Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest

Irish Distillers have recently introduced  Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest, the third release in the Dair Ghaelach collection. A remarkable addition to the Midleton Very Rare story, the new expression has matured in barrels made from virgin Irish oak grown in Knockrath Forest, County Wicklow, reinforcing Midleton’s provenance and its standing as a true taste of Ireland.

The story of Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaelach, which translates as ‘Irish oak’, began over a decade ago when the Midleton Masters, ever keen to innovate and create unique and exemplary whiskeys, decided to explore the possibility of maturing Irish whiskey in native oak. Midleton’s talented team, led by Master of Maturation Kevin O’Gorman, Master Cooper Ger Buckley and Master Blender Billy Leighton, set out to source sustainable Irish oak from estates throughout Ireland to produce a series of whiskeys, each with their own individual history and taste profile, that could be traced back to the specific tree from which the oak cask was made

For the third edition, the Midleton team selected the Knockrath estate in the ancient Vale of Clara where the oak has grown for more than 150 years amidst the landscape of mountains and lakes. Known for its cool summers and heavy rainfall, the climate of County Wicklow impacts the density and porosity of the oak. This, in addition to a lighter toasting of the wood and unique combination of distillates, results in subtle flavor differences between Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest and its and Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest.

Since the 16th century, the Brabazon family has watched over Knockrath Forest and continues to sustainably manage the trees from one season to the next. Under their guardianship, the Knockrath estate became one of the first sites where the iconic Great Spotted Woodpecker – engraved into the whiskey’s stunning wooden case – set up residence on its return to Ireland following years in exile. Today, after ten years of silence, the woodpecker’s drumming can be heard throughout the forests of Wicklow and beyond thanks to the Brabazon family and the expanding oak forests.

Once felled, the carefully harvested trees were shipped to the Maderbar sawmills in Baralla, north-west Spain, where they were traditionally quarter sawn into staves for barrel manufacturing and transferred to the Antonio Páez Lobato cooperage in Jerez.  After a 15-month drying process, the staves were worked into barrels and given a light toasting before returning to Ireland. Back at Midleton Distillery, the virgin oak casks were filled with Irish pot still whiskeys ranging in age from 13-26 years

Following two further years maturing in the Irish oak, O’Gorman and Leighton diligently checked the barrels each month until finally, the pair felt the whiskey had the perfect balance of flavor, aroma and wood contribution ready for bottling.

The final product consists of 7 bottled whiskeys at cask strength ranging from 56.1% – 56.6% ABV. Very cool.

Irish distillers were kind enough to send me the full set! of 7 different casks made from the 7 different trees – Whisky Geekery Level: 10! how wonderful is to see how the same liquid is changing when the cask type is the same but the actual tree that was used to create the cask containing the aging whiskey, is what differs in the equation.

The full tasting set with some acorns straight from the Irish forest!

Now, how do you go about writing tasting note for 7 whiskeys which are not greatly varying? Of course, each cask is inherently different, and the tree or the cask make would make a difference, but those are not huge. I’ve decided to start with tree #1, review it and not to bore you with details of all 7 bottles. You can be sure that variation does exist, but is not huge…

Midleton Dair Ghaelach – Knockrath Forest Tree 1 , 56,6% ~ €310

Nose: classic virgin oak notes, you often find in American whiskey as well: lots of coconut shreds, vanilla, nail remover, vanilla custard, toffee, nice oakiness and many a wood spice: pepper, ginger powder, allspice. Rich and bold no doubt, but elegant as well. 

Palate: initial peppery attack which gives way to lots of toasted oak, coffee and mocha, then the tropical fruit shine, with red grapefruit, melons, and passion fruit/kiwi/mango. Beautiful! If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for the tropical flavors profile in whiskeys. And I’m a happy camper here. Delightful. Damn lovely. 

Finish: memories of tropical fruit long gone, oak, mocha, leather, and spice. 

Conclusion: It seems the Pot still and the virgin oak work very well together, the whiskey is bold, sweet, fruity and spicy, and I love that. Just the right balance of big wood, and tropical fruit, with vanilla and mocha intertwined. Impressive stuff, and highly enjoyable. Not a light whiskey, but bold and delicious IMHO. Good work there guys.

Score: 88/100

You can buy each “tree” separately (some are sold out) , or if you’re feeling rich today, you can opt for all trees 1-7 for €2,170 – visit the Celtic Whisky Shop where those are available.

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