Whisky Advocate Award: Distillery of the Year
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.