I was going to write something snappy about St. Patrick, but frankly, I’ve kind of had it with the guy. We can all be pretty sure that he didn’t do most of the stuff he’s famous for, and the stuff he actually did do certainly doesn’t warrant millions of people pretending they’re Irish for a night, wearing stupid hats, drinking bad green drinks, and barfing on the streets. So instead, how about a little trip to southern Spain?
Why Spain on this Irish-y holiday? Because the Irish-y whiskey in question here has some pretty close ties to Spain, specifically Jerez, and Jerez’s namesake wine, Sherry. The use of sherry casks have always figured into the maturation of Redbreast whiskeys. Towards the end of 2016, the brand decided to add a whiskey to their core line that highlighted the use of these sherry casks and lo, The Redbreast Sherry Finish Lustau Edition Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey was born. The Lustau edition is comprised of single pot still whiskies between 9 and 12 years old, which have then been finished for a year in new Spanish Oak butts from the Paez Lobato Cooperage These casks have been “seasoned” with Oloroso sherry from Bodegas Lustau. The “seasoned” part of the equation means that the new casks were filled with Oloroso, sat a while, and then had the Oloroso dumped out to make room for the Irish whiskey.
Oloroso is a dry sherry, but in a way, almost a magically dry one. Unlike Fino and Amontillado sherries, Oloroso does not engage in any biological maturation. It has been fortified to a higher ABV, too high for flor, the film of yeast and bacteria that forms over the Fino, Amontillado, Manzanilla, and Palo Cortado styles during maturation and gives those wines their characteristic flavor. Instead, along with the additive notes provided by the casks, Oloroso is matured by oxidation. This process leaves Oloroso higher in alcohol than most sherries, and with elevated glycerol levels which leaves it with an ethereal sweetness despite it being typically a very dry sherry. In some ways, in terms of maturation Oloroso is the sherry that has the most in common with whisky…perhaps that is why ex-Oloroso or Oloroso-seasoned casks are commonly used to age whiskey.
For its primary maturation, Redbreast uses a combination of ex-sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks. Reportedly, all the ex-sherry casks used for Redbreast are made from Spanish Oak, which adds a different flavor to a whiskey than American Oak does. This is important to note because it’s a somewhat common misconception that all sherry casks are made from Spanish or European Oak. Indeed, the sherry industry has long used the less expensive American Oak for a majority of its maturation, with the Spanish Oak being reserved for the higher end expressions. For the Lustau edition, the intent was not just to increase the percentage of sherry cask-matured whiskey, doing so might have shown off more of the Spanish Oak and adding more oak was apparently not what they were after. The use of new, freshly seasoned casks to finish the whiskey was a way showcase the integrated Lustau Oloroso flavor profile more.
The Nose: Very Redbreast-y, and yet…not, or maybe more so. This is more expansive than the somewhat taut 12 year old, but it doesn’t necessarily scream sherry, it’s still very much in the Redbreast style. Quite fruity but with less tropical fruits; baked apples, rhubarb pie, macerated dates, plump raisins, and a little tinned fruit cocktail. Behind that, there’s sweetened grain (think cereal milk) vanilla syrup, black walnut ice cream, and a little fruitcake. The oak is subtle, lightly tannic and a little dusty, but the spice is not, solid baking spices, warm cinnamon, vanilla bean, ground nutmeg, ginger root, and fine ground pepper.
The Palate: A lightly creamy, oily mouthfeel which picks up on what the nose was laying down. A bit more sherry influence is evident here. There’s still nice baked fruit notes, with a bit more citrus present as well, pithy orange, stewed stone fruits, and more baked, slightly sour apple. Subtle youthful rancio notes, floral honey, toasted walnuts, along with vanilla fudge brownies, more fruitcake, and a little toffee. Sturdy, well-integrated, grippy oak and a powerful but balanced wave of spice; more cinnamon, clove, candied ginger, ground pepper and a hint of fennel.
The Finish: Longish, initially with baked fruits and citrus, but riding out on notes of caramel, vanilla bean, oak, and baking spice.
Thoughts: Excellent, perhaps predictably so, given that it’s Redbreast, but excellent all the same. The sherry influence is present throughout, but grows wonderfully from nose to finish. It’s a balanced, integrated, complex shading on the standard 12 year old’s flavor profile. They’ve done a masterful job of maintaining its “Redbreastness” and creating a unique expression that differs enough from the others in the core line to make it well worthwhile. Sherry casks have always been an integral part of Redbreast, the Lustau Edition is a celebration of that. Highly, highly recommended.
- Baiocchi, Talia. Sherry. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2014. Print.
- Luyten, Ruben. “Emilio Lustau.” SherryNotes. N.p., 22 Feb. 2017. Web. Mar. 2017.
- Luyten, Ruben. “Oloroso.” SherryNotes. N.p., 02 Oct. 2014. Web. Mar. 2017.
- “Redbreast.” Single Pot Still. N.p., n.d. Web. Mar. 2017.