Redbreast is one of the several brands that are distilled and matured in New Midleton Distillery, near Cork. New? Yes, as the original Midleton Distillery was founded in 1825, but was closed in the 1960s as their owners, the Cork Distilleries Company, merged with John Power & Son, John Jameson & Son in 1966 to form the Irish Distillers Group in 1966. They decided to group all their production in a single distillery, built at Midleton as it was the only site with room for expansion. Amongst the brands made at Midleton, the most famous are Jameson, Redbreast, and the Spot (Blue, Yellow, Red…) range. And on the menu today, three 12-year-old Redbreast whiskeys, as we’ll try the classic Redbreast 12-year-old and two different batches of Redbreast 12-year-old Cask Strength.
Old Midleton Distillery
As I said in the intro, the original distillery, called Old Midleton Distillery nowadays, was founded in the early 19th century. In 1825, Lord Midleton, then proprietor of what was at this time a wooden factory turned into military barracks by the government, sold the premises to three brothers, James, Daniel and Jeremiah Murphy. The brothers invested a large amount of money to turn this into a distillery, and quickly an annual output of 400,000 gallons was reached, with the help of an impressive 200 employees. The name Midleton comes from its location, as it was sitting halfway between the towns of Cork and Youghal, on an inlet of Cork Harbour. Midleton was between two rivers, one of them flowing next to the distillery.
In 1886 when Alfred Barnard visited Midleton, there was a four stories building for the barley storage (top floor) and maltings (the three other floors). The germinating barley would then be dried in one of the three kilns. But there was not just barley, there was corn too, and as such there were two corn kilns to dry up corn. After being milled, the grist would go to one of the three large mash tuns (two 21,000 gallons and one 30,000 gallons capacity with revolving stirring gear). The wort would go then to an Underback, capable of storing 15,000 gallons of wort. After that, fermentation happened in one of the 16 timber made washbacks (12 able to hold 24,000 gallons each, and two 40,000 gallons each). The still room featured a Coffey’s Patent Still as well as three Pot Stills: one 31,648 gallons wash still, and two 10,000 gallons spirit stills. The new make would then be reduced in one of the two 20,000 gallons vats before being filled into casks. At the time of Barnard’s visit, there were seven warehouses hosting 7,000 casks, and the annual output of the distillery was a bit over 1 million gallons a year.
And the New Midleton Distillery
The New Midleton Distillery was founded in 1975 when Irish Distillers wanted to regroup all their whiskey production in a single place. Midleton produces two types of whiskey: grain whiskey and single pot still whiskey. The grain is required for the blends, of which Jameson is the largest seller. The Single Pot Still is a unique feature of Ireland as nowhere else a distillery distils a combination of malted and unmalted barley in the same distillation.
New Midleton is a distillery where you can use superlatives. It does not use mash tuns but mash filters: this is some kind of plate and frame filter, fitted with fine filters separating the wort from the spent grist. Mash filters use less place and allow a quicker loitering time. Then, the wort goes into one of the 48 washbacks, and once it as fermented, the wash is distilled in one of the 10 75,000 litre pot stills (the largest in production worldwide) or 6 column stills. Then, the casks sleep in one of the 40 warehouses in Dungourney, not far from Midleton, until they’re used for one of Irish Distillers’ whiskey brands.
There is also a small 400 casks a year capacity experimental distillery, from which a commercial whiskey is sold under the name Method And Madness.
The total capacity of New Midleton is an astounding 64 million litres of alcohol per year.
Redbreast 12-Year-Old Review
Redbreast 12-year-old is a triple-distilled single pot still whiskey (meaning it used malted and unmalted barley at the same time), matured in a combination of American oak bourbon barrels and Spanish oak Oloroso sherry butts. It has been bottled at 40% ABV, and since they didn’t mention anything regarding colouring or chill filtration, you can expect both. The bottle I’ve reviewed was bottled in the 8th of March 2019, before the rebranding. Expect to pay €40 to €50 in continental Europe, a little more than £50 in the UK, and about €60 in Ireland.
Chestnut. A soft swirl gives a crown with very few beads as few legs as well.
The nose has a medium intensity and your glass needs to be quite close to your nose to get the first scents. Single Pot Still spices, caramel, vanilla, this is very sweet. Light sherries notes of sultanas, ripe grapes, dark berries. Frangipane epiphany cake.
Back after nosing the CS, this one strangely feels stronger than before on the nose and almost on par with the CS, though the difference in strength really ‘shows’. Okay, really smells. (‘Shows’ was better. Anyway.)
Thin arrival unfortunately, on spicy caramel and light cardboard notes. The malt part of the SPS is noticeable here. Green apple, plum, slightly underripe cherries, light woodiness. Good balance between the bourbon and sherry casks, both discernable, both present and none taking the upper hand against the other.
Sultanas, caramel, light citrusy note, medium length.
If only it was 46% ABV! But I guess the Cask Strength would not be such a step-up then. At 46% it would probably deserve an 84, but the low ABV and the thin mouthfeel that incurs from that are a real shame. Light cardboard notes on the palate too. But overall, this is a very nice whiskey, easy sipping, especially if you don’t mind thin mouthfeels. And coming back from the CS, the palate feels empty. Go up in ABV, not down.
Redbreast 12-year-old Cask Strength Batch B2/2019 Review
Using the same recipe than the 40% version, we have here a triple-distilled single pot still also matured in a combination of American oak bourbon barrels and Spanish oak Oloroso sherry butts. The second batch of 2019 was bottled at 55.8%, without chill filtration I think, but probably with colouring. A few Belgian shop still have some stock, between €90 and €109.
I tried this batch separately as I received a sample after I had reviewed the regular and the B1/2020. As such, I added its review to the article before publication, so there’s less comparison with the other two whiskeys tried here.
Russet. Small heads, thin legs falling down very slowly.
Neat: The alcohol can be felt without being too aggressive nor prickly. It’s not very intense. Dried fruits, with sultanas coming on top. Fresh fruits are here as well though a bit on the back seat, with pineapple and mango, as well as hints of banana, apricot and peach. Lots of butterscotch and toffee, some vanilla, and sweet spices.
With water: some herbal notes appear, with lavender being the most noticeable. Nice.
Neat: Creamy mouthfeel following a sweet then quickly quite spicy arrival. The alcohol bites the tongue playfully, leaving butterscotch, oak notes, a sip of espresso and black pepper. Behind that, the tropical fruits from the nose are there though a bit subdued, passion fruits and pineapple playing hide and seek with the black pepper and ginger.
After reduction, more caramel, more vanilla, a different kind of heat, kind of on the back almost on the throat.
Long, with butterscotch once again, black coffee, a bit of spices and faint oaky notes
I’ve received this sample after I had written the tasting notes for the two other Redbreast 12 tried here. I would have loved to put the two CS face to face, but I had already finished my sample of the B1/2020. Anyway. This is seriously good. It’s so much better than the 40% 12yo. The nose is stronger, more detailed, absolutely lovely. The mouthfeel is creamier, thicker. It tastes more on butterscotch even though the fruits are there, and by chance I could not find the light cardboard notes I had on the 40% on this CS batch. Great.
Redbreast 12-year-old Cask Strength Batch B1/2020 Review
This B1/2020 batch follows the B2/2019 I reviewed just above. As with the previous one, it is a single pot still matured in a combination of American oak bourbon barrels and Spanish oak sherry butts. This batch has been bottled at a slightly higher cask strength of 57.6% ABV, without chill filtration but once again probably with E150 colouring. A few German shops still have some bottles left, costing between €66 and €80, but I’m not sure they ship outside Germany. Or just buy the latest batch, available widely. From €60 in Germany, £79 in the UK, and almost €100 in France.
Slightly lighter than the 40% from 2019. Small heads, thin legs falling down very slowly
Neat: A bit more intense than the regular ABV one. The alcohol is quite noticeable, the nose is pricklier. Single pot still spices and herbs are here with thyme, rosemary, nutmeg, aniseed and clove. You also get the sweet caramel, vanilla and honey that were in the 40% 12yo. Dark fruits: red and blackcurrant, blueberry.
With water: Butterscotch, dried apricot, hints of pineapple.
Neat: Creamy mouthfeel, on caramel and spices at first. It is quite like the 40% but with alcohol making things stronger, so butterscotch, underripe cherries, a pinch of crushed vanilla, dried figs, and a light woodiness.
With 5-6 drops of water in 2 cl: it gets creamier. Passion fruits appear, toffee, some tannins from the wood make the palate slightly drying. Chocolate muffin.
Werther’s Original caramel candy, espresso, cask stave you just licked (stop judging) and a spoon of honey. Medium to long.
This is very very good. The nose is very intense when neat, and so is the palate. It’s packed full of flavours, and a few drops of water unlock even more. And it’s somewhat necessary to add a bit of water to the nose, because the alcohol is quite strong and burns your nostrils a bit if you’re not careful and bring the glass too close to your nose!