Monday 31 October 2016

Redbreast Lustau

One shorthand response I keep handy for the question, "What Irish whiskey do you recommend I buy?", is "Anything with Redbreast on the label". If the inquisitor is looking for something to delight a whiskey fan, or something with a story, or something chewy, or something quintessentially Irish, or something sublime... there is a Redbreast that covers it.

The various limited editions that have appeared under the Redbreast banner since the relaunch of Midleton Pot Still Whiskeys have been similarly interesting and covetable.

The quality of Redbreast is hardly a well-kept secret. Sales of the base expression, Redbreast 12 year old, rose 24% in the Irish market last year. And that followed 28% growth the previous year.

Redbreast 12 year old (recap)

Redbreast 12yo is a combination of pot still spirit aged entirely in first fill, ex-bourbon casks with pot still spirit aged entirely in first fill, ex-sherry, Galician oak casks. The component whiskeys are between 12 and 15 years old.

Those ex-sherry casks have been seasoned with Oloroso sherry from various bodegas in the sherry triangle for 2 to 3 years before they are emptied and shipped to Midleton Distillery for refilling with new make spirit.

Redbreast Lustau

The new Redbreast Lustau takes a similar vatting of pot still whiskeys - though at a slightly younger age of between 9 and 12 years old - and finishes the whole thing in more first fill ex-sherry casks for a further year.

Those finishing casks are seasoned in exactly the same way as all the other sherry casks, but at a single bodega, Lustau in Jerez.

I was puzzled, at first, by the aim of this final step. It's not normal to finish in the same type of cask the whiskey was matured in. What would it achieve that simply upping the proportion of sherry cask-matured whiskey in the original vatting wouldn't?

Ger Garland of Irish Distillers (IDL) explained the reasoning at the most recent Irish Whiskey Society tasting. When spirit is matured in a sherry cask, the initial imprint comes from the sherry soaked into the wood. As the years pass, that fades and the oak begins to dominate.

With Redbreast Lustau, they have both reduced the domination of oak by bottling at a younger age, and overlaid the result with fresh sherry-soaked wood.

This is why Redbreast Lustau has no age statement. It's at least 10 years old, which would be a perfectly acceptable age to print on a label. But the point here is the influence of the sherry, not the wood. That's why it is the name of the sherry front and centre on the label, not the length of time in oak.

This should calm speculation that Redbreast Lustau heralds the retirement of Redbreast 12 year old. It doesn't. It is a new, permanent member of the line up, with its own character, pitched slightly above Redbreast 12yo in price.

The initial batch comprises 50 sherry butts, with a further 700 butts now undergoing seasoning at Bodega Lustau. That is fully 5% of maturation space in Lustau and represents a hefty investment by both the bodega and IDL in guaranteeing the future supply of Redbreast Lustau.

One of the hallmarks of the Redbreast range is that, despite the high sherry oak content, the wine influence is always kept in check. The whiskey always tastes like whiskey, in other words. (Though the first batch of Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength strayed a little over the sherry line, in my opinion.)

That said, if you put the name of a leading sherry bodega on the bottle it would be disappointing not to get a bang of sherry off the whiskey and indeed, there it is, clear as a bell, just chiming in on the finish. Lovely.

Lustau Don Nuño Oloroso

One rumour that was doing the rounds a few years back was that sherry casks are seasoned with duff wine that is subsequently used to make sherry vinegar. That is definitely not the case here. The sherry that is emptied from the IDL casks after 2 or 3 years goes on to become one of Lustau's core range, the 12 year old Don Nuño Oloroso sherry:

Something to try alongside your Redbreast Lustau, perhaps. (In Ireland, Mitchell & Son are the agents for Lustau.)

Redbreast Lustau is bottled at 46% ABV, without chill-filtering or caramel colouring. Sample recommended retail prices: Canada, $90; France, €65; Ireland, €69; UK, £55; United States, $69. Distribution is not limited to these markets; Germany, Russia and South Africa have also been mentioned.

Official tasting notes
Rich infusion of dark fruits, prunes, dates & figs with liquorice, marzipan, toasted oak and Redbreast spices. 
Creamy pot still with Redbreast spices balanced with richness of sherry finish and contribution of fresh Spanish oak. 
Endless. Sweetness and pot still spices endure while Oloroso sherry and Spanish oak have the last word.