Midleton Dair Ghaelach Kylebeg Wood Collection Whiskey Release
The Old Midleton Distillery in Ireland.
We are standing beside a moss-covered tree stump in Kylebeg Wood in rural Ireland, nursing small glasses of whiskey that are helping ward off the chilly drizzle.
“This was Tree Seven,” says Kevin O’Gorman, Master Distiller at Midleton’s famous distillery in County Cork, as he started explaining why we were here.
The oak tree was felled in 2015, shipped to Galicia in Spain where it was quarter-sawed into staves. They were then taken to a Jerez cooperage where they were laid out to dry for 15 months and made into lightly toasted barrels that were shipped back to Midleton’s HQ in Ireland.
The barrels were filled with a careful blending of Midleton’s finest single pot still whiskeys that had been ageing in American bourbon barrels for between 13 and 25 years. This was put to age for a further 15 months in these Irish oak hogsheads.
The resulting whiskey we are now drinking has notes of marmalade and roast quince, then incredible layers of toffee, coffee cake and crème brûlée along with cinnamon and nutmeg; its cask-strength 55.9% ABV expressing itself as a comforting warmth rather than a harsh burn.
It felt like a special moment; a homage not only to the nearly 200 year-old tree itself, but also to those whose various skills and craftsmanship have, over decades, brought this rare whiskey from the just-released Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaelach Kylebeg Wood collection, to the glass.
Six other oaks, planted around 1820 to replace the prized Irish timber used for ship-building during the Napoleonic wars, were felled at the same time here. They all received the same treatment: sent to Spain to be made into a total of 42 barrels, which were then filled with the same liquid on their return to Midleton. These seven bottings, each traceable to a single tree, make up the collection.
It is the fourth instalment in the Dair Ghaelach, which means ‘Irish oak’, series – a project devised by Irish Distillers, Midleton’s owners, more than a decade ago to marry Midleton’s best liquids with the finest oak sourced from sustainable woodlands.
Kylebeg Wood itself is on the Ballycavan Estate which has been in the Walsh-Kemmis family since 1639. Now David and his wife Lisa, are carrying on the work of David’s father, replanting and nurturing native woodland with an eye to the future.
New trees – beech, ash, hazel and hawthorn as well as oaks – were planted after the 2015 fellings, and surround the stump of Tree Seven. Brambles are cut back to give the young saplings room to grow, but natural biodiversity is otherwise allowed to flourish and native species such as red squirrels, have recently made a welcome return.
On another part of the estate is a 12-hectare field of oaks planted 28 years ago. The trees are closely clustered, tall and spindly, on a floor of autumnal ground cover. A watchful eye is kept on their growth, to allow the best to thrive and provide high quality timber to make barrels around the year 2103.
“We are just the custodians,” says David. “We are working to bring the place back to life for future generations, and this collaboration with Midleton is a part of that.”
Unique tale in the glass?
So what of the whiskeys themselves? I was seduced by the story but could these seven trees really tell their own unique tales in the glass? We later tasted three other whiskeys from the collection and, much to my surprise, the difference between them was astonishing.
The whiskey from Tree #1 is bottled at 55.6% and has an elevated, honeycomb sweetness along with a spiciness redolent of cloves and star anise, while that from Tree #2, bottled at 56.1%, has a darker caramel nose but a more citrus, herbaceous lift. Tree #5, grown higher up the hill, gave more intense notes of vanilla and toffee along with a zesty kick of lemon peel.
Retailing at €310/US$350 a bottle, these are serious drinks for serious drinkers. All wonderful in their own right, they also embody the real and important work of collaborations such as these. As we drink them, these whiskeys connect us with both people and place over centuries, and that is a precious thing.
Good to know:
Tree 2: Available online and in store from mid-December
Tree 3-7: Available early 2022
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