Meet the Blender: In Conversation with Billy Leighton, Redbreast Whiskey


To mark the release of the Redbreast Dream Cask today on The Birdhouse, we shared a tipple with Billy Leighton, Master Blender at Midleton Distillery, to talk blending, World Whisky Day and making dreams coming true…

Can you briefly tell us about your role at Midleton Distillery Co. Cork and what it involves?

As Master Blender, my job covers many aspects; chiefly it’s about maintaining the quality of our family of whiskeys. As any distiller or blender will tell you, there’s a real skill, an art almost, in achieving a consistency across a single expression year on year.

That aside, the part I really enjoy is researching and developing new whiskeys, not to mention discovering some real gems in our vaults, such as the Redbreast Dream Cask we’ve just released.

It’s not all fun and tasting though. Like any job there are chores; managing stocks, dealing with numbers, accounts, forecasts etc. But that’s a small price to pay for such an enviable vocation!

What is the best part of being a Blender?

We have a cracking production team at Midleton with a proud heritage of crafting our wide a range of Irish whiskeys. And, as I say, it’s being able to use my knowledge and experience – I’ve been doing this for 40 years – to develop new products that gets me out of bed in the morning.

I also love the social aspects, such as meeting other professional people within this fantastic industry, meeting consumers at shows and events…and talking to bright, dynamic and appreciative journalists, of course!

What is your all-time favourite Whiskey?

Ooh, now you’ve got me. That’s not an easy question for any blender to answer!

They say that with any art, appreciation always improves with understanding, so I have to say single pot still Irish whiskey is where it’s at, because I know it so well. And, of those, Redbreast is the manifestation of my preferred style, and Redbreast Dream Cask is my selfish indulgence.

What was the last whiskey you tasted?

I shared our Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength with some friends a few nights ago and it was delightful. It holds up fantastically.

How do you like to enjoy whiskey? What’s your time and place for a glass?

It’ll usually be a social occasion and I like to introduce people to single pot still Irish whiskey by way of a glass of Redbreast 12 year old with maybe a few drops of water. Other times, when I get the opportunity just on my own, I will unwind with a neat glass of Redbreast 21 year old.

What is the secret to making a good whiskey?

Aside from the obvious, the best quality distillate and best quality casks, there is no substitute for the passion of the generations of people involved in the production. Years of skill through distillers and blenders, and a good team.

World Whisky Day is on 19th May, what are you doing to celebrate it?

Of course, World Whisky Day is one of the highlights in the whiskey calendar. To celebrate this year, we’re releasing the Redbreast Dream Cask exclusively through our members’ club, The Birdhouse, and through a tasting video on our Facebook page at 4pm.

We originally unveiled the Redbreast Dream Cask during a Facebook LIVE tasting to mark our World Whisky Day 2017 celebrations. It was by far the largest tasting we’ve ever had and it went down so well with everyone we had many, many requests to make it available. So it’s an honour to see it bottled to mark World Whisky Day 2018.

What makes the Dream Cask so special?

Redbreast Dream Cask is a limited edition, 32 Year Old single pot still Irish whiskey from a single cask I hand-selected last year. I chose it for having the perfect balance of pot still, Spanish oak and sherry flavours, which can usually only be achieved through blending. In almost 40 years as a blender it really is the fulfilment of a dream.

What’s next for Redbreast?

We are always considering new ideas – so watch this space!

Redbreast Dream Cast (500ml, RRP £450) is available to purchase exclusively from The Birdhouse, Redbreast’s members’ club, from 19th May 2018. Follow the link and see what all the hush is about…