Once again, those fab folks at Midleton Distillery have produced a spectacular blended whiskey in the Very Rare series. We were invited to Dublin to give it a taste…
There are certain annual releases that whiskey fans always mark on their calendars. Since 1984, The Midleton Very Rare series has been one of them. A creation of former Midleton master distiller Barry Crockett, it’s a collection of exceptional blends featuring liquid that is, as you’ve no doubt deduced by now, very rare.
What began as a passion project for Crockett has since become a matter of legacy for his successor Brian Nation, who was given the task of selecting the casks that make up each release in 2014. Nation often describes it as the pinnacle of Irish whiskey, and it’s no surprise that it’s the only regularly-produced bottling from Midleton that actually features the name of the famous distillery.
You can imagine how excited we were to try the 2019 edition at its launch at The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. That excitement quickly turned to elation when we realised we would not be tasting one Midleton Very Rare bottling, but five. Nation had arranged a ‘Tasting Through the Decades’, which featured Midleton Very Rare 1984, the first expression released, Very Rare 1989, which turned 30 this year, Very Rare 1997, the year Nation joined Irish Distillers and Very Rare 2014, the first released with Nation as the master distiller.
Only once we had enjoyed a dram of each did we then taste the 2019 edition of Midleton Very Rare. What the taste through the decades demonstrated that while every bottling in the series is made from special single pot still and single grain Irish whiskeys, each individual expression is markedly different from the last. Every year is a different story, a new revelation about the sheer quality of Midleton’s inventory and a personal statement from the master distiller. The only consistency is the quality.
So, what’s the story with Midleton Very Rare 2019? It’s a blend of whiskeys matured exclusively in lightly-charred ex-bourbon American oak barrels for between 13 and 34 years, making it the oldest collection of casks ever used to create a Midleton Very Rare. Nation described this as adding “a level of fruitiness you don’t tend to get from the other releases”. He also revealed that this year there were four or five iterations of the whiskey that were tested until he settled on the chosen blend before us, “you don’t normally get it right first time!” As usual, there won’t be much of it to go around, with Nation estimating there’s around 5000 cases of this edition. It’s notable that the number increases every year to cater for the demand.
The only question that remains is, how does this year’s dose of annual-awesomeness compare? First thing’s first, it’s delicious. But then, you already guessed that. Midleton Very Rare 2019 has an individual profile, like the other expressions, and there’s a raft of notes here that weren’t present in the other drams. Most notably tropical fruit, which Nation said is a result of the older casks. The genius of the blend, however, is that it doesn’t lose the distillery character, which is still present in every drop. It’s another sublime demonstration of what Midleton Distillery has to offer, and I’d happily fight each and every one of you for a bottle. Good thing it will be arriving at MoM Towers soon…
Midleton Very Rare 2019 Tasting Note:
Nose: Pot still spices – tannic oak, cinnamon and nutmeg – are straight out the block before they are tempered by creamy vanilla, rich toffee and plenty of ripe orchard fruit (green apple and Conference pear). A complex sweetness then builds underneath from muscovado sugar, tropical fruit in syrup and a touch of oak char.
Palate: More green apple, ginger root and just a flicker of tablet fudge sweetness, then sugary cereal and a prickle of oak spice before hints of pineapple and mango add another wave of tropical goodness. Charred vanilla oak also returns from the nose to provide the backdrop among a touch of creamy nuttiness.
Finish: An earthy element to the spice appears in the finish among more crisp, ripe and almost candied fruits and gentle tannins.
Overall: An artful, intriguing and well-integrated blend, the older casks have given this edition an almost rummy element (mostly tropical fruit), but its standout strength is the exceptional clarity of the distillery character that forms the core of the expression.
To partner the launch of Midleton Very Rare 2019, the brand announced that it has created an online members’ programme named the ‘1825 Room’, Made for discerning whiskey lovers to pay homage to Midleton Distillery’s influence on Irish distilling since its foundation in 1825, it will offer information and features about Midleton Very Rare. There’s also an exclusive online store that will have five rare vintages for sale from 2nd October for one month. “The new 1825 Room gives us a unique opportunity to offer rare releases, which we have acquired over time or released from our archives, to whiskey fans and collectors around the world,” explains Brendan Buckley, international marketing director at Irish Distillers.
Here’s where things get really interesting. To mark the new 1825 Room, Midleton has offered members the opportunity to purchase a bottle of the very first 1984 vintage at the price of £40 Irish punts, which equates to about £45 sterling or €50.80 now. As you can imagine, demand will be high, so purchasers will be selected through a ballot system. You can access the ‘1825 Room’ through midletonveryrare.com.