The Rare Ould Times 

As Midleton Very Rare releases Chapter Three of its Silent Distillery Collection, Brummell joins master distiller Kevin O’Gorman in conversation over a sample of this special 47-year-old Irish whiskey

Food and Drink 4 May 2022

Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection Chapter Three, £42,000

Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection Chapter Three, £42,000

Nearly 50 years have passed since the Old Midleton Distillery ceased production and the huge new facility opened next door to distill the vast majority of Irish whiskey. But as the silent stills’ last stock dwindled, former master distiller Barry Crockett reserved a few casks that were ageing particularly well. Some went towards the new annual vintages of Midleton Very Rare conceived by Crockett in the 1980s. But some were marked to age even longer… In the run-up to the 200th anniversary of the old distillery, Midleton Very Rare is releasing six “chapters” to conclude the story. Of Chapter Three, a meeting of two casks of 47-year-old pot-still whiskey, only 97 Waterford crystal decanters exist, each in a wooden cabinet, hand-crafted in the studio of John Galvin, who himself grew up just 30km from Midleton. Each example costs £42,000. With Crockett retired these last nine years, the man responsible for the concluding of the tale of the rare old times is the current master distiller Kevin O’Gorman…

The new release is the third of six chapters of extremely rare Midleton whiskey, which will culminate in a 50-year-old for
The new release is the third of six chapters of extremely rare Midleton whiskey, which will culminate in a 50-year-old to mark the distillery’s 200th anniversary

You have worked at Midleton since 1998 and were master of maturation for over a decade before becoming master distiller in 2020. You must feel like you have a relationship with these casks.

I do, to be honest… they are like children – you watch them grow and just try to subtly guide them. Even the whiskeys for the Silent Distillery Series, which I was not there to see created in the 1970s. But within weeks of joining, I became aware of special casks set aside in one of our oldest warehouses, A2 – I knew that not only were they the last distillate from the old distillery but that they were also liquid gold. And I have kept an eye on their development over the years. 

Have these casks just been left untouched as sacrosanct artifacts?

Not necessarily: some have changed direction. For example, the Silent Distillery Chapter Two began life as a bourbon barrel and a sherry butt, then they were combined in a refill bourbon barrel, before my predecessor-but-one, Barry Crockett, decided to recask it in a port pipe for about three years to pick up some additional red fruit notes. However, before that became overpowering, he returned it to another refill bourbon barrel to finish its ageing. On the other hand, the Chapter Three we are releasing now is a marriage of two whiskeys that have never changed casks – one bourbon and one Oloroso sherry. But the key here is that they were both refill casks, second fill, so we were happy they were able to evolve without too much wood influence.

Rare casks at the Midleton distillery
Rare casks at the Midleton distillery

It’s an incredible whiskey – full of complexity despite its long ageing, rather than just being softened and sweetened by the vanillin and wood sugars in the oak. One moment you’re picking up scents of leather-bound books, then a blend of spices, or hard-to-pinpoint herbs, before you get a specific blast of toasted hazelnuts. What hits you when you sample it?

First, the colour. Nearly five decades in wood have given it a deep amber richness… and it makes me think about the time involved, and the people. I was visiting the retired distiller, Barry Crockett, the other day, and it makes me feel very honoured to be following in his and his father’s footsteps, as well as Brian Nation, who was master distiller before me – all of us have cared for this liquid. But I also think about the men doing the backbreaking work of shovelling coal to fire the still in those days (not a practice we’d still employ!). It’s work that is recognised in the case designed by John Galvin, handmade from elm burr, which resembles rolling fire. I even think of those who built the stills on-site 150 years before that. 

'If you don’t bottle it, it will evaporate,' says Midleton master distiller Kevin O’Gorman
‘If you don’t bottle it, it will evaporate,’ says Midleton master distiller Kevin O’Gorman

As far as tasting notes are concerned, they always evolve, but today, I am getting a lot of autumnal fruits up front on the nose – plum, blackberry – before toffee and butterscotch and a touch of that pipe tobacco before the spice and orange peel comes in, even a bit of cut grass. The fruit on the palate is different, more citrus, mandarin, and then it rolls on with creaminess before a lot of nuttiness as it dries on the tongue. But it just goes on and on evolving!

This is the third chapter of six, culminating in a 50-year-old whiskey released to mark the 200th anniversary of the Old Midleton Distillery. After that, there will be no more stock from those stills, including the largest pot still ever built. As the story approaches the end, are there mixed emotions?

There’s an element of sadness because I’ve been looking at these casks since 1998; and my predecessors, Brian Nation and Barry Crockett, have been watching over them since the tail end of 1973 [the whiskey maturation ended in September 2021 when the casks were disgorged to be prepared for bottling, hence the 47YO age statement].They are a link to the old distillery and a link to the past, which will be broken in time. But there is very little left in those casks anyway – hence only 97 bottles of Chapter Three – and, if you don’t bottle it, it will evaporate, so I’d rather celebrate this fantastic liquid. The time is right now to showcase it to the world, and I’m privileged to do it.

Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection Chapter Three, £42,000, is available from retailers including Berry Bros & Rudd, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Hedonism, selected duty-free shops and by ballot in Midleton’s 1825 Room member’s site; midletonveryrare.com