When it comes to Irish whiskey, two names stand out above the rest: Redbreast and Jameson. These brands have a rich history and are beloved not just for their heritage but also for their distinct whiskey offerings. Redbreast is renowned for its 12-year-old single pot still whiskey, known for its intricate and mature taste. This makes it a favorite among deep-pocketed whiskey enthusiasts. On the other hand, Jameson is probably the second most famous alcohol in Ireland, just after Guinness. It's affordable and goes down smoothly, making it great for newcomers to Irish whiskey. You'll also be hard-pressed to find a pub without it stocked in the back.
But, here's something interesting: Redbreast and Jameson actually share a history. To set the scene, let's start from the beginning, around the 1870s. Before the name "Redbreast" emerged in the early 1900s, this whiskey was simply an Irish liquor produced by a company called W&A Gilbey, which originally imported and distilled wine. Per Caskers, during that era, it was typical for wine sellers — often referred to as "bonders" — to acquire new whiskey from local distilleries. They would then take charge of aging, bottling, and selling it under their own brand. This arrangement was possible because bonders had something distilleries lacked in abundance: empty casks, which are extremely great vessels for aging whiskey. And, guess which distillery W&A Gilbey selected as their supplier? You guessed it: John Jameson & Son!
Read more: 13 Liquors Your Home Bar Should Have
The First Bottle Of Redbreast Was Actually Rebottled Jameson Whiskey
W&A Gilbey began aging and repackaging John Jameson & Son's whiskey in 1887 under the name Castle Grand Whiskey. This whiskey was aged in Gilbey's used sherry casks and matured for over six years in their warehouses on Harcourt Street in Dublin before being bottled. By the end of the 1800s, the company had amassed a stock of over 700,000 gallons of Jameson's whiskey in their warehouses in huge barrels, according to the official Redbreast website.
It wasn't until around 1903 that what would later become known as Redbreast came into existence. Gilbey's (which had been renamed from W&A Gilbey) introduced a new whiskey labeled John Jameson & Son's Castle "JJ Liqueur" Whiskey 12 Year Old, according to VinePair. Historians have noted that the bottle's shape and labeling bore a striking resemblance to Redbreast, so it's often considered the precursor to the now-famous Redbreast brand. The liquor used in this bottling was sourced from the same place where Jameson whiskey was formerly produced: the famous Bow Street Distillery in Smithfield, Dublin, per Master of Malt.
The first mention of the name "Redbreast" occurred in 1912 when Gilbey's released the "Redbreast J.J. Liqueur Whiskey 12 Year Old." The name was inspired by the Robin Redbreast bird and was suggested by Gilbey's chairman, who happened to be an amateur birdwatcher. This bird has since become the symbol of the brand!
Where Do Redbreast And Jameson Stand In The 21st Century?
The Redbreast whiskey available today isn't the same as the one produced a century ago. In 1985, Gilbey's stopped making Redbreast whiskey, and in 1986, they sold the brand to Irish Distillers, a subsidiary of the French company Pernod Ricard. It wasn't until 1991 that the brand made a comeback with a single 12-year-old version, which has since become its most famous and popular whiskey. As the brand gained popularity, it expanded its portfolio to include older whiskeys, ranging from 15 to 21 years old. Interestingly, Irish Distillers, the company that owns Redbreast, also owns the Jameson brand. So, when you choose either bottle, you're buying from the same company!
However, despite this shared ownership, each brand maintains its unique identity and recipe, which you can taste in the distinct flavors. Redbreast is no longer just a re-packaged Jameson's whiskey — it has become its own drink. The hallmark of Redbreast whiskey is that it's crafted exclusively from pot-still whiskey. There are only a few single pot-still whiskey brands remaining, which is why Redbreast holds such a high price and prestigious reputation. In contrast, Jameson is a more conventional blend of both pot and column-distilled whiskey.
Despite their distinctly different production methods and flavor profiles, both of these whiskies have risen to prominence, not only within Ireland but also internationally as representatives of Irish whiskeys. Who would have thought that these two whiskies would share such an intriguing past?
Read the original article on Tasting Table.