The international growth of whiskey has emboldened distillers to spread their wings and try to broaden the flavor profiles found in their whiskies. They’re doubling down on experimentation in many new ways. Two small but important brands that are touting their newest bottlings are good examples of what is likely to continue, particularly for whiskey-focused bars and restaurants.
Irish whiskey’s steady growth in the States, mostly based on Jameson, has made room to create opportunities for stablemate pot still Irish whiskey Redbreast, now a connoisseur’s favorite. Based on a long-term partnership with sherry bodega Lustau, they are about to release Redbreast Lustau Edition, finished in hand-selected, first-fill oloroso sherry butts. A non-age statement variant of Redbreast that was initially aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks and then matured for another year in oloroso barrels, Redbreast Lustau Edition adds a decidedly briny touch and is being touted as a more elegant variant. “With Redbreast Lustau Edition we seized the opportunity to celebrate the iconic sherry influence on the Redbreast range, and to do this we turned to our old friends at Bodegas Lustau to source the finest Oloroso sherry casks in the world,” says Midleton Distillery blender Billy Leighton.
Many finished whiskies don’t take on enough different aromatic and flavor aspects, but not in the case of the Redbreast Lustau, which is overall more subtle although not as potently sherried as many Scotch whiskies become when finished this way. The important point is that, after establishing a range of 12, 15, 21 and cask strength 12-year-old versions, rather than go older, Midleton went with a non-age statement. This is a move that many Scotch and even American distillers are now shifting toward as stocks are hard pressed to keep up with demand. American consumers who have been taught that older is usually better (or at least costs more) may need some hand-selling on spirits like these, but the real issue for operators will be getting their hands on the stuff.
Bruichladdich has long been a cultish Islay single malt Scotch, mostly due to limited production. Now that iconic distiller Jim McEwan has moved on and the international supplier Rémy Cointreau has taken over, the distiller has opted out of the Scotch Whisky Association to get recipes and ingredient info on the Bruichladdich bottles, something the SWA has been reluctant to support. Bruichladdich master blender Adam Hannett says that the focus on things such as how the varieties of barley used to make Scotch whisky can impact the final product, and producing such boundary pushing iterations as Octomore (made to be the most heavily peated whiskey), is showing the breadth Islay whisky is capable of offering.
New 10-year-old bottlings of Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte, and Octomore are about to emerge this month, along with Hannett’s first version of the rare Black Art single malt, Black Art V. Bruichladdich is a whisky brand considered to be one for the aficionado. However, we’ve discovered as small American distillers build followings based on the rarity and limited supply of their products, the current whiskey drinker is Millennial from head to toe: experimental, curious, willing to step outside their comfort zones, and not price sensitive. Bars and restaurants frequently only take on products they know they will be able to serve regularly, but as craft beer seasonals and one-offs have shown, customers like the places where they can score the rare taste of the unusual.