Ah, Ireland. The greenest land in the Northern Hemisphere. Home to some of the most down to earth, most welcoming people you could ever hope to meet. There is something enchanting about Irish culture, it’s beautiful artwork, it’s hearty food and while it’s most famous drink is a local stout known as “the black stuff”, one could not experience the full breadth of this mystical island without tasting the glory that is Irish whiskey. Is it really any surprise that Luke Skywalker has taken refuge on an island just off the coast of Ireland? I didn’t think so.
Irish whiskey (spelled with an “e” in Ireland and the USA, everywhere else it’s “whisky”) is often misunderstood, especially in the states. We tend to think of just one brand: Jameson and it’s keen ability to transform even the most awkward of social gatherings into a full fledged rager complete with all of the regrettable mistakes known to man. But perhaps the biggest tragedy is not the drunken texts you sent your boss while under the influence of Middleton’s most popular brand but the complete disregard for its finest, most glorious, most beautifully crafted whisky of all: Redbreast.
Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey is produced from the Middleton Distillery in Middleton, Co. Cork, just 25km east of Cork. An Irish single pot still whiskey is similar to a single malt whisky with the primary exception being that it is made from both malted and unmalted barley. The addition of unmalted barley to the mash bill adds a distinctive spiciness that if appreciated, can make for a very unique and exciting dram. For more info on the technical differences between single malt and single pot still, I implore you to contact Google or Horst Lüning of whisky.com where fine spirits meet….
Redbreast is one of the very few Irish distilleries producing single pot still whiskey. They offer four expressions, all of which are matured exclusively in ex-sherry casks. This includes an introductory 12 Year Old, a remarkable 15 Year Old, a desert island 21 Year Old and now this – an un-chillfiltered 12 Year Old bottled at full Cask Strength! I happen to love all of their whiskey and while the 21 Year Old is one of the very best malts I have ever tasted (and I have tasted a lot!), the 12 Year Old Cask Strength is one of the most exciting. It’s not as easy to find as the standard 12 or 15, nor is it as approachable, but it is undoubtedly the true enthusiast’s dram.
When we approach a cask strength whiskey like this, we want to be somewhat careful. We can nose it freely but with an ABV of 58.2%, it’s generally recommended that you dilute before drinking to preserve your taste buds. So on the nose itself, wow! Thick aromas of dark fruit, ripe banana and fresh pine. There’s a bit of citrus oil or citrus peel, however you define it, and this plays well with the sherry fruits. A beautiful, complex nose that if approached to closely, will snap back with a strong, peppery bite. The aromas are about as complex as it gets with a whiskey of this age and although I don’t have it with me to compare, this cask strength bottling seems to be much fresher than the standard 12 Year Old. If we add a bit of water and bring the ABV down to what I suspect is closer to 45-48%, it’s much lighter and the banana aromas kick into full gear. The vanilla and oak aromas are now released with a spicy, slightly bitter character. Overall, the nose is not as seductive as the 21 Year Old but it is still absolutely stunning. A bit of water will really bring this one to life and with the cask strength edition being non-chill filtered, you can still experience the natural oils that give this whiskey such a remarkable texture.
Let’s give this one a taste. Again, don’t bother trying this one neat as it will only burn your taste buds and hinder the experience. Ironically, the label suggests that you can now “Experience the full aroma of Redbreast” with this cask strength edition but you and I know that the only way to do this is by diluting the whiskey to release the full flavors that have been overpowered by the alcohol. Again, 58.2% is a lot so I’m not talking about watering it down, just a splash to reach equilibrium. And when you do dilute to a reasonable ABV, what a dram! Ripe fruits and fresh pine coat your tongue in a wonderful harmony of tropical spices. Very sweet, no longer peppery but slightly bitter. The bitterness is not a turn off, it adds a bit of sharpness to what would otherwise be a smooth, sweet, linear dram. This whiskey is anything but linear! Incredibly complex with a rich, long-lasting finish.
It goes without saying that I love this whiskey. I happen to feel the same way about all four of their expressions but each has its own purpose. This is the freshest, most vibrant whiskey that with its natural ABV, is also the most powerful in the Redbreast collection. When you move up to the 15 Year Old, the level of complexity becomes even more impressive, the balance becomes more impressive but depending on your preference, the excitement may not be the same. Yes, there is excitement in beauty but it’s not the same as the young Irish punk rock star that is the 12 Year Old Cask Strength.