In 2008, Redbreast, revolutionized the whiskey world.
Most American drinkers and bartenders had never seen the brand before nor ever had tasted traditional single pot still Irish whiskey. For decades, the only Irish whiskey you could get in the U.S. was a blend or a single malt.
But single pot still whiskey is a completely different spirit, whose history goes back centuries and was shaped by a number of factors, including the ongoing battle between distillers and tax collectors.
The base of the spirit is a mix of malted and unmalted barley. (Single malt, whether made in Ireland, Scotland or America, on the other hand, is distilled exclusively from malted barley.) Irish distilleries started adding the unmalted barley, since at the time they only had to pay tax on the malted barley portion of the mash. As a result of this mix and three distillations in traditional onion-shaped copper pot stills, Redbreast has an incredible smoothness and silky mouthfeel.
The whiskey is then aged in barrels made in Jerez de la Frontera that formerly held some of the finest Spanish sherries in the world. The wood retains a bit of sherry, which slowly flavors the whiskey that ages for a minimum of 12 years. The finished Redbreast is full of amazing apple and pear notes with a hint of spice reminiscent of Christmas fruitcake
The earliest mention of Redbreast whiskey occurred in the summer of 1912. At the time the brand was owned by wine and spirt merchant W&A Gilbey, which was getting its whiskey from John Jameson & Son. The catchy name was thought up by the chairman of Gilbey who had originally planned a series of whiskies named for birds, in this case the Robin Redbreast. (Redbreast is the only one that is known to have come to fruition.)
In the mid-1980s, the brand was sold to Irish Distillers (the owners of Jameson). The fortunes of Irish whiskey, however, were very low at the time. Thanks to changing tastes and the enduring legacy of America’s Prohibition, the Irish whiskey business was decimated and there were just three distilleries left out of the hundreds that once dotted the island. The demand for Irish whiskey was at an all-time low and as a result Redbreast was discontinued for nearly ten years. Fortunately, drinkers around the world began to once again ask for Irish whiskey and Redbreast was brought back in 1991.
Irish Distillers “relaunched Redbreast as a 12 year old. This is traditional Irish pot-still at its richest: well matured and with a generous slug of sherry. For some lovers of this style, Redbreast approaches perfection,” wrote famed whiskey authority and author Michael Jackson.
What also helped reestablish the brand with whiskey drinkers and bartenders was that in 2005, Redbreast 15-Year-Old was introduced. This new addition to the Redbreast line was so well received that Jim Murray named it the Irish whiskey of the year in his annual guide, the Whisky Bible.
A few years later, the brand finally made the trip across the ocean and the whiskey was launched in America. (At the time, it was the only single pot still Irish whiskey available.) It almost immediately became a sensation with whiskey drinkers and bartenders and soon appeared on menus across the country.
The original 12-year-old, the 15-year-old and the Cask Strength 12-Year-Old, which was launched in 2012, and the incredibly rare 21-Year-Old, are now available in U.S. liquor stores.
No matter the age, all of the Redbreast whiskey is made in the same traditional pot stills from malted and unmalted barley, and distilled three times.
We hope you enjoy this rare and traditional whiskey. Slàinte!