Irish Distillers has already added two new whiskeys to that range this year, and repackaged the existing SPS brands, Green Spot and Redbreast so to add a third new bottling is just spoiling us at this stage.
We were kept on tenterhooks as we worked our way through all of the existing SPS whiskeys: Green Spot, Redbreast 12yo, Redbreast 15yo, Powers John's Lane and Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy. One of IDL's production gurus, Liam Donegan, plied us with technical insight that greatly pleased the members of the society, for whom no nuance of whiskey manufacture is too minor to overlook.
Finally, however, the last whiskey was distributed and the bottle - mere hours after its arrival in Dublin - brandished at the top of the room: Redbreast 12 year old, Cask Strength. Ooh!
It has precisely the same make-up as 40% Redbreast 12yo, ie the same distillate and the same proportion of sherry-cask ageing. It's just at cask strength of 57.7%. That said, Liam did make the point that when you are talking about a batch of only 68 casks, there will be some natural variation due to the wood that would get averaged out in a larger run. But it still a unique opportunity to approach Redbreast from a new angle, and to discover new characteristics.
The standard Redbreast 12yo is a very well-balanced whiskey. Liam emphasised that this is their philosophy at the Midleton distillery, not to allow either the base spirit or the wood to dominate. They certainly pulled that off with the standard Redbreast. Although it contains quite a high proportion of sherry-matured whiskey, which has a very strong flavour on its own, this does not overwhelm and, indeed, it's still possible to detect a background of American oak.
The taste, for me, is honey, liquorice, spices and stewed dark fruits on the finish. It isn't the fresh citrus and vanilla type of whiskey. It has bags of character but it's not strident. I find it somewhat quiet beside Green Spot. According to Liam, standard Redbreast is the pouring whiskey for many employees of IDL, and I can see why. You could take it out any evening and enjoy it, or pour it for an appreciative guest.
So, the Cask Strength... is it just a more intense version of the 12yo? Not exactly. The balance I mentioned before has changed. This has a more noticeable sherry nose and, though it starts off softly, it packs a rather hefty sherry finish that I've never before got from an IDL whiskey (the Jameson Select Reserve nods in that direction though). If you like the sherried whiskeys, you will love this. It's not my preference, but it's a fine whiskey, no doubt.
The official tasting notes look like this:
A fruit explosion: figs, dates, ripe banana, sultanas, red apple and lime. Pot still spices combine with the sweet vanilla and pine from the casks.
Deep full dried fruit, a touch of citrus with aromatic oils and spices. Vanilla sweetness leads to toasted oak and barley.
Exceedingly long finish with a rich complexity of spices and fruit, slowly fading through sweet butterscotch to barley.
The good news is that it will be available from next week in Ireland, France and Germany, and in the US from February 2012. In Ireland, the price will be around the €65 mark, which is very accessible.