Saturday, June 2, 2012

Head to Head: Redbreast 12 CS vs Redbreast 15

After Whisky Advocate gave Redbreast 12 Cask Strength a 96 rating and awarded it Irish Whiskey of the Year, subsequent reviews popped up in March on just about every whisky blog, along with some reviews and comparisons to its older, less alcoholed brother.  Here is my late, meager contribution to the great conversation.  First some general impressions and notes.

Redbreast 12 Cask Strength (57.7 %): needs water, which releases a bouquet of soft, balanced notes.  Fruits, spices, sherry, vanilla, and oak are all there.  Less creamy than what I typically think of with Irish whiskies, but not quite like a Scotch either.  Sweet, syrupy finish that delightfully lingers.

Redbreast 15 (46%): perfect strength out of the bottle.  Rich, musty whisky with strong sherry influence.  Banana cream, molasses, burnt caramel.  Big finish.

The whiskies are actually pretty different.  The 15 is richer and bigger with a much stronger sherry influence, whereas the 12 integrates more notes with superb balance.  Because of its complexity and balance, I feel like the 12 is perfect for collecting high ratings from professional drinkers.  However, the 15 is the clear favorite to my tongue.  

The head-to-head of these whiskies reminds me of a Malcolm Gladwell essay on ketchup.  Gladwell discusses the success of Heinz ketchup by invoking its high amplitude, the "word sensory experts use to describe flavors that are well blended and balanced, that 'bloom' in the mouth."  Redbreast 12 CS has this.  There are the component flavors, but you actually have to look hard to find them as they blend so well.  I would usually describe this as "over-balanced" as I tend to think of with expensive blended Scotches.  

I prefer a hook; something that really pops out in a whisky that I can delight in.  Maybe if whisky were a condiment that I would mix with every meal, I'd prefer the 12.  But the 15 has more character with its beautifully rich sherry mustiness and big banana base.  

Redbreast 12 Cask Strength: 90 points (A-).  Redbreast 15: 95 points (A).


  1. I do so love your head to head comparisons. I like to picture them as you sitting at a table, with a notebook filled with notes and ticks under various coumns, and two tasting glasses. Each bottle gets progressively lower and lower, as you the 12 is nudging ahead, lets go back to the 15. Hmm, more sherry, best compare with the 12 again. Hmm, too balanced, lets contrast with the 15's body...

    Perhaps not, but it's an amusing mental picture. And kidding aside, I enjoy the direct compare and contrast between two similar bottles.

  2. Thanks! Your mental picture is not too far off. Since these are Irishes (aside: there was an otherwise crappy 50s Disney movie with a funny scene where a Scottish father reprimands his two boys by saying 'Look at you two fighting like a couple of Irishes'. I've been sitting on that quote ever since for the right time to use it with my own boys) I've given them a bit less scrutiny, but my typical approach for a new whisky is to have a dram of it by itself a couple of times, then line up 5 other similar whiskies to benchmark it against.

  3. Great term, "overbalanced", this is going to stick to my mind! I did taste that recently, it was the Glenmorangie 12! Compass Box is flirting with that too sometimes... I know what you mean, at first you're like "mmm, this is very nice!", but on second taste you feel a bit cheated, like you're drinking a glossy ad...