A few weeks before social distancing and isolation became part of our daily lives, we had the opportunity to meet with a small group in the downstairs lounge at the Saratoga Restaurant on Larkin Street to celebrate the release of Redbreast 27 Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, the oldest permanent expression from the iconic label. As it assumes its place at the head of the Redbreast family that includes 12-, 15-, and 21 year-old releases, Redbreast 27 creatively adds ruby port barrels from Portugal’s Douro Valley into the aging process.
While bourbon or sherry casks are commonly used to age Scottish and Irish whiskey, master blender Billy Leighton and blender Dave McCabe, who created the Redbreast 27 project, chose to take it a step further with the addition of ruby port casks. The Douro Valley in northeast Portugal has created first-class port for centuries and now their re-used casks are adding expressive fruit characteristics to a world-class distillate.
In discussing the project, Leighton added, “We wanted to push the boundaries and yet create an expression that would seamlessly take its place at the head of the family. Nearly three decades in the making, we are incredibly proud to present Redbreast 27 Year Old — a cask strength Redbreast expression that is a joy to behold in each and every sip.”
Cask strength is a term used to describe whiskey that has not been significantly diluted after the maturation process. Most are diluted with water to a 40% alcohol- by-volume (ABV) level intended to reduce costs and appeal to a larger range of palates.
The creators of the new blend used higher cask strength to expose full expression from both the distillates and casks. McCabe adds, “Bottled at 54.6% cask strength, the ruby port barrels contribute notes of mango, pineapple and berry to the robust flavor of Redbreast 27 Year Old, clearly distinguishing it from the previous expressions in the collection, treading a beautiful balance of tradition and innovation.”
Redbreast, as a brand, began in 1903, but faded in the mid-1980s. It was in danger of distinction before being revived in 1991 by Midleton Irish Whiskey, a powerhouse in the production of single pot still whiskey that blends a mash of malted and unmalted barley. Since its acquisition by worldwide spirit producer Penrod Ricard, Midleton Whiskey has been at the forefront of a recently revitalized Irish whiskey scene including Jameson, the world’s leading brand.
“Redbreast 27 Year Old showcases why and how tradition and innovation continue to be of significance to whiskey aficionados and new whiskey drinkers alike,” says Sona Bajaria, vice president of marketing for high end Irish whiskeys at Pernod Ricard USA. “We know that when consumers land on Redbreast, they fall in love and want to pass it along to friends, family and those who share a love for premium whiskies. Redbreast is the standard bearer of premium Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey and the new 27 Year Old expression celebrates our heritage with an experience worth the journey of nearly three decades.”
My encounter with Redbreast 27 was extraordinary. The described fruit, red berries and spice elements on the nose and palate were evident as was the rich texture. The finish lingered for minutes. With its cask strength, my preference was to add one ice cube to the glass.
The experience that is Redbreast 27 is not for everyone. It is produced in limited quantities and retails online for $500-$600 per bottle. However, hardcore whiskey aficionados dare not miss an opportunity to secure a bottle. Other more readily available aged Redbreast releases include the 12-year ($70), 15-year ($110), 21-year ($210) and the Redbreast Lustau ($80) a collaboration with Spanish sherry producer Bodegas Lustau.
The small gathering at The Saratoga was my last visit to San Francisco before sheltering in place to help limit the spread of COVID-19. I plan to return sometime in the future to explore the menu and enjoy their own balance of tradition and innovation. Thanks to Redbreast 27, the last visit left a memorable taste in my mouth.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 20 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org