On the 16th of June I had the opportunity to be able to attend the official launch
of Midleton’s new innovation release Dair Ghaelach (Irish Oak), in the
Intercontinental Hotel (formerly the Four Seasons). This was the second
occasion that I had the good fortune to try a sample of the highly coveted new
ultra-premium Single Pot Still release from Midleton in the past week and it only
gets better with every glass.
Some of you may remember that I previously did a short article on the possible
collectability of Dair Ghaelach and some of the marketing back story that
accompanied the new release. Now, after attending the official release, with the
men who spent the last 7 years of their lives developing this product, I am here to
spill the ins and outs of Midleton’s Dair Ghaelach and let you decide for
yourselves if this is the dram for you.
– Midleton Dair Ghaelach (means “Irish Oak” in the Irish language).
– Ten trees were felled from Grinsells Wood, a controlled forest in Co. Kilkenny.
– Nine trees were used to create barrels, tenth tree had twisted grain which made it
below cooper-able quality.
– Aged exclusively in Ex-Bourbon barrels for 15-22 years.
– Finished in seasoned Virgin Irish Oak Hogsheads for 10 months.
– Each bottle is numbered from what tree it was matured in for ultimate tracability.
– Trees 1, 6 & 8 for North American Market only, 750ml.
– Trees 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 & 9 for European release. 700ml.
– Best quote of the night, Kevin O’Gorman: “Its our wood, our barley, our water,
its got to be cask strength with zero colouring”.
The details: The first point to note is that every aspect of this project is centred
on the core value of “sustainability”. The entire project is based around this one
ethos and zero carbon footprint.
Dair Ghaelach is the first Irish whiskey to be finished in Irish oak in approximately
150 years. With the Irish forestry coverage sitting well below the European
average the Midleton team wanted to ensure that they would be leaving the
forests in a better condition then when they arrived. The main men on this team
were: Kevin O’Gorman ,Master of Maturation; Ger Buckley; Master Cooper,
Billy Leighton; Master Blender, the forest’s owner and a professional forester to
manage the woodlands.
With almost eight years from concept to end
product this was by no means a “quick flip” with some new make spirit.
Hearing Ger Buckley speak about all of the preperation that went into the project
was fantastic. The Dair Ghaelach project took six years before a single cask was
even made, the entire process had to be perfect from grain to glass before trees
were going to be felled.
They knew that they wanted to use Irish Oak (Quercus robur) and it had to be
white oak. Red oak is completely unsuitable for coopering, Ger explained,
because it has huge veins that would literally seep the entirety of the liquid
straight out of the bottom of the cask once it was filled. White Oak also doesn’t
affect the taste of the liquid that is contained within it. This was discovered by the
Romans so predates Ger’s input anyway.
The decision was made to create Irish Oak Hogshead barrels that would
hold approximately 250 litres. The nine trees were sent to Spain to be quarter
sawn, air-dried and be raised into barrels before being seasoned and shipped
back to Ireland. The shipping only happened in the wintertime to ensure no
bacteria or parasites lived amongst the oak.
Each tree only yielded between 4-6 barrels, each numbered from the tree they
were matured in to identify the unique flavour profiles that each tree imparts. Ger
personally accompanied the wood through its sawing and coopering to ensure
that none of the trees were mixed up in any part of the process.
When the barrels were filled with the aged spirit the team needed to sample the
whiskey every week to ensure that the spirit didn’t become “over
oaked”. Quercus robur (Irish oak) is far more porous than quercus alba
(American oak), this is because the growing season in Ireland is longer than in The US
(aka it rains way more here) and this allows the tree’s rings to be further apart allowing
faster maturation into the wood.
I had the luxury of being able to sample both tree 4 and tree 7 from the Dair
Ghaelach range at the launch and here are the tasting notes:
The tasting notes:
Colour: Coppery, Ruby Gold.
Nose: Mellow, surprisingly subtle for cask strength, big amount of butterscotch,
vanilla, wood spice and toasted wood.
Palate: surprisingly balanced, Spicy from both SPS and wood influence, milk
chocolate, mouth covering creaminess, soft vanilla tones, plum fresh fruits.
Finish: long and lingering, sweetness and spiciness remain, creamy element is
huge and fantastic.
Pot still spice complements the Irish oak spice very well and the creaminess
lends itself to the milk chocolate flavours beautifully.
Colour: Coppery, less dark hue than #7.
Nose: vanilla, plums, ripe fruits, spicy pot still influence and hints of cinnamon.
Palate: very balanced once again, spice coming through along with mouth
encompassing creaminess, full of ripe fruits.
Finish: long lingering spice and sweet fruit influence.
Both of these drams were fantastic. The Irish oak imparts its own unique range of
flavours that complement the bourbon tones very well.
What I was most shocked about were the stark differences in the flavour profiles
presented by each tree. With tree 4, I completely lost all traces of the butterscotch
that I fell in love with from tree 7. It was replaced with a lovely rich ripe fruit
influence that just hung around like a bad penny.
To be perfectly honest, when I read that each tree was individually numbered to
allow the consumer to enjoy the different notes that each tree presented, I
thought this was some fancy story somebody in marketing slapped on the bottle.
Now after trying two definitively different flavour profiles from bottles that were 99%
identical I’ve been converted, I am a believer. I said this to Kevin O’Gorman as
the evening was winding to a close and he jokingly offered me the anecdote that
“everyday is a school day” and boy was he right.
Between the two trees that I have had the opportunity to sample I would rate Dair Ghaelach as a mid to high nineties out of a hundred. Perfectly balanced, full bodied, exploding with character and very drinkable with or without water. If you don’t get your hands on this batch don’t fear. Kevin O’Gorman has promised a new release every year for the next couple of years coming from Midleton. So keep the eyes peeled for batch two!