Whisky Advocate

Reviews: Redbreast 15 yr. old vs. Redbreast 12 yr. old

September 17th, 2010

I’ve been waiting for this new 15 year old release to come to the U.S., and here it is!  I wanted to like it better than the 12 year old, but I don’t. Don’t get me wrong: the 15 is a great whiskey! It just doesn’t have the polish of the 12, which is a classic.

Redbreast, 12 year old, 40%, $40
Very elegant, complex and stylish. Honeyed and silky in texture, with toffee, toasted marshmallow, nougat, maple syrup, banana bread and a hint of toasted coconut. Bright fruit and golden raisin blend in nicely with the layers of sweetness.  Impeccable balance and very approachable. Classic Irish whiskey!

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 96

Redbreast, 15 year old, 46%, $75
Redbreast 12 year old is a classic pure pot still Irish whiskey, so where can one go from here? This new 15 year old expression is more muscular (bottling at 46% and not chill-filtered certainly helps.), but there are trade-offs. It’s a bit closed on the nose (like a great Bordeaux wine that’s too young). I do enjoy the silky/oily texture, the bold resinous oak spice grip on the finish, and the rich nutty toffee, fig, black raspberry, chocolaty, chewy nougat throughout the palate. Still, it’s not as eminently drinkable, refined or balanced as the 12 year old. (Imagine the 12 year old on steroids.)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 92

74 Responses to “Reviews: Redbreast 15 yr. old vs. Redbreast 12 yr. old”

  1. Michael says:

    I am wondering if there are different Redbreast 12YO releases. What I see in the stores in Canada is 40% ABV
    Thank you for the review, John.

    • John Hansell says:

      I am out of town right now and won’t be able to check my bottle until later this afternoon, but I think it might be (so I changed it). I will verify later today.

  2. Scribe says:

    Boy, a 96 and a 92 rating at those price points is mighty attractive…now I look forward to getting the 15! The 12-year-old Redbreast was one of my first introductions to whiskey, and it is as delightful today as it was back then! Thanks for the timely post, John…literally saw the new one for first time two days ago!

  3. Luke says:


    There have been long discussions re the later vattings of Redbreast 15 particularly with reference to the nose – it is quite restrained!

    The most recent vatting of Redbreast 12 has been noted elsewhere as very good.

    I wonder, what would Redbreast 12 be like at 46% NCF? (Likewise, Powers 12!)

  4. Over on this side of the pond, we are huge fans of Redbreast and the Pure Pot Still style. Interestingly the 2010 bottling of the Redbreast 12 has been getting excellent reviews showing an improvement on previous bottlings. However you have to remember the 15yo is effectively a small batch and more variable, the emerging impression here is that the 2005 RB15 (for Maison du Whisky) was a superb with the current 2010 RB15, whilst still excellent, is more distinctive and some stay reminiscent of an older style Irish Pure Pot Still.

  5. PS I just compared my 2010 RB15 (Irish) 700ml bottle to your (US) 750ml bottle pictured and the labels are slightly different, I’d be interested to find what the batch code & date on your RB15 bottle is! Slainte!!!

  6. Texas says:

    Well I am a bit shocked that the 12 is a 96..that puts it in rare company.

  7. Ryan says:

    Exactly Tex! And nail on the head John. Good work. Redbreast 12 and 15 are fabulous Irish Whiskies… the 12-year version just a wee-bit more so. Out of curiosity I compared these reviews with all other previous Irish Whiskey reviews posted online at Malt Advocate, and noted that Red Breast 15 shares the same 92 score as the beautiful Bushmills’ Madeira Finish, 21 year old, and The Tyrconnell, 10 year old, Port Cask Finish whiskies. While Redbreast 12 shares center stage, 96, with the legendary Jameson Pure Pot Still Limited Reserve, 15 year old. That is HUGELY impressive company for both versions of Redbreast. And it is thoroughly pleasing that the 12yr and 15yr are reasonably priced at $40 and $75. Each of these whiskies have a more modest MSRP than their peers within MA’s review archive and that is just brilliant! As a rule, I feel the only congratulations a distiller and distributor deserves is a purchase, but clearly the folks at Old Midleton Distillery, and Irish Distillers, are bringing their “A” game with these whiskies. Let us hope it is contagious.

