Fado, fado, around this time of year I used to look forward to an early Christmas present. The good cheer was brought to my door by a courier who, I thought, regarded at me with a respect bordering on reverence as he handed over the precious package. Boy, oh boy, I could hardly wait, tearing at the wrapping to uncover the polished wooden box. I’d open the lid and there it was, the plain-ish bottle with the understated label, the gold-to-amber liquid within. Ten minutes later, no matter what the time of day, I’d be sat in my kitchen, nosing, sipping a dram of the latest vintage of the Midleton Very Rare, King of Irish Whiskeys and raising a silent toast to the guys who made it.
Of course in those days there were only five or six of us boozehounds to plámás, distributing largesse on this scale wouldn’t have caused much of a dent in Irish Distillers’ marketing budget. Today, with soi-disant drinks writers in every publication from The Tondragee Trumpet to Welder & Ferret Breeder I imagine the practise has been discontinued on grounds of expense. Or can it be I’ve just lost some of the cachet I once had?
Happily, I still get to taste the ‘V.R’. Recently I had the pleasure of attending an exclusive tutored tasting – in the Constitution Room at The Shelbourne Hotel – curated by Master Distiller Brian Nation, the man behind the masterpiece. The Midleton Very Rare 2019, 36th edition, has been blended from whiskeys laid down at Midleton Distillery, Co Cork, over the past four decades. and combines only hand-selected single pot still and single grain Irish whiskeys of exceptional quality and rarity within the Midleton inventory. With each whiskey in the profile having been matured exclusively in lightly-charred first-fill American oak barrels for between 13 and 34 years, 2019 marks the oldest collection of casks used to create a Midleton Very Rare since the premium whiskey’s inception in 1984.
Here are Brian’s tasting notes:-
Nose: Ripe fruit notes of sweet pear and apple that develop overtime, adding a delicate touch of mango. Complimented by the charred American oak, these flavours are further accentuated with additional sweet layers of brown sugar and vanilla, with a light dusting of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove spice.
Taste: Luscious and silky texture with the orchard fruits and pot still spices coming to the fore while the grain’s soft floral notes gently linger in the background, allowing the oak to add dimensions of mild tannins and wood spice.
Finish: The fruits and gentle spice slowly fade, giving way to the oak foundation that leaves a mild roasted coffee and nutty character to linger until the very end.
Brian also brought along a bottle of the 1989 for comparison purposes. This, I thought a very different tipple, with, even after thirty years, massive power and presence. The 2019, in contrast, seemed less ‘driven’ , lighter and altogether more poised. Brian agreed, describing the latest release as having “no shout, no roar – it’s a very modern whiskey.” He stressed the sweetness, the “dusting of spices, the cinnamon notes” and the exotic hints of mango and mandarin. Conspicuous length of finish was a feature of both the 1989 and the 2019.
I asked him if he considered the process as evolutionary. He said “no, it’s more a matter at looking at what we’ve got in each particular year and deciding how best to showcase it.”
THE 1825 ROOM
To mark the release of its 2019 Midleton Very Rare vintage, Irish Distillers has launched the ‘1825 Room’, a members’ site to pay homage to Midleton Distillery’s outstanding influence on Irish distilling since its foundation in 1825. Offering exclusive content and features about Midleton Very Rare, the site – available to join now @ www.midletonveryrare.com will also include an exclusive online store, with five rare vintages for sale from 2nd October for one month. To celebrate the launch of the 1825 Room, members will have the opportunity to purchase a bottle of the very first 1984 vintage at the price of £40 Irish punts, which equates to €50.80. In anticipation of demand being exceptionally high, purchasers will be selected through a ballot system.
Bottled at 40% ABV, Midleton Very Rare 2019 is available globally from this month at the RRP of €180 in markets including Ireland, the UK, and the US.