Is the new Redbreast flying too far from the flock?

Is the new Redbreast flying too far from the flock?

Irish Distillers have added a new permanent expression to their famous Redbreast range, and this one sits right at the top of the tree. Mark was sent to the Duoro region of Portugal to find out more about this 27-year-old single pot still whiskey.

News | 09 Mar 2020 | By Mark Jennings

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I am not actually in the Duoro Valley, the famously hilly home of port - I’m in Dublin: the Coronavirus scuppered the trip at the last minute. Apparently, it’s hammering it down in Portugal today and it’s sunny here, so that’s one plus.

The thing is, I’m nervous, but not about the virus.

Putting my cards on the table here, I’m a big fan of Redbreast – from the 12 to the 15 and 21 – their mix of ex-Bourbon and Oloroso sherry seasoned casks, and that signature pot still spiciness, tick all the right boxes for me. I’ve converted many sceptics to Irish whiskey through this range and there is always an open bottle at home. So why the worry? Well, frankly - it’s the port. When I heard that this lot had discovered a ton of port casks in the warehouse and decided to make them a component of this release I worried it was just an extension too far. I go hot and cold for port-y whisky at the best of times and couldn’t see how that much flavour impact and age wouldn’t just drown out the pot still character the range is famous for.

I had to sit down with the makers to find out whether this deserves to be part of such a historically significant range of whiskey.

“In creating this, Dave (McCabe - blender) and I drew on our experience of working with sherry and other wine casks over the years,“ said Master Blender, Billy Leighton, “this time, we wanted to push the boundaries”. They are keen to impress that they’ve been filling ruby port seasoned casks for 30 years and that this whiskey is not ‘port finished’.

It is in fact made up of four cask types – first-fill and refill ex-Bourbon casks, first-fill Oloroso and ruby port seasoned casks. The port casks were made by the deeply traditional, family-owned Tacopal cooperage on the Portuguese/Spanish border, where Irish Distillers have sourced from the past 30 years.

We taste some sherry, then some ruby port and finally the 27 Years Old itself.


Despite its punchy 54.6% this (literally) ruddy thing is simply gorgeous. A deeply integrated flavour profile, a balance made where the flavours are not so much layered on as infused with each other. It’s my beloved Redbreast 12 amped up to the max, and then some. As Dave noted, “The ruby port barrels contribute notes of mango, pineapple and berry to the robust flavour, clearly distinguishing it from the previous expressions in the collection”.

He’s right, it’s distinct, but it’s very much a Redbreast. All the Bourbon and sherry influence still neatly present, then something a little extra from the port. All the pot still character clearly articulated underneath a super juicy, overripe fruitiness that is just sublime. Somehow despite the age, the flavour isn’t mellowed, it’s dialled in. There’s a superb bitter almond nutty finish that goes on for years too, and just as it leaves you, you’re reminded this could only be single pot still by the final pepperiness. It’s the kind of whiskey you find yourself nosing the empty glass for a long while after and smiling.

I didn’t need to worry – this bird is part of the flock after all.

I get in the taxi to the airport and the driver asks what I’ve been up to. I tell him about the launch and he asks me about the whiskey. I say simply that it’s impressive enough to make writing about it rather easy. “I’d bloody hope so for 500 notes”, he replies with a smile. A fair point.

Tasting notes

Nose: Over-ripe barbecued pineapple, bergamot orange, sandalwood, fine wood polish, with a backbone of oily beeswax and vanilla bean.
Taste: Unctuous and mouth-filling, immediate white pepperiness into lashings of fleshy red plumbs, chewy dried mangoes and orange peel - a balsamic sweetness that doesn’t become sickly. Lots of single pot still character throughout.
Finish: Very long. A growing peppery, spicey astringency leaves the fruitiness behind but never becomes overpowering.

Other key details

Produced in limited quantities on an ongoing basis, Redbreast 27 Year Old is available in 11 markets from March 2020 at RRP €495.

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