Whisky Focus - Midleton Micro Distillery Method and Madness Of The Future

Midleton Micro Distillery - Method and Madness Of The Future

6th March 2017

Midleton Micro Distillery where Irish Distillers are employing both Method and Madness from the past and present to create some unique Irish whiskeys for the future.

Midleton Micro Distillery copper pot stills.

In a recent whirlwind trip to Ireland for the launch of Irish Distillers new Method and Madness whiskey range I had the pleasure of a visit to the Midleton Micro Distillery which is located within the Midleton Distillery site in County Cork.

Following the launch night in Dublin I attended a Method and Madness tasting with the Midleton Masters and Apprentices after which I squeezed in an interview with Midleton Master Cooper Ger Buckley before being shuttled south from Dublin to the Midleton Distillery located in Irelands southernmost County of Cork.

The Method and Madness in the Midleton Distillery archives:

After a quick bite of lunch on arrival at Midleton I visited the old distillers cottage which until recent years was the home of the Midleton Master Distiller, here company archivist Carol Quinn gave me a fascinating look into the company's Bow Street distillery in Dublin and Midleton distillery archives which revealed the method and the madness used as far back as the 1800's and the days of John Jameson and his son John Jameson II.

John Jamesons personal notebook from the Bow Street Distillery in 1826.

I had the privilege of browsing through John Jameson II notebook which dated back to March 11th 1826. The book contained detailed whisky recipes in John's own hand writing of the whiskey production which took place on this date including detailed info of the mash bill and production. The new Midleton Micro Distillery has enabled Irish Distillers to bring these old Irish whiskeys back to life by reproducing the exact same style of whiskey which John Jameson produced back in these early days.

Without giving away any detailed recipes from the archives I can say they did contain some surprises, they showed that back in the early days they were just as innovative and experimental as they are today at Midleton, this was demonstrated in their experimentation with different mash bills, incorporating not only barley but rye and even oats in the recipe for whiskey production.

Interestingly when the folks at Midleton uncovered John Jameson's personal notebook in their archive they found some grains wedged between the pages of the book while browsing through it and they were able to carbon date these grains back to the beginning of the 19th Century, and they are now attempting to indentify the exact strain so they can replicate it and reproduce the exact whiskey John Jameson II produced back in 1826. Will we see a a special limited edition reproduction release from John Jameson's exact recipe from the Midleton Micro Distillery in 2026, 200 years on since it was written, I wouldn't be surprised, just watch this space.

Method and Madness at the Midleton Micro Distillery:

Next stop on my trip was the the Midleton Micro Distillery were I was welcomed by Karen Cotter who oversees distilling at the micro distillery. It truly is a micro distillery and a magnificent sight, it has 3 small copper pot stills, the Wash Still which has a 2,500 litres capacity, the Feints Still with a 1,500 litre capacity and finally the Spirit Still which also has a 1,500 litre capacity.

Irish Distillers CEO Anna Malmhake (left) with Midleton Micro Distillery Disitllery master distiller Karen Cotter (right).

The micro distillery is not a 24 hour per day, 7 days per week set up producing the maximum capacity of whiskey it can, the Micro distillery is an experimental distillery, an outlet for the whiskey makers at Midleton, both masters and apprentices, to experiment and use their innovation. It is currently operating over a 5 day week for 8 hours per day and for 46 weeks a year with a capacity output of approximately 50,000 litres per year and given the experimental nature of the distillery some of this whiskey will never see the light of day but who knows perhaps they will discover the next big thing by way of a new style of Irish whiskey.

Karen Cotter, who joined Irish Distillers as a graduate distiller in 2012 now oversees experimental whiskey distilling at the Midleton micro distillery, I could very much sense the enthusiasm and pride from Karen in what she was doing at the micro distillery, which is a very much hands on traditional whiskey production set up with no modern process control system. The control is very much in Karen's hands with just basic local temperature, pressure, level, specific gravity indications and of course production sounds from the stills to keep her informed of the process and it is up to her to manually alter and control this process.

The fermentation process currently takes place in the main Midleton distillery and it is pumped to the small storage tanks in the micro distillery, everything else takes place in the micro distillery from the triple distillation to the filling of the barrels for maturation.

Newly filled barrels at the Midleton Micro Distillery.

Even some of the types of barrels being filled in the micro distillery is part of the experimental whiskey making process, when I was there I witnessed various recently filled barrels such as American Bourbon, Spanish sherry oak and the more unconventional French Chestnut wood which coincidentally is the type of barrel the newly released Method and Madness Single Pot Still whiskey has been finished in.

Midleton Micro Distillery New Make Spirit Tasting:

To date the micro distillery has produce 11 different distillates and as Midleton Master Distiller Brian Nation explained, "not all of them have been fantastic but all of them have been made but that doesn't mean that all of them won't be bottled". As Brian went on to explain, "at this stage it is too early to write off any of the distillates as they can be transformed during maturation".

As part of the micro distillery experimentation they are maturing some of the whisky in small casks, when asked how small the casks were I was very surprised to hear that some were as small as 5 litres which they have specially made. These small casks are being closely monitored and if they show potential larger typical sized barrels of the same type will be filled.

I was treated to a tasting of 3 different styles of micro distillery new make spirits, each had been produced with a different mash bill, one was a standard pot still distillation, one produced with rye and the third one was rather uniquely a distillation from a mash bill of oats which is not a cereal which is at all commonly used to produce whiskey but it was discovered in John Jameson's notes in the company archives that he had produced a distillation using oats but there was no note to say how successful it was so the only way to find out was to produce some which I believe took some effort at the Midleton distillery to process the oats ready for distillation.

Midleton Micro Distillery new make spirit samples.

The result of all three distillations I tasted was all very palatable and showed promise, particularly the pot still and rye distillation, the oat distillation was certainly different, it had a creamy oatmeal feel to it, not as much sweetness as the other two and it should be interesting to see how it develops through maturation and time.

In the future some of these Midleton Micro Distillery experiments will be released into the new Method and Madness whiskey range and some won't see the light of day but one things for sure the future sure looks good for Irish whiskey connoisseurs looking for something different but still with that Irish whiskey DNA which they enjoy.

The Method and Madness whiskey range will be available in the UK, France and Ireland (including Irish travel retail) from this month at the respective RRPs of 49, 69 and 79. The Method and Madness 31 Year Old, Single Cask, Single Grain will be available in the same territories from April 2017, priced at 1,500. Al the of the whiskeys will be available from specialist online whisky retailers such as Master of Malt

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