Suddenly, Irish whiskies are everywhere. New distilleries are opening like spring flowers and a bewildering number of previously obscure expressions are popping up to surprise even the most well-informed drinker. So it’s reassuring to point to an old standard from the country’s largest distillers, with their deep and carefully-husbanded stocks of very old whiskies. An overnight success this is very definitely not – this has been close to four decades in the making. And, appropriately, one that for all the gaudy packaging increasingly favoured by distillers, combines restrained and stately elegance with an appropriate grandeur in its presentation – and in the glass.
The whiskey in question is the latest release of Midleton Very Rare from Irish Distillers. This is the 38th in this long-running series but the first to be created by their new Master Distiller, Kevin O’Gorman. When first launched, the very idea of a luxury Irish whiskey was, shall we say, unusual but today the Midleton Very Rare style has a legion of loyal fans. Older releases are now collectable and auction prices are moving up sharply – a full 37 bottle collection, complete with VIP distillery tour, sold in December 2020 at Christies, London for £34,000 plus commission and a single bottle of the exceptional Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery expression, from the original Old Midleton Distillery, is anticipated to break the €40,000 (around £34,500) barrier next month on Irish Whiskey Auctions online site.
Collecting and investment are all very well – what about actually drinking the whiskey? Well, learning that it includes whiskey aged between 15 and 36 years and matured in lightly charred ex-bourbon American oak barrels, one expects something special. This, of course, is Irish whiskey so true to the regional style that makes Irish whiskey some of the most approachable spirit on the planet. This is neither roaring, peat-soaked monster nor one of the sherry-dominated single malts that Scotland increasingly offers to the top end of the market.
Rather, this is more nuanced and well suited to thoughtful drinking, full of gentler (but no less complex) floral and fruit character, beguiling spice notes and hints of vanilla from the original oak casks. In creating this whiskey, O’Gorman was mindful of the legacy of Irish Distillers’ long-time Master Distiller Emeritus Barry Crockett who began the Very Rare bottlings. Fittingly, then, this latest release includes whiskey from 1984 when it was first launched. For O’Gorman, this has been “both a daunting and extremely enjoyable process that allowed me to explore some of our rarest casks and create an exceptional blend that sits seamlessly within the family.” Those fortunate enough to try his work will know immediately they taste that he has succeeded admirably.
Bottled at 40% ABV, Midleton Very Rare 2021 is available online and in Ireland now, and will hit shelves in the UK, USA, Global Travel Retail, Australia, Germany, France and Canada over coming months at the RRP of €180, or around £155.