Irish Distillers, makers of some of the world’s most enjoyed whiskeys, has 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 flavour differences between Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest and its predecessors, Dair Ghaelach Grinsell’s Wood 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 flavour, aroma and wood contribution, ready for bottling.
Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest is bottled at cask strength, ranging from 56.1% – 56.6% ABV, giving drinkers the opportunity to taste Irish whiskey almost directly from Irish oak. The native wood contributes notes of caramel, fruits, vanilla and chocolate for a smooth and robust whiskey.
Kevin O’Gorman explains: “Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest is an amazing 150-year journey from Knockrath Forest to bottle and one we’re proud to be part of. Traceability and sustainability are at the heart of this whiskey and, until we started this project, Irish oak had not been used to mature whiskey for well over 100 years. Today, thanks to sustainable practices, we can harvest small volumes and trace each bottle right back to the very oak tree that helped to create it. This has, in turn, fostered an awareness and appreciation among whiskey lovers that there is even a subtle difference between trees which contributes to a whiskey’s unique flavour.”
Billy Leighton adds: “It’s an honour to present the latest edition in the Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaelach collection. Truly a taste of Ireland, the barley, water, oak and indeed craftspeople at the heart of this expression are all home-grown, making us extremely proud to share this latest expression in the Midleton story with the world.”
Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest is available from January 2020 in Ireland, UK, France, US and China at the recommended selling price of €310 per 70cl.