Whisky Advocate

Whisky Advocate Award: Distillery of the Year

February 12th, 2012

Midleton/Irish Distillers

It may well be that whiskey lovers were not surprised to see the continued resurgence of Irish whiskey in 2011. But the major shock was that it was Irish Distillers who picked up the baton and ran with it most convincingly.

Cooley had another great year, of course, and three world class contenders from Ireland in one year is normally headline-making form. But somewhat strangely, the company’s many excellent releases in recent years have never centered around Ireland’s most emblematic whiskey style — pot still. That’s where Midleton seized the initiative.

Although Irish Distillers seemed content to build its fortress around Jameson, it kept the Irish pot still whiskey flame a-flicker, with two wonderful expressions of Redbreast of its own, and the fresh and fruity Green Spot, produced for Dublin wine and spirits merchants Mitchell & Sons. The perceived lack of genuine support for the pot still whiskeys antagonized and frustrated diehard supporters more than delighted them.

So its decision to release not just one new pot still whiskey in 2011 but three provided the year’s biggest ‘wow’ moment. What’s more, all three were excellent, were significantly different from each other, and were to Irish whiskey what a cluster firework is to a night sky — bursting out in exciting new directions and bringing new colors to the canvas.

Powers John’s Lane and Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy — the former a rough and ready oloroso sherry cask heavyweight; the latter a pricier, more refined whiskey matured in ex-bourbon and virgin American oak casks — were bottled at 46%, two sides of the pot still coin. If the buzzer had sounded at that point, the fans would have gone home happy…but Midleton put the game into overtime with a cask strength version of Redbreast 12 year old, keeping the best for last. It wasn’t just the best release of the three, either; it was the best Irish release of the year, and, quite possibly, of any other year, too.

The coup de grâce came with a new pot still-heavy premium Jameson under the name Black Barrel; a creamy, oily, but recognizably Jameson whiskey. Astounding stuff — and game, set, and match to Midleton. —Dominic Roskrow

Join us tomorrow for the final 18th Annual Whisky Advocate Award announcement: the Lifetime Achievement Award.

No Responses to “Whisky Advocate Award: Distillery of the Year”

  1. Chris says:

    So exciting to see real innovation coming out of Ireland! And especially, more support for pot still whiskey! As good as the rest of the Irish whiskies can be, it’s the pot still stuff that really stands out.

    • Luke says:

      Chris, Not so much “Innovation” as “Rediscovery”!

      These styles were the norm for Irish Pot Still before the mid-sixties.

      With the demise of Redbreast (Gilbey’s) in 1973 Mitchell’s were left to carry the flame by themselves with Green Spot for about 18 years until Redbreast’s relaunch in 1991.

      All that said, this award is well deserved.

      Last year was spectacular, and this year (it is rumoured) should have some very pleasant surprises – Rock On!

      • Chris says:

        Good to know. However, as a young whisk(e)y punk at 23, from my perspective it is innovation ;) What are the rumors saying we’ll be getting this year?

        • JC Skinner says:

          IDL have promised at least one (averaging two) new whiskeys for the next decade. I don’t know if they’ll follow through on that, but it looks certain that at least two new whiskeys will be released this year. I’d expect them to be both SPS, and I would expect one of them to be an extension of the Green Spot line, perhaps resurrecting one of the lost ‘Spot’ brands. Little birds tell me to expect an announcement of one new whiskey by May or so.

  2. JC Skinner says:

    To extend the sporting analogy, the ball’s in Diageo’s court now. Cooley changed the game, and IDL stepped up to the plate. What are Bushmills going to do, when every other distiller in Ireland is winning international plaudits for their innovation?

  3. PS says:

    I’m thankful for what they’ve done with Powers. The NAS Blend used to be hard to find, now it’s seemingly everywhere. The 12yo blend is a great whisky IMO and is often overlooked, very happy they sell it now in the US.

  4. Expect William Grant & Sons to try and muscle in, too – it has ambitious plans for its acquisition of Tullamore Dew and although it has some catching up to do, Grants has an impressive track record of squeezing the most from whatever resources it has. Don’t discount a resurgent Irish independent bottler category in months to come, either – The Wild Geese, The Hot Irishman and Inish Turk Beg are three examples of Irish brands waiting in the wings.
    While I’m here can I just congratulate John, Lew and the team in The States on these awards? The denouement has been a lot of fun, and the awards winners, taken as a package, are very impressive indeed. I’m honored to be a part of this team.
    If that’s over soppy, then put it down to the vaccinations I’ve had today messing me with my mind!

    • JC Skinner says:

      Grants are definitely full-steam ahead to muscle in on Irish whiskey’s renaissance. I’d be surprised if we weren’t talking about their achievements in a decade’s time.
      I have to concur with what you say about independents, even if Cooley’s takeover by Beam may threaten some independent contracts. The innovation of The Irishman firm alone, for me, is cognate with what Compass Box have been achieving in Scotch. Wild Geese have opened up some really far-flung markets too. Sadly, it looks like Inis Turk Beg might bite the dust, but it was an innovative exercise in marketing.
      It’s great to see IDL step up to the challenge of all of these and great to see that recognised by Whisky Advocate. I would like to add my support for your sentiment about the awards too. Very impressive indeed, and each award was well supported by argument.

    • Lawrence says:

      For those of us who don’t know what ‘denouement’ means as trotted out by Dominic;

      denouement or French dénouement (de??nu?m?n, denum??)

      — n
      1. a. the final clarification or resolution of a plot in a play or other work
      b. the point at which this occurs
      2. final outcome; solution

      [C18: from French, literally: an untying, from dénouer to untie, from Old French desnoer, from des- de- + noer to tie, knot, from Latin n?d?re, from n?dus a knot; see node ]

      dénouement or French dénouement

      — n

      [C18: from French, literally: an untying, from dénouer to untie, from Old French desnoer, from des- de- + noer to tie, knot, from Latin n?d?re, from n?dus a knot; see node ]

    • sam k says:

      My thoughts exactly, Dominic. It’s a privilege to be associated with you all!

  5. Greg Adams says:

    John,

    As a Irish Whiskey lover, along with Bourbon, any idea when we might be getting Midlelton Barry Crockett Legacy and Powers John’s Lane and Redbreast 12 Cask Strength in the states?

    Any chance that Green Spot will be finally be available to us?

    Powers and Midleton have been favorites of mine for quite a while.

    Thanks for all you and your staff do.

  6. K D Kearney says:

    Redbreast 12 year old cask strength SPS is available on line through the PA Liquor Control Board for about US $65 per bottle.

    While on the PA LCB website , you might also want to check out the Tyrconnel 10 YO SM Madeira cask which is powerful good as well.

    Slainte.

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