Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Midleton Dair Ghaelach

Irish Whisky of the year!!

Midleton Dair Ghaelach: Grinsell’s Wood, 58.3%...$239.99
This category was particularly competitive given the quality of new whiskeys emanating from Ireland this year. Three stood out, but ultimately Midleton Dair Ghaelach was chosen as the outright winner (though kudos to Redbreast Mano a Lámh and that brilliant pick by the Exclusive Malts from 2002).

This wonderful whiskey was the brainchild of Kevin O’Gorman, master of maturation at Midleton, and Billy Leighton, the master blender. Their vision was to re-introduce Irish oak maturation, a practice largely abandoned in the 19th century. Over the past six to seven years, they have conceived a whole new supply chain of sustainable Irish oak casks, starting with ten trees in Grinsell’s Wood, Co. Kilkenny. The trunks were quarter sawn in Spain, and the wood left to dry for fifteen months. After coopering, 48 medium-toasted Irish oak hogsheads were returned to Ireland and filled with mature Midleton whiskey. Over the next 10 months, the casks were studied assiduously as the flavors developed.

Straight off, Midleton Dair Ghaelach is utterly delicious: this is accessible and irresistible whiskey. It speaks to us of the landscape of old Ireland, when forests were more plentiful. You may be skeptical about the notion of terroir, but you must have a heart of stone if your soul wouldn’t be stirred by savoring a whiskey atop the stump of the very oak that shaped its flavors. It invigorates our expectations of Midleton in refill American oak: the native pot still spiciness is enveloped by chocolate-covered honeycomb, toasty oak, spotty bananas, and a barista’s coffee scoop, though a dash of water picks out lemongrass and rubbed mint. A silky-smooth mouthfeel of succulent fruits is shaken down with cocoa powder. Clove-spiked stewed apple weighs into a lengthy finish.

This raises the bar for Irish whiskey making, and comes at a fair price for the expertise and craftsmanship deployed at every level. The project was reminiscent of Dr. Bill Lumsden’s quest for the ultimate maturation vessel that led to Glenmorangie Artisan Cask. O’Gorman and Leighton have been as diligent at every turn: no shortcuts have been taken. —Jonny McCormick

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