REDBREAST KENTUCKY OAK EDITION
Released Summer 2022
MASH BILL – blend of malted and unmalted barley
PROOF – 101
AGE – NAS
DISTILLERY – Midleton Distillery (Irish Distillers Ltd.)
PRICE – $88 (more commonly ~$100)
WORTH BUYING? – At a discount, yes.
I’m a fan of the cask strength Redbreast releases, whether their standard 12 Year or occasional limited editions. Their lower-proof releases are perfectly fine, though they can have that plastic note I seem to often pick up with mainstream scotch and Irish whiskey—Aberfeldy 18 Year or Red Spot, for example. My suspicion that this note comes from added color will be forever unproven. But I just don’t ever get it from whiskies with no color added. 🤷🏼♂️
This Kentucky Oak Edition’s label doesn’t specify about added color either way—a fairly dependable indication it’s in there. And though it’s not a cask strength release, it has been bottled at a higher ABV than usual: 50.5%, or 101 proof, a proof strongly associated with Wild Turkey. If this is an homage it is a generous one from a marketing standpoint, given Wild Turkey and Redbreast are owned by different parent companies—Compari and Pernod Ricard respectively.
Perhaps the choice of 101 proof is indeed purely due to taste and not an homage of any kind. But it’s hard not to think of the iconic Wild Turkey 101 in relation to something bottled at that proof and subtitled “Kentucky Oak Edition.” Marketing aside, I’m very curious to try a Redbreast bottling with the whiskey’s innate American bourbon influence kicked up a notch by a second maturation in fresh Kentucky oak, and the typical ABV raised substantially.
This edition begins as any Redbreast typically does—triple distilled in copper pot stills, matured in used American oak bourbon barrels and Spanish Oloroso sherry butts. The twist then comes from an additional three to seven months in specially selected new American white oak barrels, sourced from Elk Cave Farms, a sustainable family-run oak tree farm in Kentucky. And though artificial color may likely be added at bottling, we do know for certain it’s non-chill filtered to allow all the natural flavors to remain.
So here we are, about three weeks after uncorking and a handful of pours into the bottle. I’m tasting this after a five-day dry spell, so my palate is quite clear. I mention this because during that dry spell I’ve read a few unfavorable reviews of this release, and my own first few tastes had together left me puzzled. So I’m very curious about this whiskey today.
After waking up my palate from its five-day snooze with a bit of Wild Turkey Master’s Keep One—chosen for also being 101 proof and finished in a second barrel—these brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – straw and honey amber, very reflective of the world around it
NOSE – cooled baked banana with walnuts, vanilla pudding, subtle cinnamon and brown sugar, cream
TASTE – the baked banana and vanilla pudding drizzled with a tannic oak syrup (is that a thing?), banana bubblegum, a slightly prickly but lovely warmth
FINISH – that nice warmth gradually fading like a cooling mint, with the banana, vanilla pudding, and oak all lingering with it… and a fleeting touch of plastic.
OVERALL – very pleasant on the borderline of boringly weird
This has been, and is, a peculiar experience. My impression at uncorking was of a Maker’s Mark Limited Edition, like the FAE-01. This was very evident on the nose. Then came a strong bubblegum phase, somewhat off-putting in its single-note intensity. The bubblegum reminded me of a Riverset Rye SiB I once had, some 1792 releases, or the Leopold/Dickel rye collaboration. It’s a note I associate most with rye or certain high-rye bourbons.
But today that note is more subdued, allowing the banana and vanilla pudding to jointly take the lead. Today this whiskey comes across with greater balance. Tasted blind, I might have indeed guessed it to be a rye—likely that Leopold/Dickel collab with some oxidization or extra oak influence.
There is indeed a touch of the plastic note. This was discernible at uncorking as well. But it’s less prominent here than on the Redbreast PX Edition, for example. On many sips I don’t even notice it—a point in this whiskey’s favor.
As my Overall note above sums up, this whiskey is perched on a line. Today, at least, I find it equally pleasant, boring, and weird. Pleasant in a good way. Boring in a weird way, considering it’s so pleasant. And weird in a boring way. Weird can be great, as with certain Willett or Booker’s releases. But here the weird just doesn’t intrigue me. Maybe because it’s a bubblegum weirdness—familiar, a little cloying in its sweetness, more appealing in other whiskeys I’ve had.
I understand why this Redbreast Kentucky Oak Edition has received a mixed response, leaning toward the negative. “Special” releases kinda need to be special, and this isn’t. A fellow customer perusing the shelves next to me at a local shop called it “over oaked.” I don’t feel that way about it. But I understand why someone might. I love oak, and the oak here is definitely present—the tannins, and especially the prevalent vanilla. It’s all just very familiar.
This is a peculiar collaboration between Irish and Kentuckian elements. Being curious about both those regions—and about terroir in general—I welcome the experiment despite the ho-hum results. Given my experience with it has shifted around substantially over these first three weeks of its uncorked life, I remain legitimately curious to follow this bottle’s journey. I doubt it will ever lead me to Brigadoon, or the equivalent magical place in Kentucky. But there’s potential here that I think is worth further exploration. Likely the people at Redbreast are on to the next experiment, though, and this release will be be yet another one-off.
In short, neither a failure nor a success, Redbreast Kentucky Oak is a pleasant, uneventful curiosity. Glad I got it under the usual price. If you’re curious and find it discounted, go for it.