Simon Wittenberg attends a highly exclusive tasting at HIDE Piccadilly to be amongst the first in the world to enjoy the €50,000, 48 Year Old Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Chapter Four whiskey in the company of Midleton’s Master Distiller Kevin O’Gorman.
For a bit of history, the Old Midleton Distillery in County Cork was established in 1825 by the Murphy family, using former army barracks and the woollen mills which operated in the 1700s.
The site had the benefit of the adjacent Dungourney River, meaning the water source was plentiful for brewing and distilling, whilst there was also a lot of underground water due to the limestone composition of this region. Furthermore, the area surrounding the distillery has the best arable land in the country, and good drainage, thereby making it an optimum location to grow good quality barley.
In the years that followed the distillery’s foundation, the whiskey flowed, and in 1854, the Murphy family put in place the famed and largest pot still in the world with a 144,000-litre capacity, which today forms part of an exhibit at the Midleton Heritage Centre after becoming silent in 1975. It was fired by coal for many years before steam was introduced as the main heating method.
In 1975, the Old Midleton Distillery closed down, and a new one was built on the same site. In the early 70s, the Irish whiskey sector was struggling, with only two distilleries operating in Ireland.
However, Max Crockett, who was the Master Distiller at the time, had the foresight to lay down a number of casks in 1973 and 1974 for his successors, which were housed in the very old warehouses named ‘A1’, ‘A2’ and ‘A3’, which hark back to the 1850s.
These special casks were left in the hands of the next three Master Distillers, who were tasked with keeping a close eye on their development and bottling the whiskey at exactly the right time.
Barry Crockett took over in 1981, and with the responsibility passed in the latter years to Master Distiller Brian Nation (from 2013 until 2020) to monitor, sample and determine the ideal bottling time for this rare whiskey laid down by his predecessors, Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection Chapter One was unveiled in February 2020, marking the debut of Ireland’s rarest and oldest ever whiskey series.
There will be six annual releases in total, and each will be presented in a stunning mouth-blown Waterford crystal decanter and a burr elm cabinet crafted by the Irish designer John Galvin. In fact, 2025 will see a spectacular crescendo in the form of a 50-Year-Old for Chapter Six, as this inventory laid down by Max Crockett half a century ago will forever be confined to the history books.
The presentation of this particular expression will also coincide with the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the original Old Midleton Distillery.
Looking back at what has so far been unveiled so far from the Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection, Chapter One was a peated 45-year-old single malt (very unusual for Midleton at the time), limited to only 48 bottles worldwide and priced at €35,000 each.
Very few examples have resurfaced since, and when they do, the value is nearer €50,000, highlighting this whiskey’s rarity. Chapter Two in 2021 took the form of a 46-year-old single pot still whiskey, limited to only 70 decanters, whilst Chapter Three last year was an exceptional 47-year-old whiskey created from the marriage of two separate whiskeys dating back to 1973 and matured in an ex-sherry butt and an ex-bourbon barrel.
Such was the demand that the 97 bottles went on sale through an exclusive ballot system, each available for the princely sum of €45,000. Surprisingly, it is still possible to buy a bottle online.
For 2023, it’s the turn of Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection Chapter Four.
Kevin O’Gorman (above), who joined the business in 1998, and subsequently became only the fourth Master Distiller at Midleton in June 2020, had the honour of unveiling the new 48-Year-Old.
With only 119 individually numbered bottles available across the globe, this ultra-rare liquid has been crafted by Kevin carefully blending a cask of grain whiskey (number 11395) with a pot whiskey of the same age from an ex-bourbon cask without losing a single drop of this liquid gold.
Both from 1973, the pot whiskey was put into the cask of grain whiskey on this occasion due to the grain whiskey being lower in quantity, so it was important to retain as much of it as possible.
The two spirits then spent a total of 48 days together prior to this exceptional €50,000 blended whiskey being bottled at a cask strength of 53.9% ABV.
Nature’s elements inspire the Silent Distillery Collection, and Chapter Four’s packaging and photography pay homage to the role of earth, a life-giver to grain, wood and all that nourishes these essential materials.
When lifting the glass of this very rare and historic whiskey to eye level, Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection Chapter Four has a sumptuous dark gold colour – synonymous with a whisky of this age. On the nose, there is an abundance of notes, which include a chocolate-dipped honeycomb with caramelised red apples and quince jelly.
Luxurious aromas are enhanced by the confectionary sweetness of coffee cake and vanilla-scented cream, while earthy fragrances are matched by those of an antique cedar wood cigar box. Dried flowers that still carry delicate waves of a floral perfume add to the array of flavours.
On the palate, there’s an explosion of citrus fruits at first, especially grapefruit, with fresh plums, peaches, and dried apricot. A hint of chilli oil and grated ginger follows. Delicate oak tannins, perfectly balanced with the fruits and pot still spices, work in harmony with a suggestion of mature Roquefort.
Floral and sweet-grain whiskey add finesse, making this a wonderfully complex blend that is silk-textured and full-bodied. For the finish, stone fruits and soft spices continue to linger for a time, with the oak tannins quietly fading into the background. It’s interesting that, when adding a drop of water, the profile changes, and the whiskey is opened up, meaning this Midleton becomes a lot more citrusy, with fruity elements coming to the fore.
Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection Chapter Four is an exceptional and complex whiskey, and although in the price range of the few, it is a masterpiece of craftsmanship that brings the senses alive and has undoubtedly been worthy of a 48-year wait.
It was a privilege to be amongst the first in the world to try the expression beyond the confines of the Midleton Distillery and in such esteemed company. Plus, with two more chapters in this story still to unfold, this collection has plenty of secrets yet to be revealed…
Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Chapter Four – Where and How?
For more information on Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Chapter Four, visit www.midletonveryrare.com/en/silent-distillery-collection/chapter-4.
Availability: USA, UK, Global Travel retail, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, France, Australia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Austria, and Brand Homes.
See pictures from the unveiling of Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Chapter Four on the Luxurious Magazine Instagram page.
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