Should Midleton Dair Ghaelach Been Named Whisky Of The Year?

By Nino Kilgore-Marchetti / December 7, 2015

Midleton Dair GhaelachThe recent controversy around Jim Murray’s 2016 choice of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye as Whisky of the Year got me thinking about what others on his list of those at the very top might have been a better choice. Now I’m certainly not Murray, mind you, but as I reviewed his tasting notes and also looked around at what other whiskey writers were saying about some of the bottlings, one struck me as perhaps a choice which might not have been as much of a sticking point, and certainly one which would have been much more innovative – I’m talking about the Irish Midleton Dair Ghaelach project.

Taking a look at this unique undertaking from one of Ireland’s foremost whiskey brands, at first glance, suggests it is certainly more worthy. As we wrote about back in March when it debuted, the focus of Dair Ghaelach, which means “Irish oak,” was to highlight the use of native oak to mature local whiskey. To refresh your memory on it, here is the pull quote we used from the distillery’s Master Blender, Billy Leighton, and Kevin O’Gorman, Master of Maturation:

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.

Upwards of ten trees were used in this first batch, with Midleton going out of its way to highlight on the bottles specifically from which tree it was tied to. Lengthy articles over at PotStilled, Whisky for Everyone and Edinburgh Whisky Blog, among others, give great details on more specifics around what went on in getting things ready for bottling, and I suggest you check all of them as they each have some different details that give a really great total picture of the uniqueness of this.

Now, looking at Murray’s review of it himself, he scored Midleton Dair Ghaelach a 97, which is just .5 less than the Crown Royal. He also put it third on the top Whiskies of the World list as well as naming it Irish Whiskey of the Year and Irish Pot Still Whiskey of the Year. That in of itself gives it more credence when you factor in the backstory of how this whiskey came to be.

Finally, piling on the views of others, you find scores such as Tastings (94), WhiskyCast (92) and The Whiskey Reviewer (A). Also, there is the little matter of Whisky Advocate just today naming Midleton Dair Ghaelach as its Irish Whiskey of the Year.

So, what do you think? Should Murray have gone with something  more innovative such as Midleton Dair Ghaelach for his Whisky of the Year, or do you think the Crown Royal one was the right choice and why? I would love to hear your answers to that in the comments below – thanks for reading!