Midleton continues its rare releases focusing on aging in barrels made from a single tree. The third release is still a single pot still whiskey that was initially aged in bourbon casks for 13 to 26 years, then finished for 2 additional years in barrels made from virgin oak sourced from Ireland’s Knockrath Forest in County Wicklow. Seven trees in total were used to make seven single-tree bottlings; we are reviewing a bottle drawn from tree #1.
A few details before we get into it:
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 to 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.
As with the Bluebell Forest bottling, Knockrath Forest doesn’t totally feel like the well-aged whiskey that it is. Sharp on the nose, it offers notes of almond cookies and fresh-cut hay, with hints of citrus peel, lemon oil, and a light grind of pepper. The palate is surprisingly quite hot and the whiskey benefits greatly from a splash of water. Lots of cereal and nougat notes recall past Midleton bottlings, with ample spice and some greenery character lingering toward the finish. Almond notes are again quite expressive on the back end, but simpler granary elements and a modest barrel char note hang on for quite a while.
Like other spirits in this tier, it’s a perfectly drinkable and pleasurable whiskey, but while the price tag is understandable, it still feels tough to justify.
113.2 proof as tasted. (Bottle abv varies slightly depending on tree number.)
B+ / $350