A guide to Midleton’s Very Rare whiskey. History, tasting notes and collectibility.
Now I am usually very sceptical of anything that puts “rare” in their own title. Things that are designed to be collectable generally aren’t. I’ll make an exception in this case because Midleton Very Rare is arguably one of the most recognisable names in Irish whiskey.
Created in 1984 by the then Master Distiller Barry Crockett, this iconic brand was used to showcase the quality of whiskey that was being produced in the new Midleton distillery (which had only opened nine years previously in 1975). This showcase piece has been released annually ever since.
Midleton Very Rare is a bottling of hand selected whiskeys from the Midleton warehouses that is only bottled in small amounts once or twice a year. Midleton distillery is the centralised distillery for Irish Distillers, whom produce Jameson, Paddy, Powers and the single pot still ranges such as Redbreast and Green/Yellow Spot.
The whiskeys chosen are a blend of mature pot still and grain whiskey that have been matured in ex-bourbon barrels. This produces a whiskey with a base of a rich, creamy pot still character with hints of honey, citrus and a lingering peppery finish.
That said, no two years are exactly alike. The Midleton Very Rare range is not blended like other whiskeys to create a continuity in the whiskey. In fact the handcrafted nature of the whiskey creates a unique offering that has subtle but recognisable differences between the years. This allows enthusiasts and collectors to enjoy the variances year on year and create a new experience every time you sample another year.
To guarantee the quality in this unique whiskey the master distiller applies his signature to every bottle. From 1984 until 2013 the bottles bore the name of the Master Distiller emeritus Barry Crockett. From 2014 onwards the bottles bare the name of the new-ish Master Distiller Brian Nation. Along with the master distiller’s signature each bottle is also individually numbered and includes an invitation to register your bottle in the Old Jameson Distillery in Smithfield in Dublin. There you will find hard back annuals baring the name of every person who has arrived before you to register their bottles. An exciting experience for many who travel from all over the world to visit the home of Jameson and to have their names entombed within the distillery.
Examining some of the older books you will find many references to the “Irish Whiskey Corner” which was where the original 1980’s invitations told you register your bottles. This was the forerunner to the now Jameson visitor’s experience in Smithfield. The Irish Whiskey Corner offered bartenders and enthusiasts an informative trip through the history of Irish whiskey and its creation process with some of the industry experts. As the popularity of the corner grew so too did the experience and it matured (pardon the pun) into the brand home of Jameson that resides in the original Bow Street distillery in Dublin.
The older boxes which came with Irish Whiskey Corner invitations ran from the inaugural year in 1984 until 1990. They were hard cardboard boxes lined with golden fabric. Each bottle was 750ml topped by a lovely screw cap is notorious for its poor seal allowing evaporation to occur regularly.
1990 saw several changes to the MVR. The bottles were changed to the European regulation size of 700ml. The oak boxes replaced the cardboard cases. A metal plate adorning the front of the box replaced the old printed title on the cardboard boxes from the 1980’s. As well as this the bottle labels also got a revamp. The off-white labels were replaced with the much more aesthetically pleasing, tan labels we see today.
In 1994 a decision was made to include references to Jameson whiskey on the bottles of MVR. Apparently the small red seal and the “John Jameson & Son” above the Midleton name was introduced after Korean Air were selling large volumes of MVR but all the new clients all across the world had nothing to associate this premium whiskey with the rest of the IDL range. The new seal and names were to help convey to consumers that Midleton and Jameson were of the same brand family and the quality carried over between the two whiskeys.
Over the last couple of decades, in typical Irish fashion, many whiskeys were gifted to people and were tucked away for special occasions and forgotten about. So checking the parent’s/grandparent’s cupboards for forgotten bottles of whiskey might not be a bad idea after you hear that some of these Midleton Very Rare bottles can be worth a handy chunk of change! Due to the “rarity” of the releases and a healthy market for Irish whiskey Midleton Very Rare appreciates every year at between about 5-10% per annum. Although a safe guess-timate is about 7.5% per annum. While that might not sound like a lot, knowing that your dad’s bottle of 1984 MVR can fetch amounts just shy of a grand might convince you to hold off on cracking it open at the next family BBQ.
Throughout the 30+ years of MVR’s life there have been some hiccups along the way which is seeing certain years fetch larger premiums than some might imagine. Most recently with the collapse of the celtic tiger in Ireland the sales of premium products such as MVR took big hits. The 2008 stock of MVR was being sold up until about June/July of 2009. The 2010 bottling was then launched in about November/December 2009. Meaning that the 2009 bottling of MVR had a market run for about 3/4 months, during the tough economic times. Unlike most years of MVR 2009 only saw one bottling run and then was quickly replaced to, what I imagine was intended to, spur on sales with the new decade release. This limited run sees 2009 fetch a small premium of around about €50 on top of the 5-10% per annum.
In 1997 IDL released a 5 whiskey bottle plinth showcasing Bushmills 10 &16 year old (then owned by IDL), Jameson 1780 (now Jameson 12 year), Redbreast pure pot still and the crown jewel was MVR 1997. This plinth was eventually replaced in the millennium by a 6 bottle plinth featuring the newly released Powers 12 Gold Label. But back in 97′ the large uptake of these new plinths saw 1997 MVR being distributed without its iconic box. The plinth also removed the usability of the wooden cases for bar owners, so for those whom purchased the bottle separately with its casing promptly misplaced it or dumped it. This has lead to a small shortage of the lovely oak boxes that accompany every bottle of MVR since 1990 (they were reinforced card boxes prior to this). I will point out though that this has not lead to any form of mad shortage of the whiskey itself, just the boxes.
The nineties and naughties weren’t the only decades to have rare years. To complete the decades of rarity the 1980’s appear to join the rare ranks with bottles from 1986 & 1987. It appears that even in the 80’s people saw the potential collectors value of the first couple of releases of MVR. This appears to have resulted in mild hoarding of 1984 and 1985 making these years relatively available. It appears that after a couple of years of hard hoarding 1986 and 1987 were deemed good enough to drink. These bottles appear to have scarcer availability across both retailers and private auctions alike.
The appreciation of these whiskeys has seen the collectibility of MVR increase over the last few years and if you feel like you want to get a bottle for yourself and tuck it away for a rainy day I would point you in the direction of either the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dublin’s Dawson Street, whom always carry a good selection of MVR years or private auctions such as whiskyauction.com (this is a particularly reliable site with no buyers premium and reasonable shipping but be warned the website background is a nauseating tartan pattern).
A complete collection of Midleton Very Rare lives up to its name and is a rare sight indeed. You might catch a glimpse of one in one of the Jameson distilleries or in the hands of a private collector but if you were to attempt to purchase an entire collection yourself you would be greeted with healthy price tag €50,000. A princely sum for 30 years of collecting fine Irish whiskey.
Midleton Very Rare is arguably one of the most iconic names in Irish whiskey. Known in Ireland and abroad as a synonym for premium quality. While it is not the most expensive Irish whiskey out there, nor is it the most expensive whiskey in the IDL range, it delivers a stellar example of the abilities of the Midleton Distillery. This very premium blend is a good sipping whiskey and a good one to keep tucked away for years to come.