Coming from a 200-year-old tradition, Redbreast is a Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey whose fate rests upon the shoulders of people like our Head Blender Billy Leighton. It is the hard work of those in Midleton Distillery who help to nurture and safeguard its recipes and iconic Sherry notes. It’s a role that requires the utmost skill, experience, but most of all passion.
So we were delighted to get an opportunity to ask him some of the questions you have always wanted to know and those that you may never have even thought of. In true Redbreast fashion, Billy answered each one with intricacy, heart and generosity of spirit & time.
A question I am often asked is “what is a typical day in the life of a Blender?” The answer is very simple….There is no such thing! I guess most people have this image of the Blender as someone who spends all day, in a lab, tasting, sniffing, mixing, testing samples of whiskey, which is an important part of the job, but a lot of time is also devoted to the management of maturing whiskey and the forecasting for future requirements.
In one sense, the role of Blender is the link between Marketing and Production, so it is not a 9 to 5 job. Modern technology means that I am never any more than a few clicks of a mouse away. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, but it means I can stay in touch with what is going on whether I’m at home, or in Jerez looking at Sherry casks or at a whiskey show in New York.
All the nosing of samples is done in the Blending Lab, a room designed to be a practical work-space for the sensory assessment of whiskey samples, bright, well ventilated, plain white walls and plenty of work-top area. There are a few tasting booths which provide a space with no distractions for our Sensory Panel to carry out regular tastings of whiskey samples.
For day to day operations, I work alongside Dave McCabe, Apprentice Blender. With each batch of Redbreast, we agree on which casks we will request to be sampled. Once the casks have been sampled and delivered to the Blending Lab, we will look at each cask sample individually and agree which ones are to be included.
There are always surprises, even with tried and tested combinations, a subtle nuance of aroma or flavour can pop up.
Some days it can be zero, other days I have prepared up to 300 samples. It has to be said that the 300 would not all be assessed in one single sitting. I would do a maximum of 50 then take a break.
The Redbreast that I enjoy most, is the one after a busy day and a nice meal. Pour a large measure, relax in my favourite armchair and savour that special taste for the rest of the evening. Even when the glass is empty I will still enjoy the aromas that are left behind.
The Redbreast Dream cask was a huge hit with those lucky enough to have tasted it. I am always looking at ideas on new expressions which may showcase a certain aspect of the flavour profile without losing that distinctive Redbreast style. Will any of them ever see the light of day?...who knows, watch this space!
There have been lots of great days while I have been Head Blender. Probably down to the success of a great range of whiskeys which are regularly picking up awards. And at Midleton we have a reputation for properly celebrating success. But if I was to pick one day, then it would be 1st September 2016 when we launched the Redbreast Lustau Edition in the Bodegas Lustau in Jerez. For me, that event was all that Redbreast stands for. It brought together a representation of the people who collaborate to make a brand great. We had the Coopers who made the casks, the Winemakers who seasoned the casks, the Midleton folk who made the Whiskey and most important of all, the consumers, it is they who can turn a good whiskey into a great whiskey.
And so there you have it, a snapshot of a day in the life of Head of Blending, Billy Leighton. Thanks to Billy for giving us his time and imparting his expert knowledge of whiskey blending.
P.S. To view our full Redbreast family below and order yours; we’ll be sure fly it to you asap:
If you’d like a video tour of Midleton led by Billy Leighton, and a look inside the world of creating Redbreast from grain to glass simply visit: www.redbreastwhiskey.com/en-EN/crafting-redbreast