Non-single malt whisky week continues. On Monday I reviewed a Panama rum finished in an ex-Ardbeg cask. We’re not so far from Islay today either. Well, okay, Midleton is in Cork, in southern Ireland and it’s not exactly a quick boat ride to Islay—but we’re in the general geographic vicinity. In all other ways though today’s whiskey is quite some distance from both Panama rum and Ardbeg’s single malt. I last reviewed the Redbreast 12 CS in 2016. That review was of a bottle from 2011. Today’s review is of a bottle from 2020. I was not terribly enthused by that 2011 release but it’s fair to say that Irish whiskey as a category has not generally moved me. This is almost certainly not Irish whiskey’s fault; my palate and preferences are very much formed by the character of Scottish single malt whisky and it’s probably the case that I just don’t get Irish whiskey. I do like fruity whiskies though and by all accounts this is a fruity one. Let’s see if that makes the difference.
Redbreast 12 CS, 2020 Release (57.6%; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Spicy off the top but there’s a fair bit of fruit bubbling below it, held back seemingly by the alcohol. There’s some lime, some tart-sweet apple and also hints of sweeter stone-fruit. With a bit of air there’s some toasted oak and the fruit begins to take on more tropical accents: the lime begins to shade towards makrut lime and there’s some pineapple as well. With time and air that stone-fruit expands (apricot) and the oak picks up some polish. A few drops of water and the spice/oak complex gets pushed back and the fruit expands: apricot jam and a bit of marmalade and a lemon glaze; some honey in the background too. As it sits the pineapple ripens.
Palate: Comes in pretty hot with the citrus and the oak in the lead. Something leafy in there as well but it’s all pretty covered up by the alcohol. Thick, oily texture. With more time there’s first more lime—bitter peel along with acid—and then orange peel and apricot. Okay, let’s add some water. Ah yes. As on the nose, the oak gets pushed back (and the leafy note with it) and the sweeter fruit expands. Still quite oily.
Finish: Medium-long. Not much past the heat here first either and then the citrus and the leafy note pop out. More orange here too with water. Develops as on the palate with water and the finish is quite a bit more extended now.
Comments: This was somewhat ho-hum at first. But with time/air and especially with water it revealed all its fruity charms. I can’t say I got as much of the tropical fruit that I’ve seen some reviews cite (I would have liked to) but this is very good anyway diluted down closer to 50%. And yes, I liked it a lot more than the 2011 release.
Rating: 88 points.
Thanks to Michael for the sample.
Looking at my notes, the best fruity Scotches I’ve tried have been a 1966 Lochside (SMWS 92.2) and a 1976 Benriach (Cask 8795). The best Irish I’ve tried have been the independent bottlings from the late 1980s/early 1990s and some those are on par with the Lochside and Benriach. Or that’s my annoying opinion, anyway. I’ve been less impressed with either indy bottlings of Irish whiskey from the early 2000s or the distillery bottlings, though I haven’t had the chance to try any of the old Teeling or Redbreast official releases.
I recommend trying the indie Irish bottlings from that era if you have the chance to do so. In the past, we’ve found samples at the annual Old & Rare show run by the Whisky Exchange.