Redbreast has always had a strong following among single pot still whisky devotees. In Redbreast’s hands, this combination of malted and unmalted barley, triple-distilled in copper pot stills, produces a distinctive flavour profile that rivals many single malts. The standard 12 year old expression remains a staple for many whisky fans, with its great flavour-to-price ratio.
So you can imagine some trepidation when a new entry-level NAS version was announced, the Redbreast Lustau Edition. Rest assured, there are no immediate plans to retire the standard 12 yo expression. Lustau is meant to be a new permanent release, to complement the existing stable of standard Redbreast whiskies (i.e., the 12, 12 Cask Strength, 15 and 21 year olds).
The concept behind this new expression is interesting. Irish Distillers (who own Redbreast) have a close relationship with the sherry maker Bodegas Lustau in Jerez, Spain. For this release, they prepared customs casks from a local cooperage in Jerez, which first held Bodegas Lustau’s popular Oloroso sherry. The sourced Redbreast whisky for this expression comes from a mix of ex-bourbon barrels and sherry casks, blended together and finished in these Lustau first-fill sherry butts for one additional year.
It has been widely reported online that the base Redbreast spirit is between 9 and 12 years old for this expression. Bottled at 46% ABV, Redbreast Lustau is not chill-filtered, and no color has been added (which are always appreciated). Although not listed yet in inventory for the LCBO, I recently spotted it as a local store for $90 CAD (which is $10 more than the standard 12 yo).
Let’s see how it compares to the other Redbreasts in my Meta-Critic database, and some of the other wine cask-finished Irish whiskeys:
Redbreast 21yo: 9.20 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.87 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast Mano a Lámh: 8.66 ± 0.44 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999: 8.43 ± 0.90 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.73 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve: 8.20 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood: 8.12 ± 0.69 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 16yo Twin Wood: 8.79 ± 0.48 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Teeling Silver Reserve 21yo Sauternes Finish: 8.90 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.47 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Madeira Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.39 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.54 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Sherry Cask Finish: 8.32 ± 0.16 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Although based on only 6 reviews above, the Lustau is more than holding its own against the standard 12 yo – and is scoring quite highly for the class overall.
Here is what I find in the glass:
Colour: Slightly darker than the standard 12 year old, with a bit more of a reddish hue that the usual Redbreast golden tones.
Nose: Definite sherry cask finishing, with chocolate, raisins, prunes and dates. Brown sugar and honey, with a bit of marzipan. Light fruits are still there, especially apple (think stewed apples). Some citrus (orange). Black licorice (anise) and a bit of cinnamon. I previously speculated there was some sherry cask in the 12 yo mix, but this definitely amps it up. It is not a “sherry bomb” though, and the integration of sherry notes to the base Redbreast character seems good. A faint hint of solvent, less noticeable than the 12 yo (likely due to the extra layering of sherry sweetness).
Palate: Sweet, in a honeyed way, with raisins and dates adding richness. Definite chocolate and nougat – almost candy bar like. Candied orange peel now. Oakiness comes through as well, with some spice – plus vanilla added to the cinnamon. Despite the higher ABV, it seems to have a less oily mouthfeel than the 12 yo – more like whipped frosting instead of the usual creaminess. Some of the classic Redbreast character may be subdued (i.e., less nutty here), but the effect is still pleasant, with more added than lost.
Finish: Moderately long, but fairly light. You get persistent sweetness and spice – and a rising flat cola effect that I first noted on the 12 yo. Some woody bitterness picks up, but it is less noticeable than the 12yo (again, likely due to the extra sherry sweetness here). Not particularly complex, but decent for the class.
Finishing in sherry casks can be a double-edge sword. For a base spirit with substantial character, it brings in additional notes and sweetness. But for a delicate base spirit, it can drown out the subtleties that provide identity (see for example my recent review of Westland American single malts).
The classic “sticky” single pot still character of Redbreast is able to hold its own here pretty well. It does seem to be lacking a few of the classic Redbreast features (i.e., the “tropical fruits” and nuttiness). But personally, I never found a lot of tropical fruit in the 12 yo any way (although I do detect them big-time in the 21 yo).
Perrsonally, I find this treatment has added rather than subtracted from the standard 12 yo expression. In a structured tasting alongside the 12 yo, this would be a great way to showcase the effect of additional sherry finishing. The higher ABV here (46% on the Lustau, compared to 40% on the 12 yo) is also helping with a greater flavour experience overall on the Lustau. Head-to-head, I expect most would prefer the Lustau (I know I do).
As an aside to how quaffable this new expression is, I actually drained the glass before I thought to add water! So I had to pour a second one to experiment. 😉 Water quickly dulls the nose, and if anything accentuates the solvent note. In the mouth, it further lightens the mouthfeel and doesn’t bring out anything new. Fairly neutral on the finish. As a result, I recommend you sample Lustau neat.
The persistent bitterness in the finish of the 12 yo was always a bit of a turn-off for me on that expression (and so, I personally ranked it a little lower than the Meta-Critic average). Although there are only a few reviews of the Lustau so far, the average score presented here is quite high, and in keeping with what I would give this expression. Nice to see a NAS expression that brings something new to the table!
There aren’t many reviews of this one out there yet, but I recommend you check out Josh the Whiskey Jug, Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Ruben of Whisky Notes for very positive reviews. Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer gives it a below average score for the class.