Review: Redbreast 21 Whiskey

What better way to end the day than to wind down, play some mellow tunes and relax with an ounce of God’s own libation, a smooth and refined whiskey.

In 1912, Gilbey’s of Dublin (a wine and spirits merchant, who bottled whiskey in bond) began selling a 12 year old whiskey named Redbreast. The name was a reference to the Redbreast Robin (a type of small bird, common in Ireland) and is attributed to the Chairman of Gilbey’s, who was an avid ornithologist. In 1939 Jameson took over filling Gilbey’s own casks. Two sherry casks were used for each bourbon cask. The brand died off with the closure of Jameson’s distillery but was relaunched in 2010 from the Midleton Distillery which is approximately 20 miles outside of Cork City. Both Jameson and Midelton are part of the Irish Distiller’s Group.

Over the years, my wife and I have slowly graduated from the Jameson & Power’s 12 year old to the 12 year old Redbreast to the 15 and thought that life was grand. Unfortunately the 15 year old was only produced every four years, making it was hard to find. So when we found it, we stocked up—at least enough to tide us over until the next batch arrives in four years time. This was one of the richest and heaviest Irish pot still whiskeys, (until the 21 showed up). The Redbreast 15 is vatted from whiskeys aged between 15 and 19 years old and the cask selection is from 1st fill bourbon and sherry barrels.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine—John Suveges of Laguna Beach—asked if I would swing by and set up his Luxman PD-171A turntable. After dialing in the tonearm arm with a Brinkmann Pi cartridge, we settled back to enjoy some tunes—wonderfully musical and utterly relaxing. John was the culprit who introduced us to the 12 year old Redbreast in the first instance, so I should not have been surprised when he produced a bottle of 21 year old Redbreast. Maybe not as dramatic as Moses parting the Red Sea, but certainly as climatic as King Arthur finding the Holy Grail. One ounce of this precious elixir revealed that this was indeed the ne plus ultra of Irish Whiskey. While there is a clear taste progression from the 12 year old to the 12 year old cask strength and on to the 15 year old. The 21 is a dramatic difference in taste, almost like a liqueur whiskey. The sherry overtones are more pronounced in the 21 over the 12 or 15. The initial taste is quite sweet with hints of vanilla and caramel. The second phase of taste is more complex and brings with it heat that covers your tongue with a glow. The third is more like the aftertaste, which leaves you with a sweet finish and an overall feeling of contentment. Truly the water of life (Uisce Beatha in Gaelic) = whiskey.

Tasting Notes from Celtic Whiskey Shop and Wines on the Green

Nose – Remarkable aroma spanning fresh tropical fruits, nuts and rich dried fruit.

Palate – Soft vanilla, toasted oak, sherry nuttiness with a dusting of Pot Still spices. Luscious fleshy fruit notes complete the creamy mouth feel. Lingers—seemingly forever—to oak and pot still spices and then—the final bow from the Barley—where it all began.

Colour – Dark golden

Made from malted and unmalted barley, which are milled and mashed before being triple-distilled through traditional copper-pot stills. Matured in a mixture of bourbon barrels and first-fill oloroso casks, as well as some refilled casks resulting in a rich and complex whiskey. Redbreast 21 was named the Irish Whiskey of the Year by Whisky Advocate. Expect to pay around $250 for a 70cl bottle. By the way, if you are spending some serious money on a magnificent bottle of whiskey, you owe it to yourself to buy a pair of the Riedel whiskey glasses ($50 a pair). It’s the equivalent of replacing a generic power on your amp with a Shunyata Σ SIGMA High Current power cord. I know $3,500 is a lot of money, but what a transformation. No different than drinking out of the right glass. Sláinte (good health).

by Philip O'Hanlon

Music Evangelist and Master of Musical Enjoyment—Philip spends his time looking for fine music, tuning up synergistic electronic components to get the best sound, and making music compilations so he can share his listening journey and experiences with friends and acquaintances.

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