At some point, now almost lost to history in certain countries, whisky made the transition from being viewed as an old fashioned beverage to being that of a lifestyle purchase. As the middle classes started to desire something more than a comfortable living, annual holiday and reasonable priced family car, whisky production and particularly whisky promotion started to speak to what consumers wanted to become, not just what they felt they needed. The single malt, which at the time was synonymous with Scotch, became positioned not only as the pinnacle of whisky production, but as an lifestyle choice. The concept of aspirational whisky was born. And its steady drum beat has been with us ever since.
Lifestyle products and the marketing associated with them have been woven into our consumer fabric – indeed anyone born after the millennium will likely consider any product which doesn’t attempt to embody their ideas, opinions, interests, attitudes and dreams as rather alien. And similarly whisky journeys are not what they were 20 years ago. The Internet is awash of aspirational spirit marketing. All of it subtly and not so subtly proposing that the whisky drinker of today should aspire to purchase/own (and possibly even drink) something ‘more’, something ‘greater’. What was, when I first started exploring whisky, a more innocent, perhaps even more natural progression, is now an inherent pressure on new enthusiasts.
“Ah, that’s just an entry-level whisky mate” – the implication being that once you’ve sampled it, you should be striving to move on and move up.
And the continued barrage of limited (and not so actually limited), ‘special’ editions speaks to this same concept – that not all whisky is created equal - and that by implication neither are all whisky drinkers.
There’s an undeniable burden on enthusiasts which simply wasn’t there when I entered the hobby. And the Internet, with all its power to educate and inform, is a key driver of both aspirational purchases as well as aspirational pressures. Whilst we’re all being ‘influenced’ to look a certain way, we’re also being ‘influenced’ to purchase whisky in a certain way too.
But at the same time, this is inherently part and parcel of a steadily maturing ‘modern’ market. And enthusiast's aspirations are a key driver for the continued growth and diversification of the sector. If we all were content, either with the flavour, or the status of Glenfiddich 12 year old, the whisky world would be a poorer place in every sense.
And that brings us neatly to a move from whisky to whiskey…
Much has already been written about the recent ultra high-end releases from both Midleton and J.J. Corry – a near arms race to the upper echelons of what whisky aspirations can be. And whilst I have some sympathy with those who insist that “whisky is for everyone”, at the same time, the market aims of these two 5-figure bottlings should be properly understood and appreciated. Ignore the liquid for a minute (yes, I know you’d rather not). The adage that “no whisky is worth that amount of money” isn’t actually relevant for 99.9% of people wading through this post when it comes to these particular expression.
The Midleton Very Rare 45 year old and The Chosen were never designed with you in mind. They were conceived to build the Irish whiskey aspirational market – and thus it’s future reputations.
How many times have you walked into a whisky shop or airport and seen a single malt Scotch encased in an alarmed, glass temple to modern consumerism?
These releases were imagined and created to start to leverage the aspirations of Irish whiskey enthusiasts in exactly the same manner – to indicate that Irish whiskey can compete on a level playing field with its Scotch cousins. You can moan about the price all you like – but if you do, you’re speaking about a product which was never imagined as being created for you in the first place. Not all whisky was created equal.
Whilst I might have personally preferred that the Irish whiskey industry waited just a little while longer (and thus had a greater diversification of liquid stocks available) before gunning for the world’s coveted liquid positions, I find it perfectly understandable why they’ve decided to pull the trigger. The market (at least before COVID) was maturing at a rapid rate and already fans, both domestic and overseas, were showing a keen willingness to buy into both the continued resurgence of the sector, and also some of its more ambitiously priced and positioned product launches. Aspirations are being met.
Redbreast’s Dream Cask series is certainly building on the growing zeitgeist for older and seemingly more exclusive pot still whiskies. Whilst it’s not in the same strata of the two mentioned releases above, it is for many a dream purchase – and thus aspirational.
Redbreast’s third Dream Cask offering owes much of its origins to the creation of the Redbreast 27 year old which was announced and promptly snaffled up earlier this year. In a similar vein to the 27 year old, this year’s Dream Cask has a port maturated component amongst its liquid buildings block. But unlike the 27 year old, the final vatting of casks has also spent some time marrying in the pink stuff.
All of the Dream Cask component whiskies are single pot still:
With the contents of the four casks being married together and finished in a ruby port pipe for 15 weeks.
The net result is 915 (50cl) bottles produced at an ABV of 51.5% and yet another ballot to moan about. The Ruby Port Edition Dream Cask ballot, which will be hosted in Redbreast’s online member’s club The Birdhouse, will run from Monday 25th May through till June 2nd. With those lucky few who are selected provided with the opportunity to purchase a bottle for €490. A notable price increase over last year’s PX edition – but a rather different beast and with a larger age-statement.
Nose: Packed-full of expressive polished fruits – guava, mango, papaya, peach, macerated cherries and particularly pronounced honeydew melon. Alongside are dainty herbals and spices – lemon verbena, jasmine leaves, angelica and nutmeg. Marzipan sweetness is joined by coconut macaroons and vanilla crème patisseries, whilst lacquered wood panelling and old furniture is buffed by a Mr Sheen-infused dust cloths. Dilution reveals additional sweetness from Fruit Salad chews and an almost bubble-gum like general fruitiness alongside freshly pressed cotton sheets.
Taste: The arrival is mouth coating, velvety and supple, and unsurprisingly fruit-forward. Orchards, stones and tropicals (apple, apricot, quince, melon and guava) sit with deeper layers of red berries from both the port and sherry influences. Shaved chocolate and dusty cinnamon rolls give way to a piquancy from chilli pepper and spiced rye bread (anise and caraway). Oak runs throughout – polished and glossy. Less dusty library - more parquet flooring, French cabinets and marquetry. The addition of water expresses cherry Bakewell’s and almond paste alongside vanilla buttercream and a melange of syrupy fruit juices. It’s less spicy, but also less defined and more tannic.
Finish: Long with fading cinnamon, chocolate sweetness and final pass of cool mint.
Redbreast Dream Cask 28 year old Port Cask Edition lives up to its name. The fruit-forward distillate style is perfectly suited to both longer aging and also to multifaceted blending and finishing. The result is a highly harmonious whiskey that is as delicious as it is complex. A layered expression that shows both a deftness of touch, but one which also allows the influences of each of its four casks and final port marriage to share the limelight. Whilst more expensive than last year’s PX edition, this takes things up a notch. Whether a treat or an aspiration - this is nothing less than beautiful.
Review sample provided by Richmond & Towers on behalf of Irish Distillers