Friday, November 6, 2009

Redbreast 12 year old

Upon opening (for the very first time) the bottle and pouring a dram, there was an initial strong alcohol scent, which quickly changed to lemon citrus with some malty undertones. These aromas are nothing special. However, if you let the whiskey breathe in a tumbler for a few minutes, the aromas rising up become much maltier and therefore quite pleasant. The initial unpleasant alcohol scents never return once you have opened the bottle.

Nose of dandelion flower, wet grass, early morning cool misty air against a malty background frame the aromas.

Palate (undiluted)
Initially, sweet ginger and thick honey dance upon the palate. Cinnamon and sherry emerge mid-palate.

Finish (undiluted)
Crunch of dark toast moving to spicy hot cinnamon, then sherry and finally the distinct taste of bruised Japanese tangerine on the finish. There is an interplay between spoilt sherry and spicy ginger and the former wins out in the end.

Palate (diluted)
Add one teaspoon of water and this whiskey reveals its complexity of flavor. It tastes more honeyed rather than the concentrated cinnamon and sherry revealed when sampled neat. Besides the honey being brought to the foreground, there appears rich cinnamon and ginger weaving a pleasing tapestry upon the palate. What I enjoy about the addition of water is that it subdues the sherry considerably. Drank neat, the sherry is out of balance, too dominant. The water beautifully remedies that imbalance. Besides the cinnamon, the other flavors of honey and ginger emerge as if drizzled on the dark toast I noted when drammed neat. Big, round flavors of maple syrup drizzled Belgian waffles participate at mid-palate.

The addition of water does not ruin the drink by any means. Some whiskies benefit enormously from the addition of water, while others do not. Redbreast 12 yr falls into the former category.

Finish (diluted)
Spiced butterscotch, toffee and the faintest of ocean spray emerges on the finish.

General Impressions

In a blind taste test, this Irish whiskey, if diluted with a teaspoon of water to a shot, could pass for a Speyside single malt scotch. It has all the classic flavors of honey, cinnamon, toffee and butterscotch without any peat. I am going out on a limb here, but I find considerable similarities (if diluted) with Cragganmore 12yr old.

Big bodied, round flavors of malt, cinnamon, and burnt toast. Consumed neat, this whisky has some complexity of flavors, but not on par with great Speyside single malt scotches. No grainy flavor, nasty bite or burn here. Just lots of rich chocolate, thick, spiced honey and cinnamon flavors bouncing off each other. Needs water to bring out the complexity of the aforementioned flavors.

It’s good but not great if enjoyed neat. The sherry has an alcohol imprint and the spoiled taste of bruised tangerines, ever so slight on the finish, cheapens an otherwise good Irish whiskey.

I would buy this if I could not locate Cragganmore 12. If I am in the mood for an Irish whiskey, I would probably pass on this and go for Bushmills Black Bush. To my palate, it is so similar to Speyside scotch that I would rather buy the real thing. That being said, this is a fine whiskey that would make an acceptable gift or serving to your whiskey loving friends.

The online reviews for this whiskey are almost universally positive, but I cannot give it an automatic thumbs-up. The sherry and bruised tangerine flavors result in a finish that also has a distinct alcohol flavor that unpleasantly cheapens the flavor profile. For that reason, I am put off by this Irish whiskey. It’s good but not what I would call "great" to borrow from 'Tony the Tiger' of childhood cereal advertising (Frosted Flakes). I am in a minority opinion on this point, but hey I call it how I taste it. I am fairly sure I would not buy this again because I keep thinking this is a lot like Cragganmore 12 yr old, and why buy the imitator when you can have the real thing!


P.S. I have been drinking this over the past few weeks and like it less and less. The off sherry and tangerine notes I mention above are ever-present. Not liking this very much and definitely would not buy again. This is one to pass on, especially in light of the moderately high price.

Update April 2010:  The above review was for a 2007-2008 bottling that did have problems with off notes.  Apparently this issue has been resolved and it is much better.  If those off notes are not in it now, it is a very good Irish whiskey to buy.  Trouble is, I have not been able to pick it up where I live.

Jason Debly

© Jason Debly, 2009 - 2011. All rights reserved.


  1. Have you tried any of the Jameson or Powers Irish Whiskey's? I find them much more enjoyable than Bushmills and for a similar price, Jameson 18 year blows Redbreast away. Of course I know that taste is subjective so these are just my opinions

  2. Oops I stand corrected, I just double checked prices and Redbreast seems to be much cheaper in the US. I had tried it side by side with the Jameson 18 year in Dublin last Oct. at the distillery and the price was about the same over there.

  3. I have not tried Jameson 18yrs old. It's around $100 a bottle where I am. I have had Jameson 12yr old and was not overly impressed.

    What I hear is the 18 is very good. I hope to tackle it eventually in a future tasting note post.



  4. I have to agree with 99% of the review out there on Redbreast. Best Irish Whiskey I have ever tried. Haven't tried Jameson 18yrs, but it blows away any of the entry Bushmills (white or black), Powers, Paddys, Tullamore Dew, Killbegans, etc. Just picked a bottle of Black Bush. It's nice, but comes no where near the complexity and enjoyment of Redbreast!

  5. I think I am the only guy who is not crazy about Red Breast. I sometimes wonder if I just picked up a "flawed" bottle. Whisky is after all organic and there is the odd bad bottle out there. I bought it in Freeport, Maine, at a tiny liquor store. The Redbreast bottle was very dusty. I dunno. Will have to try another maybe.

    Thanks for posting!


