Redbreast 15 Year Irish Whiskey

Batch #L118931469 bottled on 8 July 2021

MASH BILL – unknown proportions of malted and un-malted barley

PROOF – 92

AGE – 15 years

DISTILLERY – Midleton Distillery

PRICE – $97 (on sale from $120+ and now normally $140+)

WORTH BUYING? – On sale, sure.

This will be heresy for some, and likely cause for my dismissal by them. I accept that. It’s simply the case that Irish whiskey—unlike any other broad regional category I’ve experienced to date—all tastes basically the same to me.

Key word, basically. I do experience differences between one versus another, prefer this one to that, etcetera. But the core experience is consistent enough for me from bottle to bottle and brand to brand that I have never found myself surprised by an Irish whiskey. It’s for that reason I regard the genre with less overall interest than I do whiskeys from some other regions.

Now, it must be said, my experience with Irish whiskey is dominated by Ireland’s most prolific distillery, Midleton. I imagine I’m not alone in that. From Midleton’s massive operation comes Redbreast, the Spots, Powers, Method & Madness, the ubiquitous Jameson (synonymous with Irish whiskey for many) and their namesake Midleton Very Rare limited edition line. I’ve downed many a shot and sipped at many a glass of many a Midleton Distillery product. Though I’ve also had a bit of Bushmills, Teeling, Tullamore D.E.W., and Writers’ Tears, none of those have stood out to me as radically unique at their core when compared to Midleton’s many variants.

None of this means I believe Irish whiskey is inherently either bad or boring. Not in the slightest. Redbreast’s 12 Year Cask Strength release, and their 2019 USA-only 14 Year releases, will linger in a special corner of my sense memory forever. Blue Spot likewise holds a high place on the shelf of my whiskey experiences. The issue for me is purely how all my Irish whiskey experiences are so easily related to one another from a broad flavor profile standpoint, something I cannot say about bourbon, rye, scotch, or American single malts.

I share all this at length to provide context for my reception of this Redbreast 15 Year, which I bought on sale and wouldn’t have purchased otherwise. I’d tried the 15 Year and 21 Year side-by-side in an Irish pub a while back, liked both, and couldn’t see why to pay $$$ for either when the Redbreast 12 Year is as good as it is, whether at 80 proof or cask strength. My point of view here is ultimately that of a whiskey fan who indeed enjoys Irish whiskey, not for its ability to compel my deep consideration, which generally it does not, but for its dependable ability to lift my spirits like a good party. That’s what Irish whiskey is for me, a good party. Sometimes even a really good party! Just never a surprise party.

With all that in mind…

Here we are, a bit over a week after uncorking and five or six pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using both an Irish crystal tumbler and traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – vibrant honey ambers

NOSE – copper zing, dusty oak, cream, vanilla pudding, faint milk chocolate, meaty coconut shell, pineapple, green apple, lemon zest, drippy caramel, finely ground black pepper, very faint mint

TASTE – a more prominently metallic copper zing, the cream and pudding notes thicker, some dusty wood, with mango and papaya slipping in right at the end

FINISH – the mango and papaya lingering with metallic copper, freshly juiced green apple, dried pineapple, some of the milk chocolate and vanilla pudding, all fading fairly quickly

OVERALL – as expected, an Irish whiskey ready for the party

The two glasses I used—each very different from the other—seem to further demonstrate the whiskey’s consistency. Though the sweet candy and cream notes do lean forward a bit more in the Glencairn, the overall range of notes are discernible in both glasses.

The whiskey’s 92 proof is more supportive of flavor than 80 would be, and adds to the lightly syrupy texture of the whiskey. That texture, combined with the sweet candy and cream notes, are given an edge by the copper, dust, and wood notes. Especially on the taste, this Redbreast outing comes across more metallic than others I’ve had. Copper pot distillation famously adds a kind of spicy zing to whiskeys, and this is particularly noticeable with these triple-distilled, single pot still Irish whiskeys. Here the more prominent metallic quality makes a counter-intuitive contribution, adding positively to a bright, bitter outline around the softer flavors.

Even at the sale price I paid, the fact that the edgy aspects of this whiskey ultimately upstage the sweeter and softer aspects makes it a one-time buy for me. I miss the more complex flavor oomph one gets from the cask strength Midleton releases, regardless of age. With just 3 fewer years under its belt, the 12 Year Cask Strength pairs that distinct copper zing with an exceptional balance of cream and fruit notes. And at a mere 7 years, Blue Spot offers a wonderfully sweet experience.

Speaking to the hardcore Irish whiskey fans, my apologies for what I wouldn’t doubt may strike you as my reductionist response to this widely beloved bottling. Speaking to those who, like me, enjoy Irish whiskey without being particularly compelled by its range, I’d recommend paying less for the 12 Year Cask Strength.

There’s nothing wrong with this whiskey. It’s enjoyable. But the full Redbreast line saw a significant price hike in 2022, and that gives one cause to be choosy. So if surprise is what you’re into, maybe don’t bother with this one. But if you love Redbreast in all its incarnations and find it more compelling than I do, I wish you the occasional sale price to ease the burden of your fondness.

And for myself, I think it’s time to make an effort to explore more non-Midleton and/or less mass-marketed brands, like Limavady and Kilbeggan, to see what else the region might offer, and whether that congenial core Irish whiskey flavor profile indeed has alternatives.


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