Food & drink

Whiskey Galore: Sampling the Midleton Distillery's famous five

SOMETIMES the universe is on your side. My recent birthday (21 again, fact fans) brought brilliant presents, a fabulous lunch with my wonderful wife - and an invite to a special tasting of rare whiskeys from the Midleton portfolio.

The Midleton Distillery in Cork, like Bushmills at the other end of the island, kept the Irish spirit alive through the dark days and nights, and continues to flourish.

Its range is remarkable, in both extent and quality, including the former Dublin big guns of Jameson and Power's, plus Midleton, Redbreast, Writer's Tears, Green Spot, Yellow Spot...

The Dark Horse bar was the superb setting for what it would be unfair to call a 'work event'; there was no fighting, vomiting, or breaking of a children's swing. Not before I left anyway.

Instead, it was pure pleasure. Joe Magowan was far from being the only whiskey expert in the place, but the Prestige Irish Whiskey Developer for Dillon Bass knowledgeably led those lucky enough to be there through a famous five, all bottled exclusively for bar-owner Willie Jack's nearby 'The Friend at Hand' whiskey shop/museum.

They were a Power's 14-year-old, Midleton 17-year-old single cask, Redbreast 18-year-old finished in oloroso sherry cask, Midleton 20-year-old, and a Redbreast 25-year-old 'all sherry'.

These five stars helped the re-launch of Whiskey Club NI, which can be joined at

The Midleton 17-year-old came from the most exclusive home, even if Midleton master blender Billy Leighton labelled it 'a mongrel cask': made of staves from seven different trees as part of the Dair Ghaeleach (Irish oak) range, all of which provide different 'noses', colours, tastes. Fittingly this was named after the 'Wishing Tree' outside in the hidden courtyard, inspired by the Seamus Heaney poem of the same name.

FWIW, the Redbreast 18-year-old was my personal favourite, cask strength of 55.2 per cent ABV, with an almost 'meaty' taste. A tribute to the robin, adept at getting through the Irish winter, as whiskey helps us do, the 25-year-old Redbreast was a touch too much sherry for my taste - which is probably a relief to my wife's purse - but most others loved it.

Next year's birthday, when I'll be older than most of those whiskeys, will take some topping.


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