Redbreast in the bonder era

An alliance with Jameson

By 1887 W & A Gilbey were marketing John Jameson & Son’s ‘sole make’ pure and unblended Irish whiskey. Every bottle of Castle Grand Whiskey had a label certifying that it was Jameson’s and upwards of 6 years old. At the turn of the century, the company held a stock of over 700,000 gallons of John Jameson & Son’s whiskey which was “especially reserved for their celebrated brands”. The casks filled by Jameson were supplied directly by Gilbey’s who, as importers of sherry, had access to an ample supply of casks. Once filled, the casks were stored in Gilbey’s cavernous vaults in their Harcourt Street bonded warehouse.

The precursor to Redbreast

In 1903, Gilbey’s whiskey brands included Castle Grand JJ Six Years Old and Castle Liqueur JJ Ten Years Old (JJ standing for John Jameson), both bearing the signature of John Jameson & Son. The following year, John Jameson & Son’s Castle “JJ Liqueur” Whiskey 12 Years Old, was being marketed at 4 shillings and 6 pence in a bottle, similar in shape, and bearing the red and white label seen on Redbreast bottlings up until the 1960s. Gilbey’s sold whiskey under the ‘Castle’ brand until at least the late 1930s.


The first official reference to the brand name 'Redbreast' appears in August 1912, when Gilbeys were selling "Redbreast" J.J. Liqueur Whiskey 12 Years Old, described as one of their "famous" brands. The fact that Redbreast was already a famous brand suggests that this may have been the nickname for Gilbey's Castle "JJ Liqueur" Whiskey 12 Years Old. The name 'Redbreast' itself refers to the bird, Robin Redbreast, and is attributed to the then Chairman of Gilbey's, who was an avid bird-fancier.

"The Priest's Bottle"

1920's Ireland was a time of political turmoil and economic uncertainty. Money was tight and money for fine whiskeys would have been a luxury beyond the means of most. Yet the country’s clergy enjoyed a life of considerable status and comfort so much so that Redbreast became affectionately known as '"The Priest's Bottle" after finding its way into many a church presbytery in Ireland. Clearly, individuals of both spiritual and gastronomic enlightenment.