Midleton Whiskey unveiled their latest Very Rare Vintage 2017 last week at the Midleton Distillery in Cork with an exclusive tasting of each vintage from the Midleton Very Rare Collection from 1984 to 2017. As the whisky, and whiskey, expert for International Excellence Luxury Magazine, I flew over to beautiful Cork to sup, sample and partake of these superb tipples.
Cork is a little gem on the South coast of Ireland, set in the mouth of the River Lee with The Midleton Distillery a mere half an hour to the east, and a hop and a skip from the lovely Castlemartyr resort where I was staying.
The original or Old Midleton Distillery goes back to the early 17th Century and the New Midleton Distillery was built alongside the old one when Irish Distillers formed as a merger of John Power & Son, John Jameson & Son and the Cork Distilleries Company in 1966. Production began at the new distillery in 1975 and the first Midleton Very Rare was launched in 1984. The distillery itself is quite beautiful with red wood framed windows set in looming and impressive black and grey stone buildings, and home to the largest copper pot still in the world. The copper stills here are hand made by Forsyths in the traditional style and are magnificent in both shape and colour and an important part of the whiskey manufacture and resultant taste.
So after a quick swim in the Castlemartyr pool I made my way down to the very smart and convivial Knight’s bar to meet my hosts and start the evening with a gorgeous glass of Dair Ghaelach, a Midleton single pot still whiskey, a triple copper pot distilled mash of malted and unmalted barley. The Midleton Dar Ghaelach is, in my opinion, one of the finest whiskeys in the world. I would rate this as one of the top five whiskeys, in no particular order, as when a whiskey is produced to this quality it just comes down to a matter of taste as to which you would prefer. But have no doubts if you are drinking this, you are supping excellence. The balance of flavours, fruit and lemon, spice and caramel was utterly perfect with a long rounded finish, so each sip could be savoured for ages, which is handy as its 58.2% ABV.
The evening moved on to the impressive Old Midleton Distillery, which has been converted into a museum or shrine to whiskey, where after a brief speech from the previous legendary master distiller Barry Crocket, we repaired to a private tasting amongst the barrels. The current head blender Billy Leighton took us through different special years in the Midleton range, starting with the very first in 1984, then 1987, 1997, 2006, and finishing with the 2012. The whiskeys were all excellent but at a push I preferred the 2006. Billy is charming, laid back and passionate about whiskey. He started at the distillery in 1976, so he knows his way round. It was a wonderful experience discussing the various flavours, aromas and blends with him and he is a gracious and self effacing host.
Our next stop was a ten course dinner, yes ten courses, a very wise move as by then we were all slightly pie-eyed. The chef for the evening was Michelin starred Martijn Kajuiter and the food is genuinely innovative and creative. Each course was unusual, surprising and delicious. His trifle is kind of a ten course desert in itself, a food safari that spans the whole jelly, trifle, fruit, mousse and sweets kingdom. All accompanied by an Irish women/rock star playing the harp, with extraordinary deftness, fusing a haunting feminine voice with modern traditional and rock melodies. Throw in the fine wine, whiskeys and some great conversations and the evening was a great success. However it was not over yet, we then retired to the Castlemartyr Knight’s bar to quench our thirst further with the full range of Midleton whiskeys, including others in the Irish Distillers portfolio, such as Redbreast and Spot.
So by now you really want to know if the Midleton Very Rare Vintage Release 2017 created by Head Distiller Brian Nation is a welcome addition to the pantheon of Irish whiskies? It is quite simply superb. It boasts the oldest whiskeys used in the blend, 32 year old grain whiskey and 26 year old pot still whiskey. Aged in old Bourbon barrels, all of which give it a wonderful smooth flavour and exquisite balance. It possesses an oily texture like liquid gold that flows over the palate with a marzipan, caramel flavour. Breathe the aroma in, at least three times, before drinking then swirl it round in the mouth. As it absorbs the air you get hints of raspberries and banana with a faint whiff of oak and bourbon that pervades throughout. It is absolute luxury in a glass. It looks impressive too, they have redesigned the bottle, taking inspiration from the poet Yeats, crafting the shape around a pen nib, with glasses to match that release the aroma and flavour magnificently.
Unlike some brands they are not looking to reproduce the same whiskey each year. They want to make each year better than the last. This effectively means that there is a contemporary element of fashion and acceptance of changing palettes and time. The Very Rare Vintage will adapt to taste and temperament so that each release will represent the character of that year. How wonderful to be able to go back and taste and compare the annual varieties. Personally I’d like to collect the lot.
Midleton Very Rare Cask Circle
The next day a very select few returned to the Midleton distillery for a special presentation of the new Midleton Very Rare Cask Circle. This is a private members club that offers whiskey collectors the unique opportunity to own their very own cask of Midleton Very Rare Irish whiskey. These casks have been carefully selected by Master Distiller Brian Nation for their quality and rarity. Choose, with Brian’s help and expertise, the cask that suits your particular taste and you can then have it bottled there and then or when required. You can pick your own label and create an extremely fine and unique gift for yourself and friends.
Pipette in hand we partook of a couple of casks and the selection was exquisite, Brian has set aside the finest whiskey the world has to offer for a very lucky few to enjoy and share. There is nothing like tasting an exceptional whiskey straight from the barrel in the dimly lit caverns where they have lain for decades, developing and maturing to perfection. It is like drinking time itself, stealing back the years taken so quickly from us.
The Very Rare Cask Circle boasts an array of different whiskey styles and ages, from 12 to 30 years old, that have been matured in a range of varied casks such as Bourbon, Sherry, Malaga, Port, Irish Oak and Rum. The Cask Circle also entitles you to Distillery Concierge access, a unique service that will advise on your whiskey, travel and luxury experiences in Ireland. Thirty casks have been made available at launch so if you want to be a part of this extremely select club, then I would enquire pretty sharpish.
Midleton Very Rare Vintage Release 2017 is now available for around €180.
Please apply directly for cask information and prices: http://www.midletonveryrarecaskcircle.com/