Dair Ghaelach. Two Irish words that are now renowned in whiskey circles since the launch of Midleton Dair Ghaelach, Grinsells wood in 2015. Simply meaning Irish Oak, Grinsells wood was the first to be finished in virgin Irish oak barrels. Utilising premium aged whiskey, it was always going to be a winner for Irish Distillers Limited (IDL). The fact that each barrel was then traced back to one of nine individual trees, gave us all a sense of intrigue. It was almost romantic that we could go right to the spot where the original tree stood from a particular bottle. It truly was Irish history in the making and with that, collect ability enshrouded it. After a few pain staking months, I was lucky enough to complete a full set of 1 to 9 but now, three years later, it is all but impossible to do so.
It’s easy for us today to forget how important hardwood was to the development of civilisation. Today we have steel to brace buildings and rivet into hulls of ships. Go back a few hundred years and what was used? Oak which, if we rewind 2,000 years, was plentiful in Ireland. The island was covered in thick forests, the majority of which were oak. Over the years, especially the 1600s, these trees were obviously used in abundance. With formation of the Royal Navy in 1660, huge amounts of Irish oak were harvested for use in shipbuilding to make it one of the most formidable in the world by 1690. The great fire of London in 1666 required a massive amount of timber for rebuilding, a lot of which came from Ireland. Our own population demands caused it to be felled to make way for farm land. During World War 1 further deforestation continued with the need for fire wood and building materials. It wasn’t until the Forestry Act of 1946 that we saw any conservation of trees in Ireland. So why am I boring you with all the history?? Well it should give you an idea of how important Irish oak was to our ancestors. It should give perspective on how important it is to protect Irish oak and ensure its survival. So now you’re asking…wheres he going with this? Is he about to launch an attack on Irish Distillers for cutting down trees? Absolutely not. The Dair Ghaelach project is all about sustainability. Apart from it being conditional for a felling licence in Ireland, sustainability of Irish oak is important to IDL. They are doing their part ensuring that Irish oak is replanted and that it is making a comeback.
In May 2013 the IDL team headed to Castle Blunden Estate in Kilkenny where 6 individual 130 year old Oak trees were selected in the Bluebell Forest. No guesses as to where it got its name! The selected trees were felled and shipped to the Spanish region of Galicia and the Maderbar Sawmills where, under the watchful eyes of Ger Buckley, Midletons Master Cooper, they were quarter sawn into staves. These staves then made the 10 hour journey from the sawmill to the cooperage of Antonio Paez Lobato in Jerez. The cooperage may sound familiar to regular whiskey buffs, it is the same cooperage that creates sherry butts that eventually make it to Midleton for the Redbreast family of whiskeys. Here in Jerez the staves lay in the natural warmth of the Spanish sun for 15 months before they were worked on and turned into casks. The total yield of 29 casks were lightly toasted before being shipped to the Midleton Distillery in Cork. Once they arrived they were filled with previous selected Single Pot Still that ranged in age from 12 to 23 years old. They were then carefully placed in storage where they were nosed and tasted every month by Master Blender Billy Leighton and Master of Maturation, Kevin O’ Gorman. Man that must be the WORST job evvveerrrrr!! After 19 months, they deemed that the Irish oak influence had struck a perfect balance with the Single Pot Still character.
So with a knock to the door and a package delivered, I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was to get my hands on this fantastically presented sample box of each of the Bluebell Forest Trees, 1 to 6. I’m a bit late to the show with this having been released before Christmas (2017) but I decided to wait for two weeks or so to try them. I didn’t dare to go tasting it until I knew I had the time. Until I knew I could enjoy, compare and retry them. Today, I got that time. Here are my thoughts.
Nose – Big hit of vanilla. Sweet with those pot still spices that I expect will be in all 6 bottles.
Palate – Loads of zest here. Lemon & Lime, orange and again Vanilla from the wood.
Finish – Sweetness lingering nicely.
Water – Addition of just a drop of water opens up the palate to some toffee and caramel notes.
Colour – Deep gold
Nose – More spice here. Wood tannins showing nutmeg and cinnamon.
Palate – I’m almost able to chew through this. More spice evident with a dryer mouth feel towards the end. Pleasant peppery note.
Finish – Mouth drying with a medium to long finish.
Water – Addition of a drop stopped the dry finish and opened up a nuttiness that I didn’t get before. Almonds maybe.
Colour – Darker than Tree 1. Two shades darker.
Nose – Floral with a bit more ethanol than the first two. Some mellow cut grass.
Palate – Spicy pepper start that fades to a sweet taste. Creamy caramel and sugar. Not overly sweet but just right.
Finish – Medium to long again but with sweetness and a pleasant warmth lingering.
Water – Don’t bother. Just don’t.
Colour – Half a shade lighter than Tree 2.
Nose – Loads of dried fruits. Caramel. Similar to Tree 3 but more intense Christmas cake notes. Almost like a Redbreast…….
Palate – Real chewy and warm. Dark chocolate, toffee, raisins and dried fruits. Its Christmas again and I’m like a child opening my presents.
Finish – Medium to long. Almost getting to a long finish with a warming spice that lasts. This is taking longer to try than the previous 3. Finish is superb.
Water – Peels back the ABV just a little to release even more of those dried fruits.
Colour – As dark as Tree 2. Maybe a smidgen darker. (yes, smidgen is a word!)
Nose – Similar to Tree 3 but less of that alcohol nose. Floral with orchard fruits
Palate – Smooth, almost soft on the palate. More lemon and lime with some green apples.
Finish – Medium finish that is reserved.
Water – Really opens up with water. Like a different drop actually with the flavours more intense. Finish seems to linger more which is a surprise.
Colour – Shade and a half lighter than Tree 4.
Nose – A lot of fruit here. Satsumas, apples and peaches to name but three. Something else apart from fruit. Just can’t put my finger on it. A slight must maybe?
Palate – Sweet fruitiness jumping straight out from the glass. Loads of apples and even pear here.
Finish – Medium to short but very pleasant.
Water – Sweeter nose. Shortens the finish but allows the fruit to burst even further.
Colour – A half shade lighter.
By now you all may realise I love a good story behind the spirit. Something to capture me. Dair Ghaelach Grinsells Wood captured me with the virgin Irish oak story and blew me away with the finished product. Bluebell Forest is no different. In fact, where Grinsells Wood seemed to be a little too similar between trees, Bluebell bounds forward smacking you in the face with a different nose and a unique palate from each tree. With the same Single Pot Still whiskey going into each cask I am truly amazed at the difference in each of these trees. Tree 4 is like Redbreast heaven. If I was told it had a bit of sherry finishing I would believe it hook, line and sinker. What’s my favourite? I’m a sherry finish fan and so Tree 4 must win the show for me followed by Tree 3. Saying that…..I wouldn’t turn down any of these drams, they truly are fantastically Irish!
Midleton Dair Ghaelach is now on sale in all good whiskey retailers with a recommended retail price of €280. ABV is listed as 55.3% to 56.3%.
Please note that these samples were provided by Irish Distillers Ltd free of charge to the author. No monetary reward was received for the review. This review, as with all reviews, was written subjectively and not influenced in anyway.