Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey – Review

On this St. Patrick’s day, before we get to the whiskey, an open letter to Saint Patrick on behalf of snakes:

Dear Pat,

You’ve made quite a name for yourself over the years and we snakes realize that no small amount of your fame is derived from the legend of you driving us out of Ireland. We appreciate good myth as much as the next species, but frankly, enough is enough. It’s time to come clean and admit that the truth has been stretched beyond its limits here. Please allow us to point out a couple of the gaping holes in your story. You’ve claimed that we attacked you while you were fasting on top of a hill and you were able to not just repel us but even chase us all off the Emerald Isle and into the sea. Let’s just stop for a moment and think about this; if snakes decide to attack somebody it’s either because A) they’re hungry, B) they’ve been wronged, C) they’re hungry and they’ve been wronged. You clearly had not wronged any  snakes (you’ll see why in a minute), so presumably the attack was motivated by hunger. Here’s where the myth starts to break down: why on earth would we bother hauling our asses up a hill to snack on some scrawny, fasting hermit in stinky robes when we could just as easily stayed down in town snacking on that chubby Seamus O’Riordan kid? Of course, that’s not the biggest problem with this myth, no, the biggest problem is that, since the ice age, THERE HAVE BEEN NO SNAKES ON IRELAND. That’s right, an abundance of scientific evidence shows that for the last several thousand years, there have been no native species of snake there, sure the occasional house pet, but certainly no hill-climbing, saint-crazed mob to banish. There’s a legless reptile called a Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) that’s indigenous to the island, perhaps you meant them instead though, Slow Worms do still live on Ireland…and if you can’t banish a creature called a Slow Worm, well then, what kind of saint are you? So, in closing…give it up. We’re sure you’re saintly in many other ways and though we don’t know enough to comment on the walking stick turning in to tree thing or talking with really dead ancestors, we’re willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on those. On the snake banishing thing, however, come on. We weren’t there to banish in the first place, you know it, we know it, it’s time for the charade to end.

Yours in grass,

The Snakes.

Now then, Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey. Redbreast has long been one of Middleton Distillery’s crown jewels and until last year pretty much the only Pure Pot Still…excuse me, Single Pot Still Irish whiskey available outside Ireland. They expanded the range with the fantastic 15 Year Old in 2010 and then late last year, they unleashed this beauty on us. Much like the original 12 Year Old, this version has been aged in combination of ex-bourbon casks and Oloroso Sherry casks. This first “batch” has been vatted from 68 barrels and has been bottled, like its name suggests, at cask strength, non chill-filtered and free of artificial coloring. Redbreast has been one of my favorite whiskies since it first hit my lips in Ireland more than 10 years ago so needless to say I’ve been a little excited about this one, and I’m apparently I’m not the only one as the stuff is flying off the shelves and gathering up awards left and right.

The Nose:  Rich sherried fruit and buttery chocolate brownies at first with delicious notes of baked apples, caramel sauce, orgeat syrup, and vanilla bean ice cream. Sounds sweet, no? Well I suppose so, but all that rich, dessert-y sweetness is wonderfully countered by smooth polished oak notes, a bit of cedar chest, and though it’s less present than in the 12yo and 15yo, that crisp, mineral-y, grain quality I find and love in Redbreast. A bit of water softens things a bit, brings out a little more apple and plays down the wood a touch.

The Palate:  Wow. Initially, this hits the palate with some of the same sweetness from the nose with an oily mouthfeel and baked fruit notes. Big malt and dark chocolate notes follow, and then the wood sets in. Never quite overwhelming the sweeter fruitier notes, an insistent, unstoppable swell of soft cinnamon and vanilla bean glides into tannic clove and taught oak, and then into a little cardamom, a bit of white pepper and that crisp, slightly bitter Redbreast barley. Adding a little water coaxes more dark chocolate notes and calms the spice and wood without losing any of the complexity.

The Finish:  Wonderfully lingering oak notes with vanilla, cinnamon and sugar, a bit of that baked apple and that flinty grain fading away.

Thoughts:  A tremendous whiskey. At this point I expect Redbreast to be great, but that didn’t stop this from impressing the hell out of me. The Cask Strength has piled on more complex “dessert” notes on the nose while still keeping that bright, crisp single pot still quality. The palate is a virtuoso display of balance and progression, holding on to some of the early sweetness while showcasing both the grain and the influence of the wood. Excellent and drinkable right out of the bottle, a little water makes this stuff downright dangerous. My favorite whiskey of the year so far, and the best Irish whiskey I’ve had to date. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey

57.7% ABV

Score:  94

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Yes, I know I added this to a St. Patrick’s day post last year, you don’t have a problem with that do you? Of course you don’t.


5 thoughts on “Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey – Review

      1. That didn’t come across right did it? I’m trying to save money and not spend so much on booze. If I read your review first I would have bought it for sure and once again displayed my complete lack of financial discipline.

      2. Actually, no, it makes sense now. I have no idea why it didn’t the first time I read it, must’ve been all that green beer I drank. I’m with you on the saving money thing, in this case, tho’, it’s pretty worth it. You can have some when you come over with that trunkload of Japanese stuff.

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