Irish Oak To Get Its Moment In Whisky Spotlight Via New Midleton Irish Whisky Release - The Whiskey Wash
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Irish Oak To Get Its Moment In Whisky Spotlight Via New Midleton Irish Whisky Release

By Nino Marchetti / March 24, 2015

MIDLETON An DairIt is well known the type of wood used in the barrels aging whiskey has a huge influence on the flavor profile. Irish and Scottish whisky makers, in particular, lead the trend in using different types of wood, but usually the fall back for the casks they make use of is American white oak. Ireland’s Midleton distillery is now experimenting with something more native which could be a game changer for that island nation’s whisky – virgin Irish oak.

Midleton, owned by spirits giant Pernod Ricard, is getting set to debut next month Midleton Dair Ghaelach, an Irish single pot still blend of whiskies that were first aged between 15 and 22 years in ex-bourbon (American white oak) casks before being married in Irish oak hogsheads for almost a year. The resulting bottling, clocking in at 58.5% ABV, will price around $250 when released.

The Dair Ghaelach, which means “Irish oak,” was described by Midleton as being the result of a six year project looking at the use of native oak to mature local whisky. I’ve pulled the detailed description of this undertaking, led by the distillery’s Master Blender, Billy Leighton, and Kevin O’Gorman, Master of Maturation, from the press release so you can get a good sense of how complex this was:

The project had two prerequisites. The first was to ensure that all Irish oak was sourced exclusively from sustainable Irish Oak forests that could guarantee both a long-term supply and the re-generation of native wood, while the second was to explore what new taste profiles could be created from Irish oak maturation to craft a new and outstanding Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey.

In collaboration with professional Irish forestry consultants, O’Gorman and Leighton selected Grinsell’s Wood within the Ballaghtobin Estate, Co. Kilkenny, to provide the oak for the first in a series of virgin oak releases in the coming years. Each bottle can be traced back to one of ten 130-year-old Irish oak trees in Grinsell’s Wood, which were felled in April 2012.

To craft the oak into casks, fellow artisans at the Maderbar sawmills in Baralla, north-west Spain, used the quarter-sawing process to cut the trees into staves under the watchful eye of the Midleton Masters. The staves were then transferred to the Antonio Páez Lobato cooperage in Jerez, where after drying for fifteen month the staves were worked into 48 Irish Oak Hogshead casks and given a medium toast.

Analysis shows that the Irish oak contains higher levels of some lignin derivative compounds, such as vanillin and vanillic acid, and furfural, in comparison to American and Spanish oak. These compounds further enhance the whiskey with vanilla, caramel and chocolate flavours, which are detectable on the nose of Midleton Dair Ghaelach and perfectly balance the classically rich, spicy Single Pot Still taste profile.

Whether or not Irish oak rises to the same common place use of American or Spanish oak in whisky aging remains to be seen, but the prospects for at least occasional bottlings with this wood type definitely offer some exciting new prospects for Irish distillers.