Tuesday 30 October 2012

IWS Midleton Single Cask

Irish Whiskey Society members have shared many fine bottles of whiskey over the last four years. Our hidden agenda, of course, has always been to finagle casks from distillers' warehouses to bottle as our own. We have combined with other societies in the past to pull this off but tonight we got our first true exclusive society bottling.

The fairy godmother in this story is Irish Distillers (IDL). Back in April, we toured their bottling plant in Dublin and afterwards were treated to dinner and a drop or two at the Old Jameson Distillery. Among the whiskeys were three drawn directly from casks maturing in Midleton. We were invited to vote on our favourite, at which point it was revealed that our choice would be bottled exclusively for the society.

This was quite the honour because Midleton is a huge operation, part of one of the biggest drinks multinationals; they do very, very few single cask releases. They are generous supporters of the society though and, as true masters of their craft, they also like the occasional opportunity to showcase one of their many fine component pot still whiskeys.

Tonight we were back in the Old Jameson Distillery for the unveiling. In front of each of us were three glasses containing our new whiskey and, for comparison, Midleton Very Rare 2012 and Powers John's Lane Release.

As you might expect from a whiskey society, the label on this new bottling is very detailed, right down to the location of the cask in the warehouse. The first-fill, ex-bourbon cask was filled in January 1995 and emptied only a couple of weeks ago, making this a 17 year old whiskey.

It was bottled at House of Donohoe in Waterford, a small sample being sent back to Midleton to have its alcohol content measured (not as simple as I thought; apparently the wood adds dissolved solids that throw off the measurement). With the number of bottles and the ABV known, the labels could then be printed and applied.

There are 204 bottles, at a cask strength of 55.2%. It is available only to society members.

According to IDL's Liam Donegan, it's a different style of pot still whiskey (heavier) to that found in previous single cask releases from Midleton. It is, therefore, a unique whiskey.

On the nose, people found ripe banana, spice, an underlay of blackcurrant. We were all struck by an unusual creamy mouthfeel, presumably due to the heavy, oily pot still. The vanilla and caramel you would anticipate from this type of cask were present, but restrained. The official tasting notes (by IWS committee member, Jim Clarke) run thus:

Nose: The immediate note of ripe bananas gives way to a toffee and creamy fudge, followed by an oily spiciness. Evidence of floral notes, reminiscent of heather.

Taste: A slightly sour cherry flavour, followed by vanilla and toffee fudge. Water reveals high floral notes, including rosewater.

Finish: A touch of sugar syrup combines with a fascinating herbal element akin to sage.

It's a complex, pleasing whiskey with lots to savour. "Powerful, but refined", to quote fellow member, Ken Mawhinney. I agree.

Speaking as an ordinary member of the Irish Whiskey Society, I'd like to congratulate the president, Leo Phelan, and the bottling sub-committee for all the hard work that went into organising the label design, the finances, the distribution and so on. And of course I want to thank Liam Donegan and David Byrne of IDL for making it all happen on the whiskey and bottling side, as well as for hosting the launch. It's a huge step forward for the society.