Though the use of virgin oak is not uncommon in scotch, Midleton is the first modern distillery to produce a virgin Irish oak-finished single pot still whiskey. Foresters carefully select a small number of oaks to be felled from woods on well-managed Irish estates. The oak travels to a cooperage in Spain to be quarter-sawn and seasoned for 15 months before the barrels are raised and returned to Midleton Distillery in County Cork. The third release of the highly collectible Dair Ghaelach series comes from seven trees grown in Knockrath Forest in Co. Wicklow, which yielded 42 barrels. These were filled with single pot still whiskeys matured in American oak, ranging from 15 to 28 years old, and finished in the virgin Irish oak casks for up to 2 years.
Although the whiskeys are consistent in the main, the flavor differences among each of the trees are evident. Read on for notes on the entire Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest series of single pot still Irish whiskeys, and check out the full Summer 2020 Buying Guide for more great whisky reviews!
The Taste of the Forest
Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest (Tree 5)
94 points, 56.5% ABV, $320
A superbly balanced whiskey with huge spices meeting vanilla head on: a perfect complement between the American and Irish oak contributions. It has a softer body, with lemon, vanilla, and meringue in creamy custard sauce, but then the spices go off like a rocket, and as they glitter across the palate, there are glimpses of chocolate, coffee, and singed oak.
Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest (Tree 7)
93 points, 56.5% ABV, $320
Vanilla, white pear, meringue, caramel, and lots more toasted oak flavors with nutmeg, clove, and pepper. This is fruity and sweet with orange, pomegranate, and caramel, then a wild, crazy rush of spices. It has a bold and generous nature, moving from lime zest to grapefruit, with dry oak to finish.
Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest (Tree 6)
92 points, 56.6% ABV, $320
There’s orange peel, strawberry fondant, vanilla custard, and finely ground pepper on the nose. It has plenty of fruit, with peach, citrus, strawberry, and vanilla which vie with peppery and clove spiciness before oak, vanilla, and caramel fade into the finish.
Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest (Tree 1)
91 points, 56.6% ABV, $320
Cranberry, watermelon, and cherry, with deeper notes of raisin and prune, are lanced by piercing spices. There’s a thick and heavy mouthfeel that begins with caramel and vanilla, sliding into chewy toffee with coffee notes and a hint of raspberry, though harried by peppery spices so sharp they taste spiky.
Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest (Tree 3)
91 points, 56.5% ABV, $320
A nose of oak, lemon meringue pie, lashings of vanilla, pink peppercorns, and paprika. It’s particularly mouth-drawing at cask strength, offering vanilla, toffee, a slight nuttiness, and banana, with a clove spiciness that really takes hold. It keeps surging forward, finding different ways for the spices to peak before settling on a vanilla finish.
Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest (Tree 4)
90 points, 56.1% ABV, $320
Heavy on the oak and spices, this has aromas of a carpentry shop, with salt and pepper, steak rub, and a touch of red fruit buried deep in the glass. It has quite a mouthfeel at cask strength; one of those whiskeys that makes your teeth squeaky. Vanilla, banana, and nicely balanced between the slowly unraveling spices, hazelnut, and oakiness.
Midleton Dair Ghaelach Knockrath Forest (Tree 2)
89 points, 56.3% ABV, $320
This has more vanilla and caramel, with less aggressive wood spices than Tree 1, and aromas of clove, sharpened pencils, and dried morel mushrooms. It’s fruity and mouth-drawing, yet less weighty than Tree 1, reminiscent of fruit Life Savers and baked apple, and when it peaks it breaks with more alcohol than spice.