Whiskey maturation is a somewhat challenging operation. Many believe it is as simple as putting whiskey in a barrel and waiting for that spirit to become both ancient and delicious with minimal supervision. The reality is that it is much more complex than that. The quality of the spirit, the conditions of a warehouse, how they marry all the various other factors and the type of wood all influence the maturing ability of whiskey. Throw in a mizunara oak cask, and you’re adding to the complexity of the operation four-fold.
For those unaware, Method and Madness are a brand created by the apprentices, Masters and coopers at Midleton distillery, Ireland. The brand promotes itself not as a bunch of mad scientists haphazardly bottling liquids before being utilised in a Midleton recipe; it’s much more effectual. Method and Madness represent a vestibule, if you like, where some of the most creative and innovative distillers are balanced with an insatiable desire to constantly ask, “what if?” Their aptly coined ‘copper canvas’ allows the distillers to epitomise innovation and give a new modern approach to distilling and casking combined with Ireland’s proud history.
Their pace is unrelenting as well. Along with their core range, their limited editions have sparked immediate interest over the last few years, with a 28-Year-Old Single Pot Still Limited Edition being lauded as one of the best whiskies produced in the previous decade. Further releases experimenting with mulberry and French chestnut wood have equally sparked interest. Therefore, working with unusual woods and quality, aged spirits is a routine practice for these apprentices. What is new, though, is their unfamiliarity with mizunara. ‘Water oak’, as it’s translated, is notoriously tricky to work with. The wood doesn’t grow straight, it’s highly porous, and the casks tend to leak; unthinkable really to house a 30-year-old whisky within it, surely? With the potential to achieve notes of sandalwood, coconut, spice and Japanese incense from a mizunara cask, the reluctance was never a forethought.
One issue that some will gawk at is the pricing. €3000 is a ridiculous price and within a cost-of-living crisis it will leave even the most avid whiskey collector becoming parsimonious. In no way trying to justify the price tag, it is worth noting that mizunara casks are some of the most expensive. Given that the wood needs to be around 200 years old before it can be cut and used for casking, the price of a cask can reflect the demand, typically skyrocketing to $6000 a barrel. Fortunately, my good friend and fellow contributor to WOL sent me some of a sample you can obtain for a still fairly large, but fraction of the price.
The whiskey itself is a pot still whiskey originating from Irish Distillers Limited (IDL) and spent the first 30 years of its life in a bourbon cask and the remaining three in mizunara oak. It’s bottled at 52.8% ABV and is an extremely limited release of 252 bottles; this whiskey is as rare as it is unique.
Method and Madness 33-year-old Mizunara Oak Cask
Nose: A really delicate nose, so light and fruity. There’s a wave of crispy pink lady apples and unripened peaches. Light coffee cake with cherry liqueurs and washed leather brings a certain level of complexity but profoundness too.
Palate: A beautiful hit of sweetness now, with vanilla custard and maltiness from digestive biscuits. There’s a light but distinctive spice which comes through expertly too. Some crystalised ginger and cinnamon give it a lingering warmth and a certain level of depth.
Finish: Gentle warmth from the lingering pot still spice and a unique chocolatey orange note with a milky coffee. Beautiful finish to an exceptional whiskey
Firstly, I have to say that there is something exceedingly fulfilling about trying a whiskey aged for as long as you have been alive; a real treat. And what a treat this is; the DNA of the whiskey is seriously superb, and the pot still nature combined with the finishing potency of the mizunara cask has had a real effect imparting some special notes. It’s one of those whiskies where the nosing could last forever; delicateness balanced so effectively with complexity. The palate and subsequent finish are characteristically spicy but subtle, not allowing any overpowering notes to creep in. The warmth is progressive, and the liquid shows no signs of fading or over-maturation. If this is the quality of whiskey that the ‘apprentices’ are making, get them into Midleton now!
I think it’s fair to say I will never try another whiskey quite like this for several reasons. One; it’s rare you taste whiskey as old as you, becoming rarer the more we age! Second, the price is excessive and unfeasible for most collectors/drinkers; it well and truly obliterates my usual budget. Lastly, these whiskies are as rare to purchase as they are to produce; collectors quickly snap them up, as are flippers, with actual drinkers being in the minority; therefore, you have to be quick to get one.
The score would be higher given the price, which hopefully reflects the quality of the whiskey.
*many thanks to Joe Magowan for use of the picture