Our large sherry casks, all manufactured by hand at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, are made from European oak, Quercus robur, and have a typical capacity of 500 litres. The butts used to mature whiskeys at Midleton are constructed specially for us using strict guidelines. Prior to being 'shipped home', the butts will have held sherry wine for two years. Extreme care is taken to avoid any potential for sulphur taint and there is absolutely no use of sulphur candles in the handling of Midleton Distillery owned and bound butts. Bourbon Barrels are made from American white oak, Quercus alba, and have a typical capacity of 200 litres. Many of these barrels are manufactured in the state of Kentucky, and have held Bourbon whiskey for a period of 3 or 4 years prior to being shipped to Ireland. Only 1st quality seasoned casks are purchased for use at the Midleton distillery.
The role of the master of maturation covers a very many key elements, from the sourcing of the wood, to the sampling, to the crucial decision as to when a whiskey is ready to be woken up. It is during these long sleeps that our barrels, our ex bourbon and ex sherry casks, impart their distinctive flavours, colours and aromas. While our whiskey for Redbreast 12 is aged for a minimum of 12 years, it is often made up of whiskeys that are many, many years older. And, as for our older Redbreast expressions, they, just like people, tend to mellow more with age.
The sherry influence in Redbreast is a story of craftsmen separated by almost 2000 miles from Jerez to Cork but drawn together by their shared passions, passed down from generation to generation. Beginning in the forests of Galicia, north-west Spain, 150 year old oak trees are felled, sawn and seasoned. Next the coopers in the Antonio Páez Lobato Bodega craft the oak into casks, which are then seasoned with Oloroso sherry for 2 years in the finest Bodegas in nearby Jerez. The sherry is then decanted and the butts are transported by boat to the Midleton Distillery, to be filled with new-make Single Pot Still Irish whiskey. Once filled they go for a long sleep in our Midleton warehouses where time works its magic to produce Redbreast. Join Head Blender Billy Leighton as he takes us on the journey of the sherry butt from forest to warehouse.
An interesting side note on the maturation of whiskey is cask maturation versus cask finishing. For example our Birdhouse special edition bottling - Mano a Lamh was a cask matured whiskey and our Redbreast Lustau sherry finished edition is just that, finished in a sherry cask. Sherry matured refers to the whiskey spending its entire life in a sherry butt. This results in a full flavoured whiskey, showing the strong influence of sherry in the final whiskey. By contrast sherry finished means that the final liquid has spent a final period of maturation solely in a sherry butt. Redbreast Lustau edition is initially matured in traditional bourbon and sherry barrels for a period of 9-12 years. It is then finished in first fill sherry butts for 1 additional year in first fill hand selected sherry butts.