By S.D. Peters
Until recently in the U.S., Jameson and Bushmills White Label were to Irish Whiskey what Jim Beam Rye and Old Overholt were to American Rye Whiskey: the few examples of their type readily available to U.S. whiskey drinkers. Like American Rye, Irish Whiskey was a once popular whiskey fallen on hard times — and now, also like Rye, it’s reclaiming it’s place.
While blended Scotch, Bourbon, and Canadian whiskeys offer some “bottom-shelf” brands of poor quality, common Irish Whiskeys like Jameson, Bushmills, Powers, and Tullamore Dew maintain an admirable consistency across brands, but those are the blended Irish Whiskeys.
Pot still whiskey — a mash of malted and unmalted green barley that’s triple distilled in copper pot stills — is unique to Ireland, and a principal component of blended Irish Whiskey. Single pot still whiskey is another term for this unique distillation process; a term that the Midleton Distillery, County Cork, uses for its Redbreast and Green Spot brands. A marketing gimmick? Perhaps, but Redbreast in particular is a singular Irish Whiskey no matter what you call the pot.
The Midleton Distillery is home to several brands, including the Jameson and Powers. Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, available in 12 and 15 Year expressions, is their premier offering.
First appearing in August 1912 as “Redbreast” J.J. Liqueur Whiskey 12 Years Old, it was sold as a brand of W & A Gilbey. The name appears to have been a nickname for Gilbey’s Castle “JJ Liqueur” Whiskey 12 Years Old, a product of John Jameson & Sons. The name comes from the songbird Erithacus rubecula, commonly called the robin redbreast, apparently a favorite of Gilbeys then-Chairman, a bird watcher.
Redbreast 12 Year Single Pot Still “Cask Strength” Irish Whiskey is, as the name says, the cask strength bottling of the Redbreast 12 Year expression — 119 Proof in this case. Contained in the same broad-bodied bottle as its standard expression, the Cask Strength expression pours a ruddy redbreast amber into the glass, much richer than the light gold character of most Irish Whiskey. A swirl of butterscotch and brandy greet the nose as they unwrap the light spring berries familiar to pot still whiskey before a gust of chocolate-dusted caramel toughens it.
Full-bodied and smooth – exceptionally so for 119 proof – Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength’s flavor is even better. Dew-dappled grass, vanilla wafers, almonds, and Spanish brandy precede a detectibly long finish of toffey, chocolate-dipped cherries, and a slice of strawberry. A superb, mollifiable sipping whiskey.
Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey may be more elusive than its standard bottling. If you can’t find a bottle, which runs between $58-$68, look for a taproom with a large whiskey library — if you happen to be in Washington, D.C., head to Jack Rose Saloon in Adams Morgan for a taste.
Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey is highly-rated and has won numerous awards, including, in 2012, Gold Awards from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and Wizards of Whiskey.