Redbreast (12 year) Irish Whiskey

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day! I’ll be toasting the emerald isles with Redbreast – that gem of traditional Irish single pot still whiskey.

Redbreast is the 100% pure (single) pot still whiskey made by Irish Distillers Ltd. (IDL) at the “New” Midleton distillery. At the same distillery, the company’s other brown spirits, Jameson and Powers (both blends of grain whiskey with pot still whiskey) are produced using the same stills (three column and four pot stills). A smattering of other whiskeys are made here as well, including (by contract) Green Spot and Tullamore Dew. In fact, as my brother-in-law likes to put it – Jameson is basically watered-down Redbreast (that is, ‘diluted’ with grain whiskey).

Irish single pot still whiskey is similar in ethos to single-malt whisky. While the mashbill contains both unmalted and malted barley (usually in a ratio of 60 to 40), unlike single malt, the combination of both is distilled in traditional copper pot stills, which introduce a lot of character into the spirit (whereas stainless-steel column stills yield light, vodka-like grain spirit with little natural character). This yields a complex whiskey with a distinct oily, full mouthfeel. This “greasy” style of body is present in spades in Redbreast, but is difficult to discern (for me) in the blends containing only 40% pot still whiskey, such as Jameson and Powers. Redbreast will always have a spot on my shelf – not just because of the myriad awards it wins, but because its unique character and reasonable price point fit perfectly into my rotation of regulars.

Nose: A shock of greasy toffee and bacon fat, a hint of industrial solvent. Lots of spicy dried coconut and white pepper. Right out of the bottle, the young grain component (unmalted barley) is a little too sharp – a few minutes undisturbed in the glass will mellow this. Water dulls the nose… Don’t do it!

Palate: That pot-still greasiness and chewy mouth coating fullness is delectable. Lots of sweet brown sugar or molasses, root beer, and marshmallow. More dried coconut, some black licorice. Water only thins the body.

Finish: Very long and drenched in coconut, mixed dried herbs, and lavender. Later the coconut degrades into an impure cane sugar bitterness. Best to wash this away with more Redbreast!

Redbreast 12 is a must-try for that unique toothy quality. It’s a must-have because this level of quality just isn’t available at this price in competing single malts. Don’t bother with the water – you’ll only mess with the mouthfeel. Enjoy it as-is.

Redbreast (12 year) Irish Whiskey
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $38-$45
Acquired: (Bottle): Beltramo's in Menlo Park, CA. $38 Beltramo's.

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  • This is one of my favorite whiskeys – I’ll always have a bottle of this around. Anyone that I’ve introduced it to LOVES it. Read a review of it by John Hansell, tried it and fell in love. Your statement: “this level of quality just isn’t available at this price in competing single malts” – SPOT ON.

  • Redbreast is pretty good, but not as good as your review suggests.

    “Redbreast 12 is a must-try for that unique toothy quality. It’s a must-have because this level of quality just isn’t available at this price in competing single malts. Don’t bother with the water – you’ll only mess with the mouthfeel. Enjoy it as-is.”

    Yes, many single malt Scotch and Japanese whiskies compete and dominate in this price catagory. Two examples: Highland Park 12 YO, Yamazaki 12 YO. Redbreast suffers from a less refined, spicy palate. Water is necessary to tame it. It is a good whisky and a surprise for those used to the less complex Irish whiskies. my tasting notes resulted in a 86/100 score…very respectable stuff, but no panacea.

    • Cato, Thank you for the comment. I believe that whisky (and whiskey) tasting is subjective, and that what I find delightful in one whisky may be abhorrent to someone else. I happen to think that Redbreast 12’s flavor profile is unique in the price-range, and is therefore a must-try. I don’t believe that I’m alone in that assessment. As always (especially with tastings), everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. Thanks for sharing yours.

  • Just a note — copper stills vs. stainless steel stills don’t make a difference in how light the flavor is. That’d all be in the shape and design of the still.

    • I’m not up on my distillation chemistry, but I had understood that surface-area contact between distillate and copper, and the length of that contact, has a big impact on the resulting body, flavor, and intensity of the spirit. Whether that copper contact occurs in the still, the condenser coils, or whatever. Of course, shape and design (size of the still, lyne arm length and slope, etc.) also have a big impact.

      • I beg to differ with Wild Rover. A stainless steel still does not have the same distilling qualities as a copper still. The copper tends to aide in removing impurities from the distillate, thus producing a “cleaner” product. If the two were the same then why do all great distillerys use copper?

  • I think your suggestion to let the drink sit in the glass for a few minutes before drinking is right on! I just tried this tonight and it made a world of difference. I’m about 3/4 of the way through the bottle, and up until now, I found the nose and palate to be too harsh that I couldn’t appreciate the underlying deliciousness. I’m loving the bacon grease, brown sugar, and marshmallow flavors that eluded me previously. Thanks for the tip!

    • I have to say that this whiskey, albeit rather light and airy – yet ethanoly, is relatively complex and does several pleasurable things in ones system when combined with a good cuban. My favourites are Blackbush and especially Jameson 12 yrs but this one beats them both in some respects.

  • I have had my fair share of sipping whiskey’s but the Rolls Royce is Red Breast 12. It should be served straight up. Don’t hide the scent or taste (dilute). Add a teaspoon of cold water after every sip to wake those flavors up from time to time. I have had the 15 year Red Breast, and the bite seems a little too strong for my palate. I have turned on a lot of people to Red Breast. You can’t go wrong.

  • on my fifth bottle of redbreast 12 yr this year 2014.i have to say i bought the green spot a few months ago, and was really not impressed with it.for the few extra dollars for the redbreast it’s quite an improvement,you are getting the full 12 years of maturation,green spot 7 to 10 me redbreast regular 12 yr 40% the finest irish whiskey on the market today,GET SOME!!!!! STEVE G BOSTON,MASS.

    • I had the Green Spot and I was rather disappointed. It was course, bitter and unrefined. I think Mitchel’s & Sons (the distributors) are cashing out on a very well known brand name, by distributing whiskey that is way too young. Red Brest 12 is in the same price range but a much more complex, matured well around whiskey. Cheers.

  • Finally got to try this – picked up a bottle for this year’s St Patrick’s Day. 🙂 I agree it’s an outstanding value for what you are getting (even in Ontario, currently $67 CAD or ~$54 USD). A very rich and luxurious mouthfeel, I would almost describe it as “thick”. This is one case where the oily nature of grain whisky really comes through (in spades!). Quite distinctive, and surprisingly rich in flavour for a 12yo as well. Personally, I would probably consider this more of a “must try” than a “must have”, as the thicker mouthfeel may not be everyone’s preference. But definitely a great way to show off what that an oily mouthfeel is like. Thanks again for the review!

    • I bought a bottle of Redbreat 12 for 44$ CAD at the SAQ back in 2012. When I saw your comment, I checked the prices. It’s now 75.50$! What happened in 3 years to make that whiskey nearly double its price?

      It used to be my recommendation as a introduction whiskey. Well, not anymore.

      • Redbreast 12 has gotten expensive. IMO the price outran it’s quality somewhere between $50-$60US. It’s $70 where I live now.

  • I love Redbreast, but one Irish Whiskey that I might like more is the Irishman Founders Reserve it’s a blend of 70 percent single malt and 30 percent single pot still the result is heaven in a glass! I highly recommend you try it!!