Redbreast Tawny Port Cask Edition
Single Pot Still — Ireland
Reviewed November 22, 2023 (edited February 8, 2024)
REDBREAST SHOWDOWN Redbreast 12-Year Redbreast 15-Year Redbreast Lustau Edition Redbreast Tawny Port Cask Edition Redbreast 12 was one of a small handful of whiskies that I cut my teeth on over two decades ago. Back then I used to travel to Dublin on business occasionally, and an Irish friend of mine here in the states would always ask me to bring him back a bottle or two of Redbreast 12, which was unavailable in the U.S. at the time. That would give me an excuse to bring one back for myself as well. I recall liking it, but not loving it as my friend did; and after a brief romance, I put aside the Redbreast in the name of additional whiskey exploration. But lovebirds always find a way of coming back together—so here we are. Redbreast 12-Year Clear amber color (Pantone 143). Lots of vanilla on the nose, as well as some honey-lemon notes, similar to those that I experienced with the Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky (reviewed 9/21/23), though not as pronounced, along with papaya, hot candied peanuts, some light clove, and toast. The palate reengages the hot candied peanuts, or pralines, followed by a tickle of spice and light vanilla on the finish. Tasting the Redbreast 12 following the other three, I find that it comes across a little thin. It’s a shame that such a classic Irish Whiskey—with a 12-year age statement, no less—is bottled at a paltry 80 proof. I’ll go a step further and call it appalling. This is not mass-market, base-level Jameson or Bushmills: it’s $70 whiskey. Would I buy it again? I want to say yes. R12 is foundational in an Irish Whiskey collection. However, it’s a poor value on a relative basis. It’s a nice whiskey, and I’ll happily drink it, and enjoy it as well. 3.5 on the Distiller scale. 40% ABV. 12-year age statement. Redbreast 15-Year Deep, robust amber, nearly the burnt orange of the Lustau (still Pantone 144). There’s a sweet cotton-candyish note on first nosing—not cloying, but intriguing. That note slips into raspberry chocolate truffles, buttered Irish scones, Concord grape juice, sandalwood, applesauce, caffè latte, orange oil, and Christmas cake. Apricot as well, after tasting the Tawny Port Edition. The palate shows a light viscosity, and the olfactory and flavor profile pivots from fruity to more woody and spicy, finishing with papaya, vanilla, and baking spices. The Redbreast 15 is very, very good. Its complexity and sophistication hint at what the 12 could be with a little higher proof. The 15-year can be found for around $140. Would I buy it again? Yes. 4.5 on the Distiller scale. 46% ABV. 15-year age statement. Redbreast Lustau Edition Burnt orange color and like the 15, darker than the 12-year, as would be expected from the sherry cask finish (Pantone 144). Unmistakable sherry influence: dried figs, mulled cider, prunes, clove, molasses, a little vanilla. These aspects show as more savory on the palate, with a little salinity as well, and a light oiliness. Dates, brown sugar, and some chili spice on the finish. Redbreast Lustau Edition tastes like dapper Macallan’s country cousin: a little rougher around the edges, but exhibiting familial characteristics (I’ll have to do a separate Showdown to confirm that hypothesis). It can be found for around $75. Would I buy it again? Absolutely. 4.25 on the Distiller scale. 46% ABV. NAS. Redbreast Tawny Port Cask Edition (To clarify: The “Tawny Port Cask Edition” here is not cask strength). Similar deep amber Pantone 144 color. The nose is not as forthcoming as the Lustau, and initially shows a kind of dusty funk which then manifests as hazelnutty tawny port itself, before shifting to brown sugar, French toast with cinnamon, cut grass, chive, and cool spearmint. It’s a little vegetal; there’s even a green pepper undernote. The mouthfeel is lightly viscous, and is sharply focused with brown sugar and walnut notes. The alcohol is less integrated than the Lustau on the palate, and the finish shows a little sorghum syrup and a touch of woody tannic bitterness. The Tawny Port Edition, like the other Redbreast expressions, is packaged in an attractive box. But this one is a mauve pink, which is suggestive of a ruby rather than a tawny port. Were I the head of the marketing department, I would have opted for something in the tan spectrum. But I digress. I tasted each of these together over the course of three days, and my experience with the Tawny Port Edition declined somewhat. This Redbreast expression currently retails for $99. Would I buy it again? Maybe. 3.75 on the Distiller scale. 46% ABV. NAS. With this Showdown, I’ve been digging into the Redbreast offerings to become more familiar with the brand (which is part of the Pernod Ricard portfolio). Their website has some polished, if misguided, branding. There’s even a QR code on the 12-year box that provides a “virtual experience” whereby you can see the Redbreast robin superimposed on the camera on your phone: meaning you can point your phone in any direction, looking through it, and the robin appears, along with a separate birdhouse, and cues to point the camera in different directions. I was unable to click on either, or get any interaction (and I’m a tech guy). So essentially you look through your phone and see the robin mascot and a birdhouse superimposed on whatever you’re pointing your camera at. Why? The website has a menu called “Drinks” which showcases various high-end cocktails. What Madison Avenue ad wizard concocted this? Redbreast’s base offering is the 12-year, which retails for $70. Who is going to use a 12-year-old, $70 whiskey in a cocktail? Certainly there are those who can afford it, and I’m a believer in using quality ingredients for hand-crafted cocktails. But are they seriously trying to position age-statemented whiskey as premium or super-premium mixers? This is not mass-market whiskey; nor is not vodka (that’s another story). Redbreast’s website appears to be focused on age statements (12-, 15-, 21-, and 27-year bottlings), which are historically aimed at whiskey enthusiasts. From a business inventory perspective, distillers cannot afford to have massive stockpiles of old whiskey; as the ages get older, the stocks decline exponentially. Pernod Ricard wants to have inventory sit for 12 years and then dilute it to 40% ABV and suggest cocktails? From a business perspective: make an NAS offering and position that as your cocktail whiskey. The vast majority of cocktail drinkers won’t care, and Pernod Ricard will make more money by not having all the age-statemented whiskies (or at least the 12-year) sitting in inventory before it can be monetized. I’ve spent my entire career in finance, and I just don’t get the business model. There’s a huge disconnect between the marketing side and the business side. I could go on, but I’ll get off my soapbox for now. Back to the whiskey: the clear winner here is the 15-year, followed by the Lustau, the Tawny Port, and the 12-year. I’m sure the 12 would be much better at the 46% ABV that the others share (Redbreast does produce a cask-strength version of the 12-year—thankfully!—that I’ve not come across in the wild, but would love to try). I admire Redbreast’s forays into these different finishing casks, and would love to see the Lustau as part of its permanent portfolio. These are pricier whiskies. The Lustau is easily the best value here—and in terms of whiskies generally—and the 15-year is very good. N.B.: All spirits tasted neat in a Glencairn glass.