This is a guest blog post by Lew Bryson, Malt Advocate managing editor, who sent in this report directly from Ireland. Thanks Lew!
Midleton invited us to come taste some new single pot still Irish whiskeys they’re coming out with, and given how much we like Redbreast and Green Spot, well, I got right on the plane.
There were some 60 journalists, bloggers, and retailers on the trip, and we all trouped down to Midleton in the rain. After a tour of the distillery — during which master of whiskey chemistry Dave Quinn attempted to explain the entire path of their triple distillation process and lost us in a maze of low feints, low wines, high feints, and reintroduced low feints; suffice to say it’s a very complex and beautifully flexible process — we wound up in the master distiller’s cottage for a tasting of single pot still Irish whiskeys.
There are, Quinn said to begin, pot still whiskeys currently aging in their warehouses that are of such configurations of distillation and wood that they don’t currently have a destination; brand-wise. They don’t fit. Some may be new releases in the future; some may well not make the cut. But here are two new whiskeys that contain spirits like that: Powers John’s Lane and Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy. Fascinating to see extensions of these two brands.
We started by tasting Green Spot and Redbreast 12. Green Spot has a light, fresh character that echoed the raw barley we’d smelled mashing in the brewhouse. (Quinn noted that the Mitchells also had a Blue, Yellow, and Red Spot whiskey in the past, and that they were likely candidates for future releases.) Redbreast took that and upped the ante with a good dose of sherry wood, a much bigger cask contribution.
Then we moved up to the new whiskeys. The Powers was first, and it was clearly, distinctly different. First, it was 46% ABV. More importantly, it was fuller in the nose, with more wood, bitter chocolate, and old leather. The bigness continued in the mouth with a real punch, more of the cocoa and wood, and a wowing finish. This is a whiskey with real verve, “like strong candy,” my notes say. It is made up of 12 to 14 year old whiskeys, non-chill filtered and natural color, in “a sizeable percentage of second fill and refill casks.” Quinn said it was a best efforts attempt to re-create the older, earthier Powers style. It was impressive.
The Midleton was also impressive, in a more elegant way. The idea was to take the pot still component of Midleton Very Rare and refine it. It is a mix of three distillates: light pot still, moderate pot still, and one they call “Mod 4,” a heavier distillate. This is aged in almost all first fill bourbon wood, with a small amount of what Midleton calls “B-Naughts,” bourbon-type barrels that have never had spirit in them. There will only be about 2,500 bottles of this each year. It was light, sweet, and indeed quite elegant; creamy, a touch of mineral dryness, and a citric note of lime. Quite nice whiskey.
After a fascinating demonstration of hand-shaping staves by master cooper Ger Buckley, we were loaded up and ferried to Warehouse A-3, where the itinerary promised “Blas Spesialta.” Ah, Dave Broom said, the only Irish I know: “Special Tasting.” It was: we were sampled on three other single pot still whiskeys, right from the casks, which will probably be components of future releases. A great surprise!
The first was a mod pot distillate aged in a Madeira drum, distilled in 1994. It was light, fresh, with wood spice and sweet fruit in the nose. Tasting revealed a big melting sweetness, with some of that fresh green barley at the end. Very well-mannered for cask strength, quite fine and elegant.
Second was a light pot distillate aged in a “B-Naught,” distilled in 1992. There was an unsurprising pile of oak spice and vanilla in the nose, and the whiskey itself was bursting with the raw barley character and fruit you find in Redbreast, very light and floating over my palate to a fantastic finish. I finished this one.
Third was a mod pot 4 distilled in 1995, aged in a second fill sherry butt. This one was disappointing: a big nose of toffee, butterscotch, and dried fruit had a puffy note of sulfur in it that was also in the mouth; meaty, oily, and big. Hard to get past the sulfur.
Still, it was an excellent day, and as the sun finally came out when we left the warehouse, it was quite a capper. It’s great to see Midleton bringing back single pot still like this, expanding the range and definition of Irish whiskey.