John Hansell pointed this out in a recent post on the always excellent What Does John Know, but it was something I also noticed right away upon opening my bottle of Redbreast 15 year old: gone was the phrase “Pure Pot Still” that adorns the 12 year old bottle and in its place were the words “Single Irish Pot Still”. An ominous hush descended on the room, cold doubt gnawed me, a nameless fear gripped me…was this something different? I was so looking forward to a deeper, more mature version of the 12 year old, was the 15 year old not Pure Pot Still but just the usual “single malt” with some fancied-up text on the bottle? My world crumbled, expectations shattered, I turned to the only source of solace available to modern man, the internet. There I found my salvation, light filled the room and my spirit soared…oh elation, clutch me to your ample bosom! Redbreast 15 year old is indeed a pure pot still whiskey. But, then I thought, you know, what the hell, what gives with the wording change? Turns out it’s just another case of petty bureaucratic jockeying by the US Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB). Wait, you say, the TTB can be petty and bureaucratic? Shocking, I know, usually these government agencies run so reasonably and efficiently.
It turns out, thanks to the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906, that the word “pure” is a bit of a touchy subject for the TTB and they objected to the ages-old term “pure pot still”. Pure Pot Still connotes an Irish whiskey made from a combination of malted and un-malted barley, as opposed to, say, Single Malt Scotch which is distiled from 100% malted barley. There are only a small handful of whiskies made today in the Pure Pot Still style, but it remains an important tradition in Irish whiskey making. Somehow, Redbreast 12’s labeling was grandfathered in, though I don’t understand why that made it through and the 15 didn’t…to me it looks like both made it to the states long after 1906. In any case, changes are afoot because of this and eventually the 12 year old label will also say “Single Irish Pot Still”. In fact, these changes are so far afoot that the Irish Spirits Association will also be standardizing terms like this in the same way that the Scotch Whisky Association has done. So, in the meantime, we can all be confused by Single Irish Pot Still whiskies not being the same thing as Single Malt Irish whiskies even though they’re both made from barley in pot stills in Ireland. Certainly in these times, it’s weighty issues like these that try men’s souls. Redbreast 15 Year Old, like it’s younger brother, is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and sherry casks, but unlike it’s younger brother, is bottled non-chillfiltered and at a higher proof. Both Redbreasts are owned by Irish Distillers/Pernod Ricard and are produced in County Cork at the New Middleton Distillery.
The Nose: A more lush nose than the 12 year. Chocolate brownies and vanilla creme brulee…a little banana creme pie even, along with red fruit tones, berries and cherries, black cherry soda, and maybe cherry tootsie pops. The dessert-y quality is tempered and balanced by the bright grain, copper penny-sque pot still character and subtle leathery oak notes.
The Palate: Terrific, creamy, oily mouthfeel, with more red fruits vanilla bean and cocoa to start. Well toasted grain and salted walnuts give way to more brittle, crisp pure pot still spiciness which swells with nice, rich oak-y tannins towards the end. The heavier mouthfeel and richer earlier notes keep the palate from being as bright and agressive as the 12 year old, but there’s still a lot of potency here.
The Finish: Spicy, crisp, and tannic with lingering notes of bing cherries and unsweetened chocolate.
Thoughts: The 15 Year Old or the 12 Year Old…oh man, that’s a tough choice. Along with the 12yo, this is one of the best Irish Whiskies I’ve tasted. Kudos to the folks at New Middleton for keeping this one non-chillfiltered and bottling it a higher strength. Lush and mature, yet bracing and insistantly robust, there’s terrific complexity and balance allowing the uniqueness of the malted and un-malted barley of the “pure pot still” style to work perfectly with its time in wood. The 12yo has been a favorite whiskey of mine for more than 10 years, and though I’m tempted to think more highly of it for sentimental reasons, in my opinion the 15yo is just as great. The 12 year old is a perfect late afternoon, life-restoring dram, while the 15 year old might be more at home after dinner, gathered around the table swapping tales of lusty adventure. Highly, highly recommended.
Redbreast 15 year old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, non-chillfiltered
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!