Last night, while the city of Dublin was settling down to a quiet evening in, Irish Distillers were pushing the boundaries of Irish whiskey by unveiling their new innovation forward brand “Method & Madness”.
The new innovative brand is a sleek looking new step for the Irish Distillers’ whiskey portfolio. It boasts an impressive initial line up of four new whiskeys, each with a trick or two up their sleeve. The new range promises to be a collaboration between Midleton Masters and apprentices to express their “continued commitment to innovation and experimentation at Midleton Distillery”.
Each of the whiskeys in the new portfolio are designed to bring something new to the table of Irish whiskey, they showcase the use of new wood types and tease us with interesting twists on established finishes.
Single Grain whiskey. RRP €49
This represents the first commercially available single grain whiskey that will be bottled by the Midleton distillery. Previously, only the Irish whiskey society had bottled a single grain from the Midleton distillery. This whiskey has spent most of its life in ex-bourbon barrels and is then finished for 12 months in virgin Spanish oak casks from Galicia. Those eagle eyed among you will recognise the name Galicia as the area in which the Antonio Páez Lobato cooperage sources their oak to create Sherry barrels, which has featured in many Irish Distillers’ products to date. With the unmistakable chocolatey and dried fruit notes of so many of IDL’s products coming from Spanish sherry casks, it will be interesting to see what the same barrels impart when they are devoid of the initial seasoning to soften the wood notes.
Single Pot Still whiskey. RRP €69
Irish Distillers are the self-proclaimed guardians of the single pot still whiskey category, and for good reason. So it is no surprise that we see a new Single Pot Still join the innovation line up. This whiskey has been matured in a simultaneous combination of ex-bourbon and sherry barrels much like the majority of its single pot still cousins.
Where this bottling differs is that the whiskey receives a unique finish in French Chestnut casks. These casks were sourced from a small alpine area in the east of France called the Isère department, which is situated in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. What is fascinating is that this is the first Irish whiskey in recent years that has been aged in a species of wood that is not oak.
Midleton’s Master Cooper, Ger Buckely, once very enthusiastically explained to me, the trials and tribulations associated with ageing whiskey in wood species other than oak. The thing is, oak is quite a dense wood. This means it has very tight grain that will not allow the liquids held within to seep out of the bottom. Finding a species that has the wood grain tight enough to hold the whiskey, while also also porous enough to interact with the wood can be quite a costly challenge. Interestingly, chestnut is more porous and less dense than oak, and apparently is suited to maturing whiskey, without too much loss. This additional porousness, I assume, would create a greater interaction between the whiskey the wood which may make even a short finish very influential. I am very excited to try this whiskey and find out for myself.
N.B. There is a misconception that oak is legally required for that maturation of Irish whiskey. This is not true. The Irish Whiskey Act states that the spirit must be matured in wood but does not specify or exclude any varieties.
Single Malt Whiskey. RRP €79
The third offering is a single malt whiskey
which was distilled in the Bushmills distillery in County Antrim in 2002. The Bushmills distillery in 2002 was actually under the ownership of Irish Distillers, which means that the whiskey isn’t really a sourced whiskey like other brands on the market using Bushmills’ whiskey. It appears to be legally their own whiskey, due to the fact that came from an Irish Distillers’ company.
The whiskey itself is 14 years old and is initially matured in ex-bourbon barrels before being finished in French Limousin oak for an entire year. According to the press release, this produces a “lighter, floral, herbal note”. I’ll have to take their word for that until I try it myself.
This is Midleton’s first ingress into the densely populated single malt market, since the Erin go Bragh days. Sadly this juice doesn’t share the same Midleton distilled DNA as Erin go Bragh but I have no doubt we’ll be seeing some more Midleton malt coming from the new micro-distillery somewhere down the line.
Single Cask, Single Grain whiskey 31-years old. RRP €1,500
“31 year old single cask single grain” isn’t a phrase I’m too used to saying, but I guess it will have to become apart of my whiskey lexicon from now on because that is exactly what this whiskey entails. 31 years in one barrel, disgorged, bottled and sold. Simple as.
For those of you who have been fortunate enough to sample Midleton grain before you’ll know that they make excellent grain whiskey. They fill their new make grain into Bourbon barrels to mature in Midleton 99% of the time. The grain is suited well for ex-bourbon barrels and the flavours it leeches don’t over power the whiskey like they might if it was resting in other woods. I’m sure that this is going to be one tasty product.
When I initially read the press release from IDL, I was wondering where the “super-premium” description came from and now I realise that this must be the super-premium end of the brand. No one could deny that a price tag of €1,500 is anything other than super-premium. That said, I do have some issues with this expression but it’s not the price tag. My issues lie in the fact that this whiskey doesn’t really seem to share any of the “innovative” or “boundary pushing” DNA that the rest of the range have.
Midleton’s own definition of the range is “a new range of experimental super-premium whiskeys designed to push the boundaries of Irish whiskey.” This is simply a normal grain whiskey left in a cask for three decades. As I have said, I’m sure that its most likely top quality whiskey, I’ve no doubts about that but is it “innovative” and “pushing boundaries”? Not in my opinion. For example, similar to this product, 1951 Knappogue castle was a pot still whiskey left in a cask for 35 years and it was certainly unusual to see such an old product on the market, but was it innovative? Did it push the boundaries of Irish whiskey? Not so much in my opinion.
This seems to me almost like a marketeer’s idea that the top end of the portfolio should be rounded off and decided to forcibly insert an expensive whiskey into the line-up to flesh it out. It’s always exciting to see such mature stock hit the market I just do not understand how this slots into the Method and Madness portfolio. The rest of the portfolio does exactly what it says on the tin. They are all original, exciting and boundary pushing and I just don’t see that DNA with this whiskey.
If this whiskey does take your fancy though, it will become available from April 2017. It will be bottled at 51.3% 51.8% and 52% ABV in three single cask offerings.
Overall, I am extremely excited about this new brand release. The branding is incredibly sleek, three quarters of the products in my opinion are a great example of the kind of innovative thinking that is going on in that micro-distillery in Midleton. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what kind of experimentation that will be coming out of there once they have stock matured.
The first three whiskeys will be bottled at 46%ABV and all the whiskeys will be available in Ireland, the United Kingdom and France.