Believe it or not, it is 30 years since Midleton Very Rare Whiskey first made an appearance in the Whiskey world.
Midleton really was the flagship whiskey of Irish distillers and represented all that was best in the Irish Distillers whiskey family which includes Jameson, Powers, Redbreast, Paddy and the famous Green Spot and Yellow Spot Pot Still Irish Whiskeys.
From the very first bottle produced in 1984, the Midleton Premium whiskeys have always had a close and personal association with Master Distiller Barry Crockett, who’s personal signature adorned every bottle of Midleton ever released. Barry Crockett is an Irish Whiskey legend who’s father Max Crockett had been Master Distiller before him. In fact Barry was born and grew up in the Master Distiller’s House on the distillery grounds. Today, the same building serves as the Irish Distillers and Midleton Distillery archive.
Midleton Very Rare was Barry’s very own personal creation blended from hand picked casks of the distillery’s very best pot still spirit to create depth and character and some very old and special grain spirit to add incredible smoothness. The blend was then matured under the watchful eye of Midleton’s Master of Maturation before being released to market annually in small and limited quantities with each bottle individually numbered.
Earlier expressions from 1984 and the late 80’s may have been more reliant of their quality of distillation rather than maturation as the new Midleton Distillery had only opened in 1975. However as stock levels of the maturing whiskey casks grew, the age of blends of grain and pot still used in Midleton Very Rare also grew to somewhere between 15 and 21 years.
Ever since that very first release of Midleton Very Rare in 1984, Barry has approved and released a new expression for each calendar year.
When Barry retired in 2012, his place was taken by his protégé Brian Nation and since 2012, each bottle now carries the signature of Brian, as Midleton’s new Master Distiller.
To celebrate the 30th or Pearl Anniversary of Midleton Very Rare, Barry Crockett as Master Distiller Emeritus was invited back to join current master Distiller Brian Nation in selecting a 30 Year Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey from 1984 and a Grain Whiskey from 1981 to blend into an anniversary whiskey of exceptional quality. Both whiskeys had been aged in American oak barrels which after 30 years had imparted luscious honey and vanilla flavours.
A Select Group of Whiskey Writers
I was honoured to be amongst a select group of a dozen or so International Whiskey Writers invited to join Barry, Brian, Midleton Distillery’s Master of Maturation Kevin O’Gorman, Master Blender Billy Leighton, Master Cooper Ger Buckley, and other Midleton Distillery Leaders for a celebratory dinner in an Distillery Warehouse Cooperage to launch this very special 30th (Pearl) Anniversary Midleton Very Rare Whiskey.
Midleton Very Rare Pearl Edition will not just be very rare. It will be exceptionally rare as just 117 bottles have been produced at a suggested retail price of €6,000 each. Each bottle has been individually hand crafted by Keith and Kathleen Leadbetter of Jerpoint Glass Studios in Co. Kilkenny and each presentation box is also hand crafted in native Irish Oak in Co. Wexford.
In addition, each presentation case also carries a celebratory booklet and an extra 50 cl sample, in a smaller hand crafted bottle so that you can taste and share your Midleton Pearl without opening your main bottle. Midleton Pearl will only be available for purchase in Ireland, the UK, Germany, France and China.
As I said, 117 bottles have been produced, but I’m guessing that following our tasting at the event, that that number is now down to 114 at most!
So, what was my experience of Midleton Pearl?
As you can see from Mark Gillespie’s (WhiskyCast.com) photo, I was lucky enough to be sitting near the end of the banquet style table where Barry and Brian stood to give a short pre-tasting presentation. Following, the presentation, each guest was poured a generous measure of Pearl in a beautiful Waterford Crystal Glass by their nearest Midleton host and being in the right place at the right time, I had the great honour as a relatively new Irish Whiskey writer, in having my own glass poured by Barry Crockett himself, before clinking glasses with Barry, Brian and Billy to toast the launch of what may well be the very best Irish Whiskey ever produced.
The nose was classic Midleton Whiskey, warm, spicy and rounded with a hint of toasted oak and some soft bees wax notes.
Tasting the first drop, Midleton Pearl is incredibly rich and complex. Honey sweet and spicy at the same time, it reminded me of warm, rich gingerbread.
The mouthfeel is warm and full with a luscious pot still oiliness. There is no mistaking the classic Midleton traits, but this is Midleton to the power of 4 with absolutely superb depth and character.
The Finish is warm and tingling feel with a long and gentle fade.
And a Pooka Rating? Of course it was never in doubt that Midleton Pearl is a Five Pooka Irish Whiskey. On second thoughts, it’s the King of the Pookas!
My sincere thanks to my Friends at Midleton for honouring me with an invitation to this very special Irish Whiskey night. Visiting Midleton is like visiting family. There is always a warmth, openness and kindness in their hospitality which make each and every guest feel not just very welcome, but very special.
I must also mention the superb meal and service by Ballymaloe House who created an incredible long table banuquet in the old warehouse for the 30 or so attendees. I’m not sure if the whiskey was worthy of the event or was the event worthy of the whiskey! Of course, it was the event that was worthy of the whiskey, but as I have often said before, fine whiskey is not just about taste and smell. It is also about look, the feel of a heavy crystal glass in your hand and of course, warm ambiance and company. It was a great pleasure to meet my fellow International Whisk(e)y Writers and Bloggers from Ireland, the UK, Mainland Europe and the USA, many of whom have since become valued whiskey friends and contacts.
Finally, as you can see from the attached photo, each guest received a personalised engraved wooden place holder with their menu. As I mentioned earlier, each bottle of Midleton Pearl is signed by both Barry and Brian. Spotting a unique opportunity, I was delighted that the three Midleton Masters, Barry, Brian and Billy all were kind enough to sign my dinner menu leaving me with a treasured and very personal memento of my attendance at a truly great event in Irish whiskey history. The launch of Midleton Very Rare Pearl 30th Anniversary Edition Irish Whiskey may well have been the launch of the best Irish Whiskey ever.
Stuart McNamara is a Whisky and Whiskey Blogger. Stuart is the owner and Editor in Chief of WhiskeyBlogger.com, IrishWhiskey.com, The Irish Whiskey Trail, The Dublin Whiskey Trail, Irish Whiskey Way Atlantic Coast Whiskey Trail , Haig Whisky and The Scottish Whisky Trail. Follow Stuart @WhiskeyBlogger on Social Media.