    • Texas says:

      I am pretty sure that of all John’s ratings of currently available whisk(e)ys, the $40 vs. a rating of 96 puts the Redbreast 12 at the top of the heap in the bang for buck category. I pass the Redbreast 12 every time I go down the Scotch aisle at my local Spec’s, and I have always been afraid to spend the $40 bucks because I have always been disappointed with Irish for the most part. Methinks I am going to have to reconsider.

      • Red_Arremer says:

        Texas, my advice– don’t let your excitement over some ratings/price ratio cost you a bottle of something you already favor.

        Redbreast 12 is nice enough, but there are plenty of better values in the 40$ range– Glenfarclas 12, Wild Turkey Rarebreed, Balvenie Doublewood, Four Roses Small Batch, to name just a few.

      • Ryan says:

        Tex, Redbreast 12 is served at a multitude of restaurants and bars these days, so if you are reluctant to plunk-down $40 on a whole bottle just try a pour first and see what you think.

      • pj says:

        redbreast is the 1st irish that didn’t disappoint me, tex.

    • Michael says:

      All I can say it that at C$45, Redbreast 12YO is only slightly more expensive than JW Black Label blend and is less expensive than any single malt mentioned (they usually start at C$60). These are Ontario prices.
      I have never had an Irish whisky (and never thought of buying it either) but this 96 score started to get my interest.

      • Ryan says:

        Michael, Imagine a 12-year-old single malt Speyside whisky denuded of the faintest trace of peat smoke, then dial-up the orchard fruit and finesse it all to the point of heavy-cream smoothness while keeping it complex and vibrant. Johnnie Walker Black is not similar.

        • Michael says:

          Thank you Ryan.
          I am assuming that it is an excellent whiskey. Score 96 puts it at the absolute top.
          I was referring to JW Black because it also costs C$45 which puts Redbreast 12YO in the price range of blends not single malts. To put things in (exaggerated) perspective The Macallan 18YO is C$250 in Ontario, Canada.

  8. smellmyskunk says:

    John, in your post on October 26, 2007 you said that the Redbreast 15 yr was “fantastic”. How does the current Redbreast 15 yr compare to the one you were writing about three years ago?

    • John Hansell says:

      My original comment back in 2007 was based on the first Redbreast 15. I haven’t tasted the old one side by side with the new one, but my gut feeling here is that I liked the first one just a tad better.

  9. Stephen says:

    Do you see the white elephant to John??? You just gave the vaunted 15-year-old Redbreast a 92. How dare you?!? The Yankees have been anxiously awaiting RB 15’s triumphant return and any score below 99 was bound to disappointment them. Good for you mate! That 92 is quite the fair, flattering, and honest score. But apparently a bombshell none-the-less.

  10. John says:

    I have yet to taste the new one, but the general consensus is that the original version is the better one, the newer one being a little “dustier”, which you get from older versions of Irish pure pot still.

    The original Redbreast is one of my favourite whiskies ever. I’m one of the few, though, that might prefer the Jameson 15, slightly, although that can change from day to day.

  11. Nathan says:

    Unfortunately it’s rare to see the RB12 for $40 any more…these days it’s in the mid-$40s on the west coast and $50+ here on the east coast. Still worth the money, but it hurts to see it go up so quickly.

    • Texas says:

      Yeah you are right, I just checked Spec’s website and it’s $47. I can get Cask Strength Laphroaig for that price….still a good price though in these times.

  12. Joshua says:

    I’ve got a bottle of the RB15 on order. Have been eying this baby since the announcement of it’s US availability. A 92 pt’r? Very nice. Thanks John!

