For this fourth instalment in the Dair Ghaelach series, which translates simply as ‘Irish oak’, Midleton worked with the guardians of Kylebeg Wood on the Ballykilcavan Estate near Stradbally in County Laois to carefully select the seven trees that would be used to create the virgin Irish oak hogsheads for maturation.
“With each bottling traceable to a single tree, Midleton Very Rare Kylebeg Wood offers a range of seven whiskeys bottled at cask strengths ranging from 55.4% to 56.1% in ABV, all with the hallmark inspiration of fragrant woodland spices and a heightened intensity of rich wood tannins that allow the influence of the Irish oak to linger on the palate until the very end,” explains master distiller Kevin O’Gorman, who has been at the forefront of the Dair Ghaelach programme since its inception more than a decade ago.
“Once harvested from Kylebeg Wood, the oak longs were separately packed and shipped to the Spanish region of Galicia and the Maderbar Sawmills in Barralla where, for more than fifty years, the same family has been working with wood. Here the oak was cut...before the resulting [staves] made the ten-hour journey from the sawmills to the Antonio Paez Lobato cooperage in Jerez, where they were laid out to dry naturally in the warmth of the Spanish sun... Each [barrel] was then given a light toast to my own specifications before returning from Spain to be filled with a specially selected range of our finest Single Pot Still whiskeys, previously matured in American oak barrels for between thirteen to twenty-five years.”
The space resulting from the felling of the trees used to create Midleton Very Rare Kylebeg Wood hogsheads has allowed light to once again meet the forest floor. Now, a new generation of saplings subsequently planted will be able to grow. This method of forest management has contributed to the reappearance of the pine marten to the Laois countryside. This in turn has impacted the alien grey squirrel, helping the native red squirrel, which had practically vanished from the local area.
“Situated amidst rolling fields of barley, the native Irish woodland on the Ballykilcavan Estate has been managed carefully and in tune with nature by the Walsh-Kemmis family for thirteen generations since 1639,” explains Paddy Purser, forest manager and consultant, who worked closely with the Midleton team on the project.
“Kylebeg Wood – or ‘An Choill Bheag’ in the Irish language – translates as ‘the little wood’, and it was in this little wood that native Irish oak was planted in 1820 to replace trees that were felled for shipbuilding during the Napoleonic Wars.
“Today, through an Irish Distillers-sponsored monitoring system, we use a ‘close to nature’ forest management system in line with international best practice, ensuring sustainable management of our majestic Irish oak.”
Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaelach Kylebeg Wood, which is described by the distillery as possessing spicy and sweet notes from cinnamon and nutmeg to caramel and stewed apples, is available globally now (RRP €310).