Midleton Very Rare range
The school I went to as a kid had a motto: “Manners Maketh Man”. The school is hundreds of years old, which you might be able to guess from the wording of that motto; so, if I translate it into modern parlance: “Traditions Make a Person”. And, to paraphrase this and explain what this means to me: “our past informs our future”.
Sat in the Constitution room of the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, the sense of the past is all around us: not in an oppressive or dusty fashion, but rather in the sense of hope, anticipation, big deeds laying the ground work for future progress. After all, this is the room where, as the name suggests, the Irish constitution was written decades ago - legislation that still governs Irish society today.
But, we’re not here to talk about political history. We’ve been invited here by Midleton to talk whiskey; specifically: Midleton Very Rare. Midleton Very Rare is the pinnacle of Irish Distillers’ range, and is case study in what top notch, delicate, Irish whiskey can be. The range is an annual release, always limited volume, and some of the past bottles now go for big, big money.
As Brian Nation, the Master Distiller, stands up to introduce the whiskey, that sense of the past remains with us. We’re not starting with the 2019 vintage; in fact, we’re starting with some of those past releases that go for big money. In the line up we have the 1984, the 1989, the 1997, and the 2014. I find it poignant that Brian has picked bottles that represent different milestones in his personal career. Particularly when he highlights that selecting casks to go into the bottling is normally the preserve of the Master Blender; this is, in fact, the only release that the Master Distiller has the opportunity to select the casks for a release. It is a brave person that introduces a new product by walking through past products, particularly given some of these revered historic bottlings bearing Barry Crockett’s signature. A brave person, or perhaps an individual quietly confident in what they are about to table.
Middleton Very Rare 2019 vintage
With a certain sense of anticipation, we finally turn our attention to the 2019 vintage. As with all the past releases, this, the 36th edition in the range, combines single pot still and single grain Irish whiskeys that Brian hand-selected from his entire inventory. Each of the whiskeys chosen has been matured exclusively in lightly-charred ex-bourbon American oak barrels for between 13 and 34 years; a range that means 2019 marks the oldest collection of casks used to create a Midleton Very Rare.
This impressive age range does, in a quite literal sense, relate back to my school motto: the casks laid down in the past now benefit the whiskey of the moment, here in 2019. More laterally though, when we come to taste the 2019 vintage, I feel the sense of the past informing the future: that same distillery DNA is still there, but it has evolved - grown - shamelessly and confidently so. It is not a whiskey that tries to fill old shoes nor fit rigidly into past ideas; rather, those past ideas are simply there to inform new interpretations. And Brian says as much: he feels fortunate to have great stock to call upon, and empowered to build on established DNA to create a new whiskey.
Midleton Very Rare 2019 tasting notes
On the nose there is plenty of sweet orchard fruits, pear and apples; most alluring, are hints of mango which I really enjoyed. The charred American oak casks leave characteristic notes of vanilla and brown sugar, and there is a vibrant spice to it as well.
On the palate, the whiskey has a fuller mouthfeel than some of the older examples to the range. Those orchard fruits are there in the month, together with spice, and underneath the spice, softer more floral notes.
The finish is enjoyably long and complex, as those orchard fruits and spice gently fade into light coffee and nuts. I enjoyed sipping this slowly and savouring that finish.
Informed, but not constrained, by the past
To paraphrase that school motto again, I feel the past is present and informs this whiskey without constraining it. Which, in my opinion, is exactly how things should be. You can find our photos from the night on Instagram @TopWhiskies, and if you’d like to try Midleton Very Rare 2019 its now available worldwide with a retail price around the €180 mark.