Among whiskey drinkers, bottles from Ireland are often overshadowed by Scotch and bourbon. But Ireland’s whiskey traditions go back centuries — possibly even to the advent of whiskey itself. Whiskey production on the Emerald Isle has understandably changed quite a bit over that time and the past century has seen its fair share of ups and downs for the category.
Few Irish whiskeys are more beloved and iconic than Redbreast. Through the tumultuous 20th century, the brand was able to endure the many ups and downs of the industry, all while maintaining the traditional production practices that make Irish whiskey unique. To help better understand this quintessential Irish whiskey’s place in history, here are seven things you need to know about Redbreast.
Redbreast has been around for over a century.
In 1903, the Dublin branch of London-based importers W & A Gilbey released a 12-year-old whiskey known as John Jameson & Sons Castle “JJ Liqueur.” A few years later, in 1912, the Redbreast branding first appeared in marketing materials. Though ownership of the brand has changed hands a few times over the decades, and demand for the style has waxed and waned, Redbreast persists as one of the most recognizable and respected brands in Irish whiskey. The brand is currently owned by Irish Distillers, which is a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard.
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A bird enthusiast named Redbreast.
The name “Redbreast” comes from the European Robin (known as Robin Redbreast), a bird that is native to Ireland and is known for its distinctive red-orange plumage. The chairman of Gilbey’s around the early 1900s was an avid amateur ornithologist and decided that the bird would make a perfect symbol for the whiskey.
Redbreast is a uniquely Irish whiskey.
While blended bottlings dominate Irish whiskey exports, the country is also known for its unique single pot still style. To be considered a single pot still whiskey, producers are required to use a combination of malted and unmalted barley, and the spirit must be distilled by one distillery using a copper pot still. Single pot still whiskeys are generally known for being smooth, approachable and rich, showcasing flavor notes of honey, vanilla, and caramel. Today, Redbreast 12 is among the best-selling Irish single pot still whiskeys in the world.
Redbreast and Jameson have a closely intertwined history.
Gilbey’s, the company responsible for creating the Redbreast brand, originally sourced its whiskey from the Bow Street distillery in Dublin where Jameson was made. By the mid-20th century, Irish whiskey production had been reduced to three distilleries. In 1966, at the nadir of the Irish distilling industry, Cork, Jameson, and Powers distilleries combined their resources and became Irish Distillers. Irish Distillers continued to provide single pot still whiskey to Gilbey’s, which still bottled and sold Redbreast until 1986 when the brand was sold to Irish Distillers.
Redbreast is a single pot still pioneer.
In the mid-20th century, the popularity of single pot still whiskey waned as drinkers began to favor blended Irish whiskeys. Redbreast was one of the few brands that continued making the style through those years. In recent decades, the Irish distilling industry has seen significant growth, and newer distilleries like Teeling are continuing the Irish single pot still tradition to this day.
Redbreast is distilled at the same distillery as many popular Irish whiskeys.
Redbreast is currently produced at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork, Ireland. The distillery is home to Irish Distillers, which, as noted before, produces many well-known brands, including Jameson and Powers. The site has been home to distilling since the early 17th century, but in 1975, Irish Distillers built a modern distillery alongside the original.
There is an entire flock of Redbreast whiskeys.
Redbreast is available in a range of expressions, from the classic 12 year old to the rare and highly sought-after 27 year old. Each expression is aged in ex-bourbon and sherry casks and each has its own unique flavor profile, with notes of vanilla, caramel, and spice being standard throughout the range.
Redbreast is the perfect whiskey for bird lovers.
In keeping with the spirit of its name, Redbreast is heavily involved with conservation efforts to protect threatened birds. In 2021, the brand teamed up with Birdlife International and actor Chris O’Dowd to help raise funds to protect common Irish birds. The brand also offers a special packaging of Redbreast 12 that comes with a functional birdfeeder so Redbreast fans can help nurture their local wildlife.