Method And Madness is a new whiskey range from Irish Distillers, the Irish whiskey branch of Pernod Ricard. This carries a tag line of 'when knowledge and discovery collide', which acknowledges the experimental nature of the new whiskeys. The range is designed to push the boundaries of Irish whiskey and showcase some of the most innovative work that the blenders, coopers and distillers are producing at the company.
Method And Madness aims to combine the creativity of the whiskey makers and enthusiasm and fresh ideas of the apprentices. Many of the experiments are taking place at the Midleton Micro Distillery in Co. Cork. The result sees four innovative whiskeys to kick off the range - a single grain finished in virgin Spanish oak, a single malt 'enhanced' in French Limousin oak, a single pot still finished in sweet chestnut casks and a 31 years old single cask of single grain.
"There are many experiments going on at Midleton, especially within the new micro distillery. The apprenticeship scheme that we have has produced lots of 'what ifs?' and 'why nots?' from the apprentices. They bring fresh ideas and new eyes. Some ideas work, some do not but that is the fun part ..."
Billy Leighton - Master Blender for Irish Distillers.
These initial whiskeys in the series will be available in France, Ireland and the UK from the end of February. The exception is the Single Grain 31 years old - this is one of the oldest Irish single grains ever released by any whiskey company and will be limited to just 105 bottles. It be available in the same markets from April.
Our tasting notes
Single Grain Virgin Spanish Oak
46% ABV, €49.
This single grain whiskey is the same spirit as that used for Jameson and the batch used was all distilled in 2008. It was matured in re-fill American oak casks before being transferred to the virgin Spanish oak butts, which had undergone a medium toasting, for about 12 months.
The colour is pale yellow and the nose is fresh, neutral and delicate. There are aromas of vanilla, fresh sawdust and icing sugar which are supported by hints of butterscotch and cedarwood. On the palate this whiskey has a heavier mouth feel than the delicate nose suggests. There are initial notes of honey, vanilla and butterscotch with hints of bubblegum and candy floss. Then the wood spices develop with cinnamon, oak and clove notes prominent. This adds a pleasant dryness and warmth. The finish is short with the sweet characteristics fading first to leave the spices to linger. A very fresh and pleasant whiskey.
Single Malt French Limousin Oak
46% ABV, €69.
This whiskey was created from triple distilled single malt that was produced in 2002. This had followed traditional maturation before being transferred to cask made from oak grown in the Limousin region of France. These casks are more commonly used in the maturation of red wines or Cognac.
The colour is deep gold and the nose is very fragrant, almost heady with aromas. First comes something malty and biscuity, almost earthy, and this is followed by dried red fruits (cranberries mainly), toffee and caramel. On the palate there is a distinct battle between sweet and spicy elements to begin - think of caramel, toffee, dried red fruits (cranberry and raisin), cinnamon and all-spice. Then come fresh green apple and over ripe pear notes, followed by a malty cereal hit of bittersweetness. Hints of menthol, eucalyptus and milk chocolate add further depth and interest. The finish becomes dry, warm and spicy especially towards the end. A lovely all-round whiskey.
Single Pot Still Chestnut Cask
46% ABV, €89.
This whiskey is a product of a series of maturation experiments that used wood other than the traditional oak. This was initially tested using small three litre barrels made from chestnut before commissioning full sized casks. The whiskey was matured predominantly in ex-bourbon American oak with a small percentage of ex-sherry casks, before being transferred for a short period to the chestnut casks.
The colour is deep amber and the nose is spicy, rich and highly fragrant. There is a lovely mix of aromas ranging from dried tropical fruits to walnuts and almonds to toffee and liquorice. On the palate the richness from the nose continues and becomes more exaggerated. There is a wonderful combination of flavour - dried tropical fruit (mango and pineapple), juicy peach, chocolate, caramel, intense spices (cinnamon, clove and all-spice) and a note of sweet confectionary (think of icing sugar, someone mentioned dolly mixture sweets). There are also some late tannins and these combine with the spices to give a good, long, warming and drying finish. Superb.
Single Grain 31 years old
52.5% ABV, €1,500.
This whiskey is the pinnacle of the new range. The single grain whiskey was distilled in 1985 and is the same base spirit as the Single Grain Virgin Spanish Oak release above. Three single casks have been selected - these will go out to three different markets. Each is bottled at the natural cask strength and are limited to very few bottles.
The colour is deep gold and the nose is clean, fresh and immediately classy. There are intense aromas of tropical fruit (especially mango and pineapple) and cinnamon-like spice. these are followed by honeycomb, golden syrup and a hint of molasses. On the palate there is an instant spiciness (think of cinnamon, clove, mace and a hint of ginger) and this is joined by a sumptuous mix of dried tropical fruits, honey, vanilla and white chocolate. Hints of orange zest, candied lemon and cedarwood add great depth. The finish is very long and enjoyable - the sweet and fruity notes take an age to fade, which leaves the drying wood spices to do battle. Exquisite.