W&A Gilbey was founded in London in 1857. By 1861, the company had opened a branch on what is now O'Connell Street in Dublin. At the time, it was customary for distilleries to sell distillate to wine merchants or "bonders", who had ample supplies of casks through the importation of fortified wines and would mature the whiskey themselves under bond. By the 1870s, Gilbey's – described as a "wine importer and distiller" at the time – had more than 300,000 gallons of whiskey from Dublin distilleries in stock under bond and sold whiskey to consumers under its own labels. These whiskeys were aged at least six years in Gilbey's own sherry casks at its bonded warehouses on Dublin's Harcourt Street.
By 1903, a whiskey known as John Jameson & Sons Castle "JJ Liqueur" Whiskey 12 Year Old was marketed in a bottle of similar shape and markings to those used for subsequent bottlings of Redbreast. This whiskey was produced using distillate sourced from the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin, the home of Jameson whiskey. Although this whiskey was likely the forerunner of Redbreast, the first official mention of "Redbreast" only dates back to 1912, when Gilbey's referred to the sale of "Redbreast" J.J. Liqueur Whiskey 12 Year Old. "Redbreast" was a nickname given to one of the whiskeys by Gilbey's chairman at the time, who was an avid birdwatcher, in reference to Robin Redbreast.
In 1968, Irish Distillers opted to phase out the supply of bonded whiskey to merchants such as Gilbey's. This threatened the future of the whiskey brand, as Irish Distillers controlled all the whiskey distilleries in operation in Ireland at that point. However, following pleas from Gilbey's, Irish Distillers agreed to continue to supply distillate for the production of Redbreast.
In 1971, Irish Distillers closed all its Dublin distilleries (including Bow Street) and consolidated production at the New Midleton Distillery, a purpose-built facility in County Cork. As a result, production of Redbreast whiskey moved from Dublin to Cork.
In 1985, Gilbey's ceased production of Redbreast. It entered into an agreement to sell the brand to Irish Distillers in 1986, and the brand was subsequently relaunched in 1991 after several years of absence from the market. Initially launched as a standalone 12 year old, Redbreast has since been released in 15 year old, 21 year old, and other variants.