As anyone who has visited a distillery before will tell you whisk(e)y making, wherever it is produced, is not just about the liquid, the processes and the location but also the people behind it.
Visit any of the picture postcard distilleries on Islay in Scotland and the above is very much on show: from Iain McArthur at Lagavulin, the cheeky warehouseman, whose guiding influence on the selection of the whisky has been instrumental in making Lagavulin one of the best loved distilleries in Scotland. Iain recently celebrated his 40th year working in whisky, many of them spent at Lagavulin, every year honing his knowledge and his ability to pick a winning cask. The same story applies to the Bowmore distillery. Manager Eddie MacAffer began his tenure at the distillery back in July 1966 and is without doubt, the most learned person on the planet when it comes to the whisky produced by this hugely popular distillery.
In Ireland the story remains the same and last week, we were lucky enough to be part of a very special double celebration at the Midleton distillery in Cork. For those unfamiliar with the Midleton name, the distillery, which was re-developed on the old Midleton site back in 1975 produces, Jameson Irish whiskey- available in almost every bar in every town in every country around the globe. Such is the popularity of the brand, alongside the recently revived excellence of Green Spot and Redbreast (the 12 year old sells around 30,000 cases a year), that Irish Distillers who own the vast complex of still rooms and warehouses (to give you some idea of the scale of the brand, we counted nearly 50 aircraft hanger sized facilities, full of maturing casks) have just completed an ambitious expansion plan, taking the capacity of the distillery to somewhere in the region of 60 million litres of whiskey a year.
|Yes, they're really this big...|
The Midleton 'Housewarming' was a celebration of just why Irish whiskey is currently the fastest growing dark spirit category in the world and for two days, nearly 1000 writers, journalists, bartenders and whiskey enthusiasts desended on the small town, where the distillery had transformed itself into effectively an Irish whiskey theme park - not only to celebrate the huge expansion, but also to give a fond farewell to Barry Crockett, master distiller for Irish Distillers, who retired at the event, handing the reins over to Brian Nation.
The Midleton distillery has received a substantial facelift and in addition to the impressive construction of the Garden Still House (with quite easily the biggest pot stills we have ever seen, with an overall capacity of 80,000 litres, typically running at up to 40k)the distillery is now catering more for consumers, with the addition of a whiskey academy, complete with old school chairs and desks, blackboards and some seriously impressive working glass stills at the back of the room, that brilliantly highlight the potstill distillation process. The academy is intended to be as detailed or as light on knowledge as needed, for instance catering for groups of bartenders, keen to know more about Irish whiskey and its DNA compared to other whiskies, or simply for visitors to the Midleton site to get a feel for what is to come when they visit the full sized stills on their tour. We like... A lot.
|Barry & his newly named Stillhouse|
And as to the whiskeys themselves. Well, here at Caskstrength we'd heard quite few rumours concerning a brace of new Redbreast releases (steady on, not those sort of rumours) so were keen to see if there was any new liquid on offer during our trip. Alas not, but we hear there is to be some substance to the rumours shortly - watch this space. What we did get to try again was the range of single potstill whiskeys, which Midleton have been steadily building into a strong category of its own (see our previous feature here for more information)
Seeing as it was Barry Crockett's final day at the site, a healthy dram of his legacy whiskey seemed the most fitting send off - and without a doubt, the Crockett, totally rocked it...
Barry Crocket Legacy - 46% - 70cl
Nose: A sensational balancing act of fresh orchard fruit, vanilla, some tropical notes (mango and passion fruit) whipped cream with a drizzle of honey and del seasoned, spicy oak. As Irish whiskeys go, this has everything - depth of character, a spicy backbone, delicate notes and a very fruity personality - much like the real life Barry Crockett. Triumphant just about sums this up.
Palate: The tropical fruits of the nose develop further on the palate, with the seasoned oak starting to develop a presence. The taste is full on and zesty initially, but with a little water the calmer vanillas develop alongside soft ripe plums, some peppery notes and a creamy oakiness.
Finish: Lingering notes of the soft fruit, with a little touch of spicier, dried fruits and a delicious creaminess which fades with time.
Overall: Whilst it's sad to see Barry Crockett retire, he has passed the tasting glass on to a more than capable distiller in the shape of Brian Nation. Not only that, but he has left a truly great legacy behind in this wonderful whiskey. Alongside Redbreast 15 year old, this is easily our favourite Irish whiskey and that is saying something. Enjoy your spare time, Barry - and make sure you leave with a few cases of this in your car...
You can learn more about the Midleton distillery by visiting: www.singlepotstill.com