  13. You’ve definitely irked my curiosity and unfortunately it is going to cost me … I was always going to get the new 2010 RB15 but by the sound of it I’ll have to get a 2010 RB12 also and do a 4 way tasting RB15 2005 & 2010 and RB12 of which I have currently a 2009 open and now need to get a 2010. This tasting business can become expensive …. Anyway for me the 2005 RB15 has always been the top of my list … the Jameson RVR & Jameson 15yo PPS are possibly a better whiskeys but value to quality ratio nothing compares to the RB15. However there are many that have always rated the RB12 higher and that is good too at the end of the day it is all personal choice. I’ll be back soon with my impression of the New RB15 😉

  14. Chef! says:

    I’ve tried all the labels mentioned here including about a dozen or so more Irish whiskies over the years. I know it may not be fair to compare all Irish whisky, their finishes, and its blends — ranging from similar price points to expensive yearly releases — against pot still Redbreast 12. But the price and goodness of RB12 makes it’s hard not to call it my benchmark. It’s nice to see get the recognition it deserves! RB15 has been on my list for sometime now.

  15. Serge says:

    I could try the old Jameson’s Redbreast 12yo from the 70s, that was something!
    I also used to like the 12 a little better than the 15 around 2003/2005. Excellent whiskeys indeed IMHO

  16. Michael says:

    John, I do hope that you would find this question acceptable and not inappropriate or silly. It is an honest question and the answer would help me understand a thing or two about whisky.

    Is this whisky on the same quality level as:

    The Dalmore, 50 year old
    Gold Bowmore, 1964 vintage
    Rittenhouse Rye, 25 year old

    • John Hansell says:

      It is a fair question. And yes, I think this bottle of Redbreast 12 is classic Irish whiskey, up there with the best Irish whiskeys I have ever tasted. It’s that simple.

      It’s not scotch–or rye whiskey for that matter. So, it’s a little unfair to compare apples to oranges. But, I think this bottle of Redbreast 12 is to Irish whiskey what Gold Bowmore or Dalmore 50 is to Scotch whisky.

      • Michael says:

        Thank you John.

      • I think it is very helpful that you point this out, John. Because for quick readers this might indeed create the illusion that the Redbreast 12 is on par with Gold Bowmore if tasted side by side.

        To be honest, I’m a bit uncomfortable with having different scoring scales for Scotch, Irish, US or other whiskies.

        • John Hansell says:

          I don’t have different scales. I think you misinterpreted my comment. I don’t have different scales for different whiskey categories. A 96 is a 96, and is given that score based on my rating scheme which you will find outlined in my Buyer’s Guide on my website and in Malt Advocate.

          What I was saying is that a Scotch whisky doesn’t taste like an Irish whiskey, and just because you like a 96-rated scotch doesn’t mean you will like a 96-rated Irish whiskey (or rye whskey, for that matter).

          I don’t want to go off-topic here. Let’s save this discussion for a separate blog post.

          • I’m releived that it was only a misunderstanding. I recall that you have stated before that you only use one scale, but the “apples and oranges” comment just did not sound like that.

            The question if the “average Irish” is more different from the “average Scotch” than say a Macallan 18 from an Ardbeg Supernova is indeed both highly philosophical and highly off-topic and truly deserves a blog post of its own 😉

      • As a followup question that just came into my mind:

        What score would you give if this was a fictional “Glen Redbreast” Single Higland Grain Whisky?

        • John Hansell says:

          Same. A 96. See my comment above.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            John, I remember one time you rated some old Tomatin or Tomintoul (can’t remember which) very high and noted that it had a lot of things in common with amongst other things an old rum. So I trust that if you like a whisky a lot, but on account of category atypical features you let people know that so they won’t be thrown off.

