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Midleton Very Rare has unveiled its 39th vintage

Midleton Very Rare, dubbed ‘the pinnacle of Irish whiskey’, has unveiled its 39th vintage, and the second blend to be overseen by master distiller Kevin O’Gorman.

Midleton Very Rare 2022 combines whiskeys aged for between 12 and 33 years in lightly charred first-fill and second-fill ex-Bourbon barrels, sourced by O’Gorman and his team from casks maturing in Midleton’s A2 warehouse, built in the 1860s.

The main elements of a Midleton Very Rare (MVR) blend are grain whiskeys – bringing sweet, honeyed cereal flavours – and three styles of pot still whiskey (light, medium and heavy/traditional) that offer varying levels of fruit and spice, matured in barrels classified as B1 (first-fill), B2 (second-fill) and B3 (third-fill; not used in 2022).

‘This is only my second year,’ O’Gorman said of the 2022 blend. ‘There was a lot of pressure on year one and there was even more pressure on year two. What do they say in musical terms? The second album is always the most difficult.’

O’Gorman’s task is to follow the thread of the MVR style while creating a distinctive vintage, as well as bringing his own signature to the process.

‘I certainly want to follow the DNA and the characteristics that were laid down by [ex-master distiller] Barry Crockett back in 1984, and I think it’s very important for me personally to follow on that particular trait of whiskey that Barry loved so much – the American barrel, that combination of grain and pot,’ he said.

‘But I think, over the years, I’d like to develop that and add my own personality to it as well. Last year, with MVR 21, I think people saw the change when I increased the grain element. I love grain whiskey in American barrels, be it B1 or refills; I love the flavour contribution, the vanilla, the butterscotch, the toffee, that honeyed sweetness – and then you balance that with the pot still character.’

Midleton Very Rare 2022 has a slightly lower grain proportion than 2021, but it remains ‘on the high side’, O’Gorman says. He’s also tweaked the light/medium pot still element to enhance the fruit, teasing out the ‘absolutely delicious’ pot still whiskeys from 2009-11.

Where MVR’s inaugural 1984 vintage blended whiskeys aged for roughly 9-13 years, the age profile in 2022 runs from 12 to 33 years. That greater maturity brings new flavours and character to the spirit.

‘That’s the beauty of the vintages – they’re all different,’ O’Gorman says. ‘If the vintage was the same from year to year, it just wouldn’t be a vintage then. That’s one of the challenges for me, to make sure that every vintage is different and has a theme – but at the same time within the same DNA and rules of Midleton Very Rare.’

And what is he looking for in the end result? ‘What I love about a whiskey is that it has to be multi-layered. When you go back to a whiskey a number of times, what you don’t want is one dominant note coming through. You want a bit of intrigue: what am I going to get next? And then, on the taste, that explosion of flavours. It has to be long-lasting.’

When Midleton Very Rare 1984 was launched in November 1985, it cost IR£40 a bottle – considered by some at the time as excessive. Today, that first vintage sells for about £2,500.

Midleton Very Rare 2022, bottled at 40% abv from a single vatting made in January 2022, will be available in the coming months in Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, Asia and travel retail, priced at €200 a bottle.

A Midleton Very Rare vertical

Midleton Very Rare 1985: The second release, this blend belies the relative youth of its components with exuberant notes of vanilla, light toffee and Sugar Puffs from a strong grain element. There’s pot still spice and black pepper, and a subtle herbal note verging into menthol. Water brings an aromatic, delicate note of orange flower.

Midleton Very Rare 1996: Eleven years on, the intensity and complexity are ratcheted up thanks to more mature whiskeys bringing a basket of zesty citrus and orchard fruits alongside cinnamon and nutmeg. There’s light coffee from the toasted oak and lots of butterscotch, but the fruit is the main attraction here.

Midleton Very Rare 2000: A whiskey of remarkable texture – almost oily – that silkily knits together tropical fruit notes with mouthfilling vanilla cream and a prickle of fresh spearmint. There’s also some lemon zest, toffee apple and, with water, fresh-cut pear.

Midleton Very Rare 2013: Barry Crockett’s last MVR, this is a seamless swansong: mouthwatering green apple dusted with raw cane sugar, then more exotic fruits – juicy pineapple and green melon. There’s a sweet core, but pot still spice and pepper too, and the fruit never loses its grip.

Midleton Very Rare 2022: A lusciously fruity and beautifully balanced blend, showing dessert pear and ripe red apple alongside bright citrus notes. The palate takes time to build, with hazelnut praline morphing into sweet pâtisserie flavours. In the background sits the sweet, honeyed core of mature grain whiskey. Hedonistic stuff.

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