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).