I already gushed about Redbreast 12 earlier this month, but since today is Saint Patrick’s Day, I needed another quality Irish whiskey to examine. My first impressions of the standard expression were already positive, so a couple months later I combined that with my brief “high proof or bust” period and purchased a bottle of Redbreast 12 Cask Strength. This was before the standard version earned itself a permanent spot in my collection.
There are a couple interesting things to note about Redbreast 12 Cask Strength before we get into the whiskey itself. For starters, it’s not something I can simply snag at a nearby store on the way home from work. The only places I’ve found that carry it are nearly an hour away (one of them a Total Wine) and charge around $90 for it, which means ordering from Flaviar costs the same and is more convenient. Finally, around the time I purchased my bottle (batch B2/19), I was made aware that recent batches had updated packaging and were, according to some, potentially inferior to previous batches. Time to see what my experience has been like:
Nose: Has a vaguely vegetal essence to it. Lemon citrus, honeyed nut butter with walnuts and cashews. Swirling helps unveil more of the classic Redbreast notes such as dates, orange blossom, and a just-present pancake note. A bit on the floral side with the malt creeping through. Candied walnut, vanilla, and caramel come out over time. Oak creeps in after sipping.
Palate: Sweet lemon throughout with that classic combination of buttery walnut, vanilla, and mellowed date/apricot combo. Soft but prevalent orange note with oak. Mildly toast-like.
Finish: Surprising kick. More citrus and a touch of pepper. Oak, honey, walnut, and dates. Other than the warm proof, this falls a bit flat.
I’m kind of stumped. For all the good things I can say about Redbreast 12 Cask Strength, I also feel like something’s off. It doesn’t make the whiskey unenjoyable, not by a long shot. However, I can’t help but compare this to its watered down equivalent, which I’m ready to call superior. From the day I opened my B2/19, I’ve found myself puzzled by it. I preach plenty about the benefits of high proof, with many of my favorite expressions (George T. Stagg, Discovery Series 4, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Ardbeg Uigeadail, etc.) being bottled close to or at cask strength.
So what’s different here? I think the back-palate throws things off too much. The surprisingly rich sweetness that I associate with Redbreast is clear and present when first sipping, but after sticking around for a couple seconds, a pepper-like bitterness cuts through, followed by ethanol. It’s not that these are inherently bad aspects, but I do get less of the experience I’m searching for.
Just to check my sanity, I decided to add a few drops of water to my most recent pour of B2/19. The nose gets mellowed out with a bit more nuttiness and toasted malt taking over; palate-wise the presence of pepper and oak is smoothed out to where it feels less intrusive, making these notes more supplemental. I do enjoy it more this way, but still find the experience granted by the 80 proof Redbreast 12 to be more enjoyable. Perhaps trying another batch down the line will yield better results, provided the age statement sticks around.