As mentioned in my piece on Powers Irish Whiskey, the Irish Distillers is the name of the subsidiary based in the New Midleton Distillery, Cork. It is here that the brands including Powers, Jameson and Tullamore Dew are created and produced. Another name that you may have heard, or indeed seen, is Redbreast.
The brand has been in the news lately as they have just launched their 9th expression in the portfolio – Redbreast 21yr. This new age-statement sits alongside the Redbreast 12yr, Redbreast 12yr Cask Strength and Redbreast 15yr to complete the largest-selling and most definitive Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey brand in the world.
Not a bad title eh? But how did it all come about to be named with such an accolade?
It all starts with W & A Gilbey, which was founded in 1857 and began in small basement cellars at the corner of Oxford Street and Berwick Street in London. Gilbeys benefitted greatly from the introduction of the off-licence system that was introduced in 1860, and a commercial agreement between Britain and France in 1861, following which, the British Prime Minister Gladstone reduced duty on French wines from 12 shillings to 2 shillings. Gilbeys were successful from the start and, within a couple of years, had branches in Dublin, Belfast and Edinburgh. 1861 saw Gilbeys open a premises at 31 Upper Sackville Street in Dublin (now called O’Connell Street), and were described as wine importers and distillers. Initially famous for their wines, spirits were becoming a greater part of Gilbey’s business. By 1874, Gilbeys held a stock in bond of over 300,000 gallons of whiskey sourced from “the most celebrated Dublin Distilleries”, with the proprietary brand at this time named Gilbey’s Castle Whiskey.
The precursor to Redbreast came in In 1903 as Gilbey’s whiskey brands at that time included Castle Grand JJ 6yr and Castle Liqueur JJ 10yr (JJ standing for John Jameson) and both bearing the signature of John Jameson & Son. The following year, John Jameson & Son’s Castle “JJ Liqueur” Whiskey 12yr, was being marketed in a bottle, similar in shape, and bearing the red and white label seen on Redbreast bottlings up until the 1960’s. In the mid 1960’s, Redbreast was being bottled annually in batches of approximately 4,000 gallons (18,000 litres) to satisfy a steady demand for the brand. Minor changes to the bottle occurred throughout the 1960’s including, from 1964, an age statement appearing on the foil cap seal. The familiar Redbreast white label with red writing remained largely unchanged until at least 1972.
In 1970, Irish Distillers Ltd. (IDL) decided to phase out the sales of bulk whiskey ‘by the cask’ to the wholesalers and retailers (bonders) who bottled it themselves. Increasing export demand, and plans to increase its portfolio of brands, necessitated the retention of as much mature whiskey as possible. Gilbeys however, managed to persuade IDL to continue supplying them pure pot still whiskey for Redbreast until the closure of Bow Street Distillery in the summer of 1971. The last bottling of Redbreast under the Gilbey’s banner occurred in 1985. In 1986 Gilbey’s, who had long since stopped maturing Redbreast in their vaults in Harcourt Street, entered into an agreement to sell the brand name to Irish Distillers.
In December 1991, Redbreast was re-introduced by Irish Distillers Limited, after an absence of almost 10 years. The pot still whiskey was given a thorough makeover and benefitted from the Irish Distiller’s revamped wood programme. It wasn’t all good though. Who could forget the ill-fated gesture to a local distributor of long-standing, Edward Dillon & Co, where Irish Distillers supplied an exclusive bottling of a Redbreast pot-still and grain whiskey blend. It didn’t catch on.
Now though, the oldest and richest expression in the decorated Redbreast family, Redbreast 21yr, has been launched, eight years after the Redbreast 15yr made its debut. But how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting note alongside its other expressions that I have come across –
Redbreast 12yr – 40%
Matured in oloroso sherry casks. Sharp on the nose with a rich aroma of red fruit. Hints of spice on the palate with a rich yet short offering of citrus and nuts.
Redbreast 21yr – 46%
Made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley, triple distilled in copper pot stills and matured in a combination of American Bourbon barrels and first fill Spanish oloroso sherry casks.
Dried fruits on the nose, with a subtle hint of bananas and pineapple near the end. Soft on the palate with the oak and sherry dominating the smooth palate. A little spice on the lingering finish, with the barley the finale.
Some great expressions available, with the 21yr available now in very limited quantities.
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