Midleton Distillery: The enormity and complexity of it all
This was my fourth tour of Ireland’s Midleton Distillery in the past fifteen years, and each time I tour it, I am in awe. Barry Crockett, Distillery Manager, showed me around.
Imagine standing next to four of the largest pot stills anywhere in the world. Then imagine, in the same room, a series of column stills. Then, visualize pipes coming out of the pot stills at various points with various things connected to them (like cyclone filters and miniature columns for example), with some of these pipes going into the column stills. Then, imagine pipes coming out of the column stills going back to the pot stills. Has your brain exploded yet?
Bottom line here: Midleton can make just about any kind of whiskey they want. They have to because, with the exception of Bushmills and Cooley whiskeys, all the other Irish whiskeys on the market (Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Redbreast, Green Spot, Tullamore Dew, Midleton Very Rare, etc.) are all made here. Many were once produced at their own respective distilleries throughout Ireland, but consolidated to Midleton during difficult times about 30 years ago.
Each whiskey has its own unique formula, consisting of varying amounts of grain whiskey and pot still whiskey (whiskey produced from both malted and unmalted barley). But there’s more to it than that. They make several different types of grain whiskey (including an all-malt grain whiskey) and several different formulas of pot still whiskey (with varying percentages of malted barley). Some formulas require a “lighter” pot still base, while others call for a “heavier” pot still base. One of the whiskeys, Paddy, even has a small amount of all-malt whiskey in it (although they aren’t currently making malt whiskey at Midleton, only pot still and grain whiskey).
If you want to learn about how whiskey is made by visiting a distillery, don’t go to this one first!! It’s sort of a moot point anyway, as they currently don’t offer public tours of the working distillery. (They do, however, provide tours of the Old Midleton Distillery which closed in the mid 1970s and is now structured more like a museum, reception center and gift shop. )
I’ll be providing more information on my trip to Midleton in future editions of this blog, along with a more detailed feature story in the 2nd Quarter 2008 issue of Malt Advocate magazine.