  6. Hi, I'm the first/second commenter that was talking about the 18 year Jameson. So within the last year (2009) dating an Irish "lass" who along with the rest of her family is actually from Ireland, I've been getting lots of exposure to Irish whiskey and Scotch.

    I will say that Redbreast IS pretty good. When I tried it side by side with the Jameson Gold and the 18 year in a 3 whiskey tasting "package" at the Jameson distillery this last October it seemed like the 18 year was the best. I just had a chance to try it again at a local Irish pub in Sacramento, CA. As before I tried it both straight up and with a drop of water. This time of course it was on its own. Maybe it was lingering food flavors or whatnot, but I wasn't as impressed by the 18 year a second time on its own.

    Anyway I'm looking forward to checking out more of your reviews. This is the kind of site I've been looking for!! Actually about to go look at your Wild Turkey 101 review. We used to call that going on a "turkey shoot" when I was in the Navy haha.

  7. Hi Charles! You mentioned that when you tried the Jameson 18yr a second time in a Sacremento pub that it did not impress you. I think your suspicion that food may have played a factor is correct.

    Food and drinks, I find within three hours of sipping scotch or any whisky can interfere with the appreciation of the whisky at hand. I experienced this recently with the Suntory Yamazaki 18 year old. Highly praised by the critics, but left me wondering what was the big deal. Well, on further reflection I realized that I had been drinking Makers Mark before sipping the Yamazaki and drinking water in between the whisky and bourbon was not sufficient to cleanse the palate. So, I am now writing a Yamazaki 18 yr review properly.

    If I am in a bar, and will be eating nachos or what not, I just reach for the same whisky all night. Generally, it will be one that is not overly complex. Something like Bushmills Black Bush or Jim Beam Black, etc.

    Anyway, Jameson 18yrs is yet another I have to review.


  8. That was a nice review. I tried Redbreast for the first time last night and felt it was the first Irish that I really liked. Various other Bushmills, Powers and Jamesons products, including Black Bush, haven't done it for me.

    The part that rang true to me about your review was the comparison to Cragganmore, one of my all-time favorites. Redbreast is very much Irish instead of Scotch, but still the comparison seems valid to me. They're both whiskeys that try to do an awful lot.

    Anyway, thanks for an interesting review. I can only suggest that you put the bottle aside for a month or two and try it again during the first week of spring. Perhaps it strike a nicer chord then. :)

  9. Eh! Justin, thanks for the comments.

    Redbreast is good stuff. The bottle I had was a old, sat on a liquor store shelf for a couple of years and had a thick layer of dust on it. I will give it another try sometime with a new purchase.

    Keep on sippin'!

  10. Hi Jason,
    I just took a bottle of Redbreast 12 to a Superbowl party yesterday and it was a HUGE hit. The light sherry influence was extremely clean.

    I checked out Jim Murray's whisky bible, and at the end of his rave for this expression, he said something about it being "back", and also referenced some potentially bad sherry casks in a previous year.

    Mine was bottled in September 2009. If yours is from a couple of years ago, maybe you should try a newer one.


  11. Jeff, you are probably right, or should I say Jim Murray. My problem with this whisky was with the off-sherry note on the finish. So, this would be consistent with some poor sherry casks. My bottle was about three years old so this may be the explanation.

    Unfortunately, I cannot get this whisky where I live so I will have to wait until I travel again.

    THanks for the comments. I think you hit the nail on the head.

  12. Very good Whiskey, not even close to Jameson 18yr or Black Bush Anniversary but much better than most.

  13. A bit late to comment, but Redbreast isn't a blend. It's not a mixture of multiple whiskies -- the barley used to produce the single whiskey is a mixture of malted and unmalted barley.

  14. Anonymous, you are correct, and I have deleted reference to this whiskey as a 'blend.'

    The confusion stems how pure pot still make is produced. As you know, the mash is a combination of malted barley and unmalted grain. In Scotland, a whisky that is produced where barley and any other grain is involved must be called a blend. Not so in Ireland. In Ireland, the law states a blend must be the product of more than one distillery. As Redbreast is not the product of more than one distillery, it is not a blend. However, from the Scottish perspective it is a blend because of the presence of grains other than malted barley.

    Very good point!

  15. "As Redbreast is not the product of more than one distillery, it is not a blend. However, from the Scottish perspective it is a blend because of the presence of grains other than malted barley."

    That is still an incorrect assumption ... Scotland has no description for whiskey produced in this way. A blend in Scotland is Malt Whiskey blended with grain whiskey ... however Irish Pot Still is not a blend at all. It is made from a single distilation of a combined mash of malted and unmalted barley. It needs to be asserted that this is a single whiskey like single malt or a small batch bourbon and not a blend.

  16. Get a more recent bottle and give it another go...I think you will it enjoy it. I received a bottle for Christmas this year and I was pleasantly surprised. Pure pot still is good stuff!!

  17. Jason, I used up the tail end of a Redbreast 12 in a batch of Holiday Cheer last month. Replaced it with a new bottle and poured with our group Sunday. Didn't find any off or bitter notes of wood or ash or fruit. The style is definitely a lean one, in the "sourly dry citrus and tea style": heaps of lemon, vanilla cake, winter spices. For $40 small US, it stands in well for me as a pleasant change up from Glenfiddich 15 and Glenlivet 15. Not my usual, but every now and then, satisfying. JK

  18. Jason, We've just uncorked our bottle of Holiday Cheer from last Winter's make. It's ready for Thanksgiving evening by the fire. The character of the base spirit itself (the bitter and lemon aspects) pushed into this batch more than usual. Apparently, it's a strong personality. Very Irish. Cheers ! JK. .