          • Mark McGuire says:

            I think that what John is trying to get across is that no matter the inherent differences in the “taste of the type” (i.e.: rye, scotch [whether single or blend], irish [whether single or blend {in this case a PURE POT STILL blend}, bourbon, beer/ale/stout, etc.etc.), the Redbrest 12yo/40% is 4 points from Nirvana/perfection. To use a ficticious canine analogy: For example, say the AKC (American Kennel Club) voted a Rottwieler “BEST OF SHOW” last year; a Poodle this year; and an English Bulldog next year is not to say one breed/’taste of the type’ is superior to the other, but rather, that each respective dog got, say, a 96 out of 100 score to win their individual “BEST OF CLASS”. This means that ALL of these dogs were 4 points from perfection (a 96 is a 96, no matter the type of dog), and that “BEST OF SHOW” is a determination that can only be made by your individual tastes, likes/dislikes, & experiences.

          • Michael says:

            I think that most of those “close to perfection” dogs might cost approximately the same amount of money.
            I would never comment on the score but my interest in this whiskey was definitely a result of seeing something this high. I had to try a 96 point whiskey and now I know what to think of this “breed” 😉

      • Steve Fox says:


        I think it is wright way to look at different styles of whisky
        this is a very fare way to score

      • I agree that it’s never a bad thing to point out that even with a high score it might not be everybody’s favourite because personal tastes may differ. But I wouldn’t want to pin it down just on the geopraphy as I think that many “mainsteream” Scotches have more in common with Irish drams than with other Scotches from the extreme ends on the spectrum like sherry or peat monsters.

  17. David says:

    John, Just checked the Michigan Liquor Control Commission website for the Redbreast 15. They list the minimum shelf price at $179.98 for the 750 ml bottle. Reasonably priced?

  18. Badgerbrown says:

    Redbreast 12 yo is a world class performer right now, it is definitely right up there with any whisky you can name. The new 15 yo though, I have to be honest and say I’m not a fan. It tastes like a blackcurrant liquer, where has the character of the 12 gone? Ok, there are some traces of pot still in there but you have to squint with your tastebuds to find them. For me the 15 was a huge disappointment because I love Irish Pot Still and the 12 is so awesome I thought the 15 would be a nailed-on classic. I reckon it must be a bit if a rogue batch given the overwhelmingly positive reviews of the previous batch.

  19. At the Munich Whisky Festival in March I tasted the 15 as wel and I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed either. I was thinking about getting a bottle, but I thought the price was not really justified by the quality.

  20. Matt J says:

    It may have been due to a poorly fitting cork, but the last bottle of Redbreast 12 I had did not fare well over time after I opened it. It started out spectacular but after a couple of months, it had lost most of its pizzazz. Very sad. And strange, too…. almost everything else in my cabinet has improved slightly after breathing (and some significantly).

    I guess that’s why they say, “whiskey don’t keep.”

  21. Rick Duff says:

    I just plunked down $48.95 for a bottle of the 12yo in Ohio. It better live up to that rating John! 😉

  22. Michael says:

    I am very inexperienced in bourbon and have no experience with Irish whiskey but Redbreast 12YO is closer in my mind to bourbon than to Scotch single malt. I tasted it today with a blend (Ballantine’s 17YO) and single malt (Mortlach matured in bourbon cask) and I have mixed feelings.

  23. H.Diaz says:

    Seems like a much better deal to buy two 12 y/o bottles than one 15 y/o. File this in the more bang for your buck category.

    Oh, five or so years ago I first tried the Redbreast 12 y/o for the first time. It was new to American shores and was highly praised. In an older issue of Malt Advocate, can’t remember which one off the top of my head, John labeled the 12 y/o a “cult whisky”, along with Ardbeg 10 y/o, Aberlour Abunadh and a few others.

    Fast forward and all three cult whiskies are widely available, around these parts anyway, and very affordable, $45 – $65. All first class whiskies.

  24. Nj says:

    Strange – I always liked the 15y much better than the 12y. It has more complexity and a certain note that is completely missing from the 12y.

    However, I am referring to 2009 batches, so I am wondering if I would now waste money on the 15.

    • sam k says:

      Nj, another good example that John’s tastes are not necessarily yours, and vice versa. None of us agrees with every reviewer every time, no matter how good they are or how much we respect their reviews.

      Nobody’s right, and nobody’s wrong, we just all have different tastes. If this were not true, we’d all be drinking the same thing (God forbid)!

  25. Dutch says:

    Are the bottles dated so we would be able to tell if it’s a 2009 or 2010?

    • mongo says:

      they seem to be. at least, i looked at the bottle of the 12yo that our local liquor store has on the shelf for $38 and it had what i assume was a date-stamp on the rear/bottom: 22/9/2009, i believe it was.

      • mongo says:

        i now have a bottle of the 2010 edition and i can confirm that it has a date etched into the glass below the front label. 02.03.10, it says on mine. at least, i assume that’s a date.

        • Dutch says:

          Thanks, and that’s a great date if you read it US style, Feb 3 is my birthday, not so if you read it European, Mar 2 LOL

  26. Joshua says:

    While I’ve not yet had the RB12, I just had the 15yr and it’s a nice bold Irish whiskey! Instant fan.

  27. John says:

    There’s some class of code etched on the bottle, I think.

  28. Andreas says:

    The Mainproblem from Irish Distillers had been, that the 2009er RB 15 yo wasn`t as quite as good as the RB 15 yo 2005 Release.

    I had thought, after the informations, that they will give up the RB 15 and making the John Jameson 18 yo, that i can let the 15 yo in my private bar as a reserve, after the newest informations of the revival of RB 15 yo in 2009 i have killed my 15yo Release 2005. It was one of the best i ever had.

    After that i bought a 15 yo Release 2009 and it was awful. It`s still a good whisky, everyone who bought it, without the taste of the release 2005 on the tongue, was amused. Me not!

    The newest information is, that the newest Release of the redbreast 15 yo, the 2010 Release, shall be as good as the 2005.

    Maybe, i hope so.

    • Nj says:

      Hopefully the 2010 is better. The current 12y really is nothing special compared to the older batches, and if the 15 is now of lower quality as well, I will wait until next year.

  29. Lew Bryson says:

    A 96? For $40? I smell Best Buy award…and if it smells like 12 Year Old Redbreast, I’ll have a double.

  30. Henry says:

    I am a big fan of Redbreast 12 and I can’t wait to get my hands on a bottle of the 15 so I can try it. I always here about how Redbreast is pure pot still and I’ve learned what that technically means in the distilling process, but I can’t exactly put my finger on what the flavor difference is. People are always talking about the pot still flavor in Irish whiskey and I’m never sure what it means. Can someone enlighten me about what the flavor in “pot still flavor” actually tastes like?

    • JohnM says:

      Expressions used to describe pure pot still are often “brittle”, “oily”, “linseed”, “spicy”…

      I think the older ones are a bit dusty and musty…

  31. Just purchased a bottle of 12 year old Redbreast and it is great.

  32. BillT says:

    Just picked up a bottle of RedBreast 15 YO in Northern Colorado…WOW, amazing

  33. Dave from WI says:

    Just picked up my first 12 year old RedBreast as an early Christmas present to myself… haven’t uncorked it yet, but will in an hour or two… Paid $35.99 here in WI, and am thrilled to have found such a low price for such a highly rated wisky. Merry Christmas…

    • BillT says:

      Dave, 12 year old is $44 in Colorado so you got a great price. BTW, the 15 year old is $74 in Colorado. The difference is not great so I think the 12 year old is probably what I will continue to buy

  34. Dave from WI says:

    Well, just opened the RedBreast and yes… Merry Christmas to me… an absoulte delight to enjoy, smooth, velvety, and very tasty indeed! A new favorite and a new tradition started… Snow on Chrismas eve, great music, and a dram of Redbreast… okay… more than one, maybe two…

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