Inside the Midleton Distillery in Ireland
The site of the Midleton Distillery, in Midleton, Ireland, is a blend of tradition and modern industrial power. Located roughly 15 miles east of Cork, the grounds include the Old Midleton Distillery and the Jameson Experience at Midleton, along with the new Midleton distillery. Today, Pernod Ricard's Irish Distillers produces the Jameson range at the new Midleton distillery, along with a diverse portfolio of additional brands that includes Green Spot, Redbreast, Yellow Spot, Midleton, Paddy and Powers.
The Old Midleton Distillery showcases a rich history of Irish whiskey production. The distillery was built in 1825, and remained operational for a full 150 years, through 1975. During that time, the same 20-foot water mill was used as the facility's primary power source.
A tour of the Old Midleton grounds takes guests through converted grain store facilities and barrel warehouses. It also showcases their famous old pot still, the largest pot still ever built, with a 140,000-liter capacity. Good luck capturing a proper photographic vantage point: the mammoth size of the room-filling still is best appreciated in person.
Tours may also include a stop at the archives, which offer a revealing look at Jameson's past. The brand itself was founded in 1780, and records exist for every day of distillation and production.
A look at a distillery ledger may reveal a surprising twist, like that rye was at times used in the past — or you might discover a scapegoat for a ruined day, like a poor lad named Scully, who went down in the history books after erroneously mixing the day's wash batch with the previous day's.
Beyond the archives, another stop is the cooperage, where Master Cooper Ger Buckley offers a world of wisdom and insight. Buckley is a 5th generation cooper and prides himself on utilizing the trade's ancient tools and crafts.
The on-site Irish Whiskey Academy is the best place to study up on the ins and outs of any facet of Irish whiskey and its production. Of course, any good educational experience is further buttressed by tastings.
Irish whiskey ambassador Dave McCabe may hold court on topics like fermentation, distillation cuts or mash bills. Or, he may reveal the truth for how unmalted barley began to be incorporated into Irish whiskey.
"It's a tradition in Ireland," he says, "and a typical Irish solution to a problem." After the British imposed taxes on malted barley in the 1700s, unmalted barley began to be incorporated in its place. It's been used ever since. "So we didn't want to pay the taxes, basically," he jokes.
The result was what’s defined as Irish single pot still whiskey today — a combination of both malted and unmalted barley. Brands such as Redbreast and Green Spot are excellent examples of the style.
Switch over to the New Midleton Distillery to take in the beauty and operational firepower of their 80,000-liter pot stills. While dwarfed by the historical 140,000-liter pot still, these remain the largest operational pot stills in the world. A new set of three is on the way, after which the facility will have a total of 10 at their disposal.
They currently produce 5.1 million cases of Jameson