First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 28th January, 2017
On a wonderful, crisp, clear, sunny morning last December, I headed up to the beautiful Ballydowling Wood in Glenealy, Co Wicklow. There, I watched a 150-year-old native Irish oak tree being felled. The tree was destined to become an oak barrel, (in fact three to four barrels) used to mature and season the latest edition of Midleton Dair Ghaelach, the unique single-pot-still whiskey that is aged in virgin Irish oak.
Gabriel Fernández Rodríguez of the Madebar sawmill in Galicia was on hand to approve the quality of the wood, and to work out how many barrels he could garner from this tree, as was master cooper Ger Buckley, along with Irish Distillers head blender Billy Leighton and head of maturation Kevin O’Gorman. All three have been involved in this fascinating exercise for the last seven years.
The forest, sustainably farmed by Coillte, was one of the first to be managed under the Native Woodland Scheme, and part of the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. Along with 11 others, the felled tree would go on a trip to Galicia, where Gabriel and his father would saw them into staves. Then the staves would be transported to Jerez in the south of Spain, to be seasoned for 15 months and fashioned into 250-litre casks, before being returned to Ireland some two years later. Back home, they will be filled with some of the finest old single-pot-still whiskey. All being well, this will become the third release of Dair Ghaelach. Each bottle will be traceable back to a specific barrel and the individual tree.
A few specialist off-licences still have stocks of the first release of Dair Ghaelach, yours for about €260. The next release is planned for later this year.
Irish Whiskey Magazine
Further whiskey news: Irish Whiskey Magazine, run by a group of very knowledgeable enthusiasts, is, I think, our first specialist publication about Irish whiskey. See irishwhiskeymagazine.com for subscription details.
Whiskey aficionados will soon be flocking to city-centre Dublin. We already have the Irish Whiskey Museum on Grafton Street and the Teeling distillery in the Liberties. They will soon be joined, in March, by the refurbished Jameson visitor centre in the Smithfield area of Dublin 7, followed by the Pearse Lyons Distillery in the renovated deconsecrated St James’s Church in Dublin 8.
In the meantime, I would be tempted to take the train to Killarney and the Irish Whiskey Experience to enjoy one of their 50-minute courses covering various aspects of Irish whiskey and how to enjoy it (see irishwhiskeyexperience.net for details).
While in Kerry, a visit to Dingle Distillery would certainly be on the cards too. Alternatively, the Kilkenny Whiskey Guild is a group of 10 establishments in the city, all of whom offer at least 60 whiskies, served by a trained bartender.
Redbreast 12 year old Single Pot Still Whiskey
One of my favourite whiskeys, and very well priced; dried fruits, raisins, toasted hazelnuts and coffee in a delicious warming spirit.
Stockists: Widely available
Teeling 10 year-old Single Cask Amarone Finish Whiskey
Deliciously richly fruity with raisins, toasted almonds and caramel. A limited edition made exclusively for O’Briens, using Amarone casks from Musella, one of their suppliers. It works really well.
Tipperary Knockmealdowns 10 year-old Whiskey
Chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch with a touch of honey.
Stockists: Celtic Whiskey and other independent off-licences.