When Paul Pacult published his massive book of spirit reviews "Kindred Spirits 2" in 2008 he held a tasting session at Keen's steakhouse in Manhattan modestly titled "The Ten Greatest Spirits in the World". It was an astonishing night but perhaps the biggest surprise and delight was the penultimate selection - a rich and buttery waxy whisky with a luscious bananas foster flavor and an amazingly polished and elegant manner. I had to be told twice that it was an Irish whisky. Most in attendance had the same incredulous reaction. "Did he say an IRISH whisky?"
That was my introduction to Midleton Very Rare - the flagship of Irish Distillers (a division of Pernaud Ricard) - the makers of Jamesons and Redbreast (among others).
Midleton Very Rare comes in a high fallutin wooden box with a plaque. It is limited in production to 50 casks a year and each bottle is individually numbered and labelled with the vintage year of bottling. A card is included for you to register your bottle by mail. Over the top? Absolutely. That night in 2008 we enjoyed the 2008 (considered a good year - but not, perhaps, as good as 2006 according to Pacult). The current review is of the 2011 issue. I'll be the first to tell you that the 2011 isn't as good as the 2008. It's still darned good -same flavor profile- but isn't quite as succulent and rich. Unlike a lot of fish tales, I promise to put this one to proof. I have a bottle of 2008 in storage and someday, when I finally open it, I will do a head to head and write it up. Meanwhile, here is the 2011:
Color: rich old gold with coppery / amber glints.
Nose: A very distinctive and Scotch-like nose like a very elegant Highland malt: salted butter, butterscotch, toffee malt, heather and gorse, clover honey and bee's wax and a whiff of distant sherry.
Entry is like sugar sautéed in sweet butter then banana (bananas foster). Midpalate lays sweet cream, peppery heat, a hint of mint, yellow and red fruits, quince, gooseberries and a touch of pineapple on top of a well built chassis of richly honeyed firm cereal. Finish is gentle and drying - long and clean and elegant without a trace of burn or bitterness. Over the long finish the highland Scotch quality keeps showing itself in the malty-sweet and lightly oaky and salty combo of flavors.
Hard to believe it's an Irish, but the midpalate hint of mint is a diagnostic. Dryer, leaner, tighter in structure - hewing close to it's sturdy frame of robust cereal grain flavors - this just comes across as rich, refined, and poised. Bottled at 40%, this richness and long finish is coming out despite dilution.
This stuff is $118 at Shopper's Vineyard and $135 at the local store. Is it worth it? This is a sweet and gentle 40% abv dram - an IRISH whisky. Did I mention that it's a BLEND? It's not a "bomb" or "monster" of any description. It isn't "intense". Rather it is "elegant", and "refined". Let's put it this way, my companion that night has had three bottles and I have restrained myself to only two.
Top of the Irish by a country mile and a convincing argument for why Irish whisky deserves a spot among the great spirits of the world. A five star if there ever was one.