Redbreast marks the end of an era with the Dream Cask Zenith Edition

Redbreast marks the end of an era with the Dream Cask Zenith Edition

We caught up with Redbreast master blender Dave McCabe to learn about the final release in the Redbreast Dream Cask Collection, the Zenith Edition, which will be made available exclusively by ballot to members of The Birdhouse, the brand’s members club.

Interview | 15 May 2024

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This promotional feature was created by the Whisky Magazine team in partnership with Redbreast

When Irish Distillers' master blender Dave McCabe stood in a warehouse at Midleton Distillery in County Cork back in May 2017, while getting ready to do a Facebook livestream for World Whisky Day alongside his esteemed colleague Billy Leighton, he had no idea that the afternoon’s live tasting would lead to a much-lauded series of whiskeys: the Redbreast Dream Cask Collection.

 

“As we sampled the whiskey, we said: ‘Maybe it’s something we could bottle for the future’,” recalls McCabe. “And that snowball turned into an avalanche!” After the event, requests came in thick and fast to release the one-off whiskey and begin a series of venerably aged single-cask bottlings. By 2018, the Redbreast Dream Cask Collection had been born.

 

Fast forward to 2024. This year, the final edition in this highly sought-after series of single-cask whiskeys — launched each year on World Whisky Day — will be released. The series concludes with the Redbreast Dream Cask Collection Zenith Edition, a 38-year-old whiskey distilled in 1985 and bottled at 45.3% ABV.

 

The series holds especially fond memories for McCabe, who has recently taken on the mantle of master blender following Leighton’s departure after nearly five decades with Redbreast’s parent company, Irish Distillers. “So, seven editions later, it’s coming to a fitting end, tying Billy’s last Dream Cask in with his last year with the company. It’s been a huge chapter and a huge adventure,” adds McCabe.

 

Each year, Redbreast Dream Cask’s single-cask bottlings have allowed Leighton and McCabe to explore avenues of maturation that may not otherwise have been possible for releases with higher production volumes. To date, these single-cask editions have ranged from a 28-year-old ex-ruby port cask to a 20-year-old edition finished in an ex-Pedro Ximénez sherry cask and a 29-year-old finished in an oloroso sherry cask, amongst others.

The Redbreast Dream Cask Series

But it’s not always been an easy task. McCabe and Leighton often went back and forth numerous times to ensure there was something truly unique for those lucky enough to get their hands on a bottle, which can only be purchased via an online ballot by members of The Birdhouse, Redbreast’s members’ club.

 

“You feel you have a major responsibility to create something that is worthy of a Dream Cask release,” admits McCabe. “Sometimes it is about finding something really rare and wonderful in a selection of casks you might have tucked in the corner of a warehouse, and sometimes it’s about thinking: ‘How do we make something we already have into a Dream Cask through re-casking or finishing it in something else, or marrying casks together?”

 

Due to launch on 16 May 2024, The Zenith Edition mirrors the very first release in the Dream Cask series as it is drawn from the same parcel of spirit distilled in 1985. The very first Dream Cask whiskey was released at 32 years of age and had spent much of its life maturing in an ex-bourbon barrel before being re-casked into a first-fill oloroso sherry-seasoned oak butt for the last six years. The latest edition follows the same pathway, having spent most of its life in an ex-bourbon barrel before being re-casked into a first-fill oloroso sherry-seasoned butt in 2013.

 

A fitting close to an already astounding collection, McCabe says this new release is an exceptional example of Redbreast finished for more than a decade in an oloroso sherry-seasoned oak cask and it more than holds its own against the initial release in the series. “The influence from the oloroso played a bit more heavily in this offering,” he says, explaining that it features notes of blackcurrant, menthol, liquorice, and both dried and fresh fruits.

Redbreast master blender Dave McCabe

For McCabe, this final release signals not only the end of a chapter in a whiskey series but also the end of an important time in his working life — an era in which he’s learned so much from Leighton, whose retirement from his role of master blender marks a major step change for Redbreast. “I feel a bit emotional about it as Billy and I spent so much time side by side choosing these samples. We’ve done re-casking, double casking, and explored various flavour profiles. This last one is the closing of a chapter that’s probably had the biggest influence on my career,” he says.

 

McCabe started with the company in 2010, working on the brand home side developing the Irish Whiskey Academy at Midleton Distillery. As he started taking groups through the Academy, McCabe would often have Leighton in to help give lectures and lessons on Irish whiskey. The job allowed McCabe to explore all parts of the distillery process, and eventually to join Leighton on trips to Spain to learn more about the cooperages, bodegas and people the Redbreast team work with in the sherry industry. During this time, he learned about the production process of the characterful barrels which play a key role in creating Redbreast’s distinctive flavour profile.

 

A year-long apprenticeship followed, during which he studied under Leighton before eventually being brought in as a full member of the blending team in early 2017. As McCabe steps into Leighton’s shoes as master blender, he says his focus will be on ensuring he builds on the legacy that has already been created before him, acting as a steward and guardian of the brand moving forward.

 

“The feeling is that I’ve been handed over a baton in a relay race. It’s something I want to cherish, but not be a maverick in terms of making it my own. I want to ensure Billy’s legacy is continued, in the quality of the brands he has worked on but also those I’ll create in the future. I’m not looking to knock down any walls he’s created,” he adds.

 

Alongside limited editions such as the Redbreast Dream Cask series, there are of course numerous other releases that McCabe will have his eye — and nose — firmly on in his role moving forward. From the highly acclaimed Redbreast 27 Year Old — the oldest permanent edition in the range, which is matured in a combination of ex-bourbon, sherry and ruby port casks — to the Iberian Series — which launched in 2021 and focuses specifically on whiskeys inspired by the connections between the distillery and cooperages and wineries in the Iberian Peninsula — McCabe will certainly have no shortage of intriguing and indulgent single pot still whiskeys to work with.           

Midleton Distillery

Of course, there is also the much-loved Redbreast 12 Years Old, which McCabe says would be his personal pick of a whiskey that covers all bases. “It is such an approachable whiskey for someone who might never have dipped their toe in, but it’s so complex that even if you are a seasoned whiskey drinker you’ll find something interesting in it. It is a great introductory whiskey to represent Ireland and everything pot still related,” enthuses McCabe.

 

With the finale of the Dream Cask series, McCabe has his sights set firmly on a future that he assures will still be filled with innovation and exciting releases. But, he concludes, whichever Redbreast whiskey people choose to enjoy, there is one thing to remember: “With whiskey, it is never as good as when you share it with someone, because you get to talk about it. You just want to shout from the rooftops when you have a great one!”

 

Priced at €1,000, the final Redbreast Dream Cask — the Zenith Edition — is bottled at 43.5% ABV and is available to purchase exclusively through an online ballot for Redbreast Birdhouse members. The ballot runs from 12pm GMT on Monday, 20 May to 12pm BST on Friday, May 24th.

 

Sign up to become a member of The Birdhouse today at www.redbreastwhiskey.com/en/thebirdhouse

Redbreast Dream Cask Zenith Edition
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