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Monday, 23 February 2015

Come Fly With Me: The Redbreast Mano a Lamh, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

As we speed away from Burn’s night and head towards St Patrick’s Day, it’s time to start cracking open some Irish whiskey.

Once long forgotten, the rise of Irish whiskey has seen a plethora of new distilleries opening up, with plenty more in the pipeline. In our recent visits to Ireland to see either brand-spanking new facilities or those out in the market drumming up support, one thing has made itself very clear: Ireland will become more serious about Pot Still than any other style of whiskey.

Scotland is a fairly simple place when it comes to whisky-making. You’ve got your single malts, with only one distillery fully triple distilling (nb: Springbank occasionally utilising their three still to triple distil, and Mortlach using bamboozing marketing terminology to say they distilled more than twice).

Then you’ve got your grain whisky, mainly matured in bourbon casks. Add them together and you’ve got your third type, blends. Simple, hey?!

Over in Ireland, it isn’t quite so simple. With a much smaller pool of distilleries, the fame of Irish whiskey grew up around their main ideal of triple distillation. But there is so much more to Irish whiskey than the third still, for across this tiny network of distilleries they make single malt twice distilled (peated and unpeated), single malt thrice distilled, grain whisky, pot still whiskey (from a malted and unmalted barley mix), and of course blends... but blends not just of grain and malt whiskeys, but blends of all of these. Jameson Black Barrel even takes some whiskey from a pot still and runs it through the column still before maturation... I mean, what kind of voodoo is that?!

Currently the fastest growing category of dark spirit in the world, Irish whiskey is on a roll (driven by the popularity of Jameson in markets such as the USA) and with each new release from across the countries different distilleries, clarity is beginning to fall on the various production styles and flavour profiles.

One of the most sought-after releases, and a real favourite of ours here at Caskstrength HQ, is Redbreast. A wonderfully well matured whiskey, we have always been a fan of the 12 Year Old. When the 15 Years Old appeared, fleetingly, at the start of the last decade, we got very excited indeed (in fact I seem to remember nearly an entire bottle being consumed at one of the Toucan pubs in London with a group of writers and employees of some of London’s finest whisky shops) and even more so when it came back as part of the permanent range. 

With the addition of a Cask Strength 12 Year Old and then the fantastic 21 Year Old, the range seemed to be taking shape with a real personality and DNA of its own. And now the folk at Irish Distillers, producers of Redbreast, have just launched a limited edition version. A No Age Statement, although in answering questions on their social media outlets had it pegged at carrying an age statement of 13 years old, if it were to have one) the whiskey has been solely matured in ex-Oloroso sherry butts. This one sounds right up my street.

When I heard that this whiskey was available, but only 2000 bottles were being released, I headed over to the Redbreast website to buy a bottle. And the verdict?

Redbreast – Mano a Lamh – Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey – All Sherry Limited Edition – 2000 bottles only – 46% abv – 65 euro here

Nose: Marzipan and Battenburg Cake rise from the glass with a surprisingly large amount of vanilla for an ‘all-oloroso’ offering. This has some spirituous notes but this is one of those occasions where this is a positive as it provides a platform for the lovely, sweet flavours to play. Light and airy but with hidden depth.

Palate: This is a smooth whiskey with a sweet back palate, some frozen red berries and hot vanilla sauce on top. It is terribly easy to drink, as you would expect from a Redbreast, but a block of ice really takes this up a level to a longer, more sipping whiskey. The flavours from the nose deliver on the palate too.

Finish: Sweetened vanilla custard, almonds and some milk chocolate praline.

Overall: Well, there we have it folk... the rise of Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey doesn’t seem fleeting, or limited to core expressions. It seems to be strong, and rising.