred to as “greasiness”), while still producing great malt complexity.
Like others of the line, Redbreast 21 yo is matured in a mixture of ex-bourbon barrels and first-fill oloroso casks, resulting in a complex whiskey. Jim Murray has just declared the 21yo his Irish whiskey of the year in the 2017 edition of his popular “whisky bible”.
So I thought it was time to crack open my bottle and give it a proper review here. It retails for $250 CAD at the LCBO, and is bottled at 46% ABV.
Here is how it compares to other highly-ranked Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.49 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.92 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Knappogue Castle 16yo Twin Wood: 8.77 ± 0.47 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.10 ± 0.32 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey: 8.78 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.01 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.72 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.20 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Silver Reserve 21yo Sauternes Finish: 8.89 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
While I discourage directly comparing scores across different classes of whiskies, the Redbreast 21 yo does rank in the top 20 of the >900 whiskies tracked on my site.
Let’s see what I find in the glass:
Nose: Sweet, with tropical fruits (pineapple, mango, and guava) and lighter fruits (pear, golden delicious apple). Faint hints of concentrated fruits, like prunes and sultanas. More tropical than I remember the 12yo being. Fair amount of honey. Wood spice and a bit of vanilla (but surprisingly not overly oaky). Peanuts. A touch of eucalyptus and some heather. More alcohol singe than expected for the low ABV, but no real solvent smells.
Palate: Rich fruits, tending more towards plums and prunes now. Brown sugar joins the vanilla, and gives it a fudge-like taste and mouth feel (very rich and creamy). Eucalyptus even more noticeable now, as are the spices, with black pepper joining the wood spices (cinnamon and cloves in particular). Some crushed coconut adds to the nutty effect. The woodiness is also enhanced now, but still not overwhelming. The heather notes pick up as well. There’s relatively little burn here, although the spicy kick can linger.
Finish: Long. Juicy fruits linger the longest, with a cola taste and some sweet honey. Spiciness contributes to a mild burn (which is pleasurable). No real bitterness from the wood, which is very impressive for the age. Leaves a sticky residue on the lips and gums (which is a classic single pot still characteristic).
As expected, this is an amped-up experience from the 12 yo – although it hits many of the same notes. The extra time in wood has helped mellow some of the harsher characteristics still present in the 12 yo, and enhances the “tropical” and sweet notes. The slow burn of spices at the end of the finish is also in keeping with its ripe old age, but surprisingly it has avoided being “over-oaked” and bitter.
I agree with the critics – this is a top-notch Irish pot still whisky. Aside from Jim Murray’s top score, Josh of the Whiskey Jug and Dominic of Whisky Advocate both rave about this whisky. Similarly, Oliver of Dramming/Pour Me Another One and Serge of Whisky Fun both give this one top marks. André and Patrick of Quebec Whisky give it the lowest scores I’ve seen.