Irish Distillers Limited, owners of the Midleton Distillery and many of the brands that are synonymous with Irish Whiskey, made a big splash this year by releasing several special editions that show off their monopoly on the classic Irish style of Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey (now called Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, by law). Two of those releases, Barry Crockett Legacy and Powers John’s Lane, were priced distinctly out of my comfort range and I’ve duly ignored them. However, when IDL released a cask-strength edition of my favorite Irish whiskey (and one of my favorite whiskeys ever), Redbreast 12 year, I clamored for a bottle. Intelligently priced at $60 – $65 retail (at 57.7% ABV, it’s almost 50% higher strength, so pricing it at less than 50% above the non-CS standard bottling is responsible pricing, in my opinion), and it’s damn good!
Nose: Poignant alcohol tickle, making it difficult to get an accurate nosing. After a rest in the glass, I get a blast of coconut milk, cinnamon, honey-sweetened iced tea, and vanilla. In fact, it has all the ingredients of a chai latte. Several more minutes of resting benefits the dram significantly, revealing soft maltiness, subtle lemon, and sugary vanilla icing.
Palate: A torrent of coconut and spice is followed by mouth-numbing concentrations of alcohol. When the haze clears, I get warm notes of brown sugar, caramel macchiato, a metallic twinge of copper (like licking an old penny), and a peppery herbal twist.
Finish: Mildly bitter, and of medium length. The coconut shows itself and fades, followed by black pepper, almond skins, vanilla saltwater taffy, and finally some charred oak.
With Water: Water brings out the sweetest notes in the nose – mostly vanilla ice cream and processed (white) sugar. It does the same to the palate – softening the rougher edges of the alcohol. It makes the dram sweeter and easier to drink (a plus), but reduces the complexity and totally washes out the coppery oily meaty notes (a minus). Your choice!
Overall: A powerhouse dram of Irish whiskey that’s more Flogging Molly than The Irish Rovers. At once hectic and well-packaged, it demonstrates the intense concentration of flavor possible at cask strength while also showcasing the finer notes of damn fine pot-still Irish whiskey. If single-malt scotch is a refined sporting gentleman, this dram is a bare-knuckle boxing Irish dockworker with a dozen pints in him. If you like Redbreast 12, you’ll like this better. If you don’t care for cask-strength or robustly-flavored whiskey, stick with the Redbreast 12. This one is loud, brazen, and powerful – you won’t soon forget the category of Irish whiskey with a glass of this in front of you. Sláinte!