It was a mild winter day when a group of lucky spirits writers gathered around Midleton’s Master Distiller, Kevin O’Gorman, in the Waterford pop-up store in SOHO, Manhattan.

The location was significant since Waterford handcrafted the crystal vessel holding the historic Irish whiskey we were there to experience: Midleton Silent Distillery Collection Chapter Three. Aged 47 years and priced at $43,000, this crown jewel in Midleton’s Very Rare Series represent the last drops of whiskey from the original Midleton Distillery, which operated from 1825 until 1975. Rounding out this special flight was the 2022 Midleton Very Rare Vintage Release, known as MVR to its devotees, and Dair Ghaelach, a collectible annual release of MVR finished in virgin Irish oak casks. Here, O’Gorman walks us through these exceptional whiskeys.

Midleton Very Rare 2022 Vintage

Vitals: 80 Proof (40 ABV); $200

O’Gorman: Midleton Very Rare was created by our former Master Distiller, Barry Crockett, in 1984. We consider this the pinnacle of a grain and single-pot whiskey. We start this process in July or August and typically settle on the final blend after Christmas. First, I choose a rough ratio of grain to pot whiskey and decide on an age range of maturation. From there, we fine-tune by adding whiskeys to amplify certain flavors. For example, we will punch up butterscotch or toffee notes by adding wood-compound-rich whiskey aged in first-fill bourbon barrels. This particular vintage is aged between 12-33 years. Let’s have a nose.

This whiskey has grain elements that bring floral notes like rosewater and is quite herbal. Then vanilla, toffee, butterscotch, and fudge come through, followed by lovely citrus fruits like orange peel before returning to toffee and fudge.

Very luscious and mouthwatering. The pot whiskey element gives you spice notes, caramel, and chocolate. There’s a lovely cereal grain note on the finish.

Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaelach Kylebeg Wood Virgin Irish Oak Collection

Vitals: 112.2 Proof (56.1 ABV); $385

Daer Ghalich is a project we have been working on for 30 years. Daer is Gaelic for Oak, and Ghaelach means Irish, so the translation is Irish oak. Our first Dair Ghaelach was released seven years ago when we collaborated with Irish farmer David Walsh-Kemmis at his Ballykilcavan Estate near Stradbally County. One of his forests is called Kylebeg, where we felled seven trees. Logs were shipped to a sawmill in Spain, which were expertly cut the logs into the staves for the casks. These staves were air-dried for about 15 months, then a Spanish cooper built 42 casks. They are about 240 liters each, and we do light to medium toast. Next, we took single pot still whiskeys that were previously matured in American oak between 12-23 years and re-casked that mature whiskey into the Irish oak, where it was finished an additional 15 months.

This is all pot still whiskey, so up front, you get that robustness with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, coffee beans, and dark chocolate. Next comes plums, berries, and black currents, followed by citrus and apple.

An explosion of flavor, this is a very juicy whiskey that dries a bit at the end. The pot still spice notes lead into caramel, stewed apple, and s hint of orange peel. Dark chocolate honeycomb, vanilla, and more spice round out the finish. Add a few drops of water to bring out floral notes.

Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection Chapter 3

Vitals: 110 Proof (55 ABV); $43,000

Distillery Collection Chapter 3 is the third ‘chapter’ in six a year series, which ends in 2025 with a 50-Year-old whiskey. With only 97 bottles available worldwide, this 47-year-old expression comes from the old Midleton ‘silent’ distillery, founded in 1825 and shuttered in 1974. When we built a new distillery adjacent to the original, we held back a collection of barrels, the last of which has become the Silent Distillery Collection. This whiskey was distilled in 1973 by MVR creator Barry Crockett’s father, Max Crockett. The whiskey is a blend of two casks, the first was a refilled Olorosso sherry butt (No. 5513) along with an American oak barrel (No. 4144). When you drink this, you are literally tasting Irish whiskey history.

It’s 55% alcohol, straight from the cask. Up front, you have toffee and coffee notes, but dark fruit and stone fruit also, which is especially rare in an old whiskey. You will also find earthy aromas, woodland spices, rolled tobacco, and an ‘old letter’ note common in very mature whiskey. It’s an incredible nose.

This has a rich, full-bodied mouthfeel and flavors of roasted coffee, caramelized fruits, and nuts. Olorosso comes through, but it has a signature spice as well. Dried herbs and peppermint add layers of complexity. The sweet finish wants to stop, but the whiskey powers through the gentle tannin.

Inside Midleton’s Irish Whiskey Program

Located just outside Cork County, Ireland, the Midleton Distillery has resided in a town by the same name since it was founded by the Murphy brothers in 1825. The original Midleton Distillery remained in production for 150 years before a new complex was built adjacent to the original site in 1975, which is now a visitor center. Today, Midleton produces a host of Irish Whiskey brands; Jameson, Redbreast, Powers, The Spot Series, Method And Madness, Knappogue Castle, and Midleton Very Rare are among them. To attain the range of styles required to produce this spectrum, O’Gorman is equipped with a broad palate of whiskeys with which to work. Here is how the program operates.

Midleton produces three Irish whiskey types: Grain, Single Pot, and Single Malt. Grain whiskey is a corn and malted barley recipe produced in a column-still to create a light and easy drinking sipper. Midleton’s traditional single-pot whiskey is a combo of barley and malted barley cooked in a copper pot. Midleton’s malt whiskey is 100% malt, also cooked in a pot still. O’Gorman produces different types of grain and single-pot whiskey within these top-tier styles. Single pot is made light, medium, and heavy. Grain whiskeys are made to be either light and elegant or sweet. These different distillates create flavors to amplify blending options. This range is amplified by with the distillery’s cask program.

A total of 1.7 million barrels are currently resting in Midleton warehouses and are bottled between 3-47 years. Sherry, American oak, Madeira, Marsala, wine casks, Cherry, and Chestnut, are some of the wood types employed to create Midleton products. While most of this whiskey is destined for Jameson, many of the finest barrels are brought to the distillery’s infamous rickhouse 2A. Built in 1850, this low-roof structure is the home of exceptional casks destined to become Midleton Very Rare.

“Sometimes you come across batches that differ from everything else,” O’Gorman explains. “For example, if we come across an extra sweet pot still whiskey that is almost always spicy, we will put a reservation on it, and it will go to A2.”

John McCarthy is a spirit, travel, and lifestyle journalist, managing editor, and author of The Modern Gentleman and Whiskey Rebels: The Dreamers, Visionaries & Badasses Who Are Revolutionizing American Whiskey. McCarthy is also editor of Barleycorn Drinks and Director of Judging of the John Barleycorn Awards.