master distiller explores irish whiskey's sensational run
Redbreast Master Distiller Kevin Goreman recently made his first visit to the United States to mark the release of Irish Distiller’s Redbreast 12 Cask Strength. We sat down to chat about the purpose of bottling whiskies at cask strength.
Mix: Redbreast 12 Year Old has become a benchmark in the United States in terms of Irish pot still whiskey. What’s different about the cask strength iteration you’ve recently released?
Kevin Goreman: The cask strength is a similar distillate and cask profile style whiskey, but what’s happened is it’s disgorged and bottled at cask strength, which in this case is 67.7% alcohol. Consumers were interested in something like this, and we thought Redbreast had something special to offer. Cask strength bottling increases a whiskey’s complexity. Redbreast in general has a fuller and fruitier flavor profile, and we think that the fruitiness is enhanced with lots of aromas and flavors of things like red plums especially. People were looking for something different and were very proud to be able to offer this.
Mix: Do you think a pot still whiskey like Redbreast is better suited for cask strength?
Goreman: Well, you can do this with any type of whiskey; for example, in Ireland we have grain whiskey as well as pot still, in Scotland you’ve got malt whiskey and there’s American whiskies at cask strength — but we feel that because of the full flavor profile of Redbreast, because of the sherry and wood profile, it’s quite well suited to cask strength.
Mix: Of all of the brands made by Irish Distillers, a Pernod Ricard subsidiary, what’s special about Redbreast?
Goreman: First of all, it’s the history of Redbreast. It goes back to Gilbeys of Ireland in 1861, a company that used to important wine from France and Spain. They had all these used wine casks, so they bought whiskey from Jameson and built up quite an inventory, selling mostly as Castle Whiskey. The then-owner named the best whiskey after the robin redbreast, his favorite bird. It was a traditional pot still whiskey kept only for special occasions. But in 1986, it was sold back to Irish Distillers and relaunched in 1991, just at the time Irish whiskey took off. It’s a very interesting brand, very much an unknown outside of Ireland for the last 20 or 30 years, so there’s sort of an intrigue about it as a hidden gem.
Mix: We’ve been watching Jameson grow at a phenomenal level and now Redbreast as well. Can you keep up?
Goreman: To be honest, there’s an issue of pushing the premium whiskey lately because we have limited stocks with Jameson and Redbreast – we have to allocate distribution, and it’s quite limited. In the last five years, Redbreast has grown maybe 20% with almost no push on its behalf. So we’re undergoing a major expansion in Middleton at the moment to increase capacity quite significantly, we’re going to double our capacity by late next year, but it's going to take 12 or 15 years or more to build up the stocks of Redbreast. We’re in the middle of that; in terms of warehousing, for example, we’ve purchased new land and just started construction, building about two warehouses each year to give us an extra 66,000 cask capacity just to keep up with the Jameson growth. We’ll have a new pot still house, increase our grain capacity and all that goes with that: wastewater capacity and everything else. For the next number of years, stocks are quite limited and trying to fulfill demands for premium whiskey will be a challenge.
Mix: How do you drink Redbreast 12 Cask Strength?
Goreman: The way I do it for Redbreast 12 Cask Strength and for any aged premium whiskey: I like to nose it and taste it at the higher strength first and get a feel for the whiskey and then add a drop or two of water, not much, just to get a feel for the whiskey as it opens up. Nose, taste at higher strength and then add water to enjoy, that’s all you need.