There’s something very special coming out of Ireland. The doors of Old Midleton Distillery, closed in 1975, have been reopened by Master Distiller Brian Nation to celebrate the work of his predecessors in the now silent distillery, and to reflect on Irish whiskey’s deserved place at the industry’s top table.

The Midleton Very Rare Silent Collection will consist of six whiskeys aged between 45 and 50 years, forming Irish whiskey’s oldest collection, with a new release annually until 2025, Old Midleton Distillery’s 200th birthday. The Silent Collection is a reference to Old Midleton’s status as a silent distillery: one that has closed its doors, ceasing production. As time passes, the liquid left inside the walls of a silent distillery becomes highly sought after for its taste, prestige and rarity, with such spirits known as unicorn whiskeys. While other silent distilleries rise from the ashes and restart production, Old Midleton has been fully decommissioned. Its stills will lie empty: the Collection marks the last drops of the distillery’s finest innovations. 

The first in the Collection, released this month, is a rare beast indeed: a 45-year old peated Irish single malt. At the time, this was almost unheard of in the Irish whiskey world, and is still very much a rarity in the industry. Laid down in 1974, the spirit was the culmination of a series of trials by Master Distiller Emeritus Max Crockett, with his experimentation in peated spirits between 1964 and 1974 finally coming to light.

The whiskey is a family endeavour, with Max’s son, master distiller emeritus Barry Crockett, sourcing the peat for the 45-year-old expression while learning the trade off his father – who also happened to be the forefather of modern-day Irish whiskey. Now, current master distiller Brian Nation has had the privilege of caring for, sampling and bottling a spirit that has been waiting to be shared for five decades.

‘One of the most wondrous parts of my job is that I’m often responsible for safekeeping the legacy of another,’ Brian explains at a dinner to celebrate the release. ‘For many years now, my colleagues and I have been caring for the work of Max and Barry Crockett, to determine the optimum time to share it with the world.

‘Having monitored and sampled the liquid over the years, we’ve found that it’s the ultimate tribute to the dedication, precision and craftsmanship at Old Midleton Distillery. It’s among the very last remaining whiskey distilled through the largest pot still in the world. This makes it one of the world’s rarest whiskeys by its very nature. With notes of ripe honeydew melon, red berries and sweet spices of toasted oak, it would be a shame not to share this expression with the world.’

Barry Crockett, too, is pleased with the results: ‘It’s remarkable that 45 years on we could even be speaking about a whiskey which was distilled in the very final period of the Old Midleton Distillery. It is the ultimate heirloom and memento of the dedication to precise malt preparation, brewing and distillation skills of generations of distillers at Midleton.’

There are only 48 bottles of the expression, with 44 for sale, making this the rarest whiskey in the collection. It’s only fair, then, that the spirit gets the very best treatment, with Midleton staying true to Irish heritage and craftsmanship: the decanter has been designed by Waterford Crystal, each example a hand-blown, etched, unique work of art, and comes displayed in a wooden cabinet handcrafted by Irish designer John Galvin, using wood from reclaimed whiskey vats up to 200 years old. 

87 per cent of the cask’s contents have disappeared, taken as the angel’s share over the years. Tasting the whiskey, you can’t help but be jealous of those angels having all the fun. The nose is full of richness, an oak base layered by deep, dark spices and the comforting scent of fresh peat. Having lay dormant in third-fill sherry casks for 45 years, a punch of red berries comes through, along with a touch of honeydew melon. When you finally get to the taste, you’re enveloped by pepper and spice that softens as the malted barley brings forward barley sugar and honey notes, built on that foundation of toasted oak. The finish lingers, the pepper and sweetness combining to coat the mouth long after you’ve finished the dram.

Stood before his lucky guests and the Waterford Crystal decanter, Brian put it best: ‘The glass in front of you contains 25ml of the rarest Irish whiskey in existence. To be able to release this when Irish whiskey is in such a buoyant state is truly an honour and a privilege. It is the pinnacle of Irish whiskey.’ Having had three legends of Irish whiskey working on it for more than five decades, it’s hard to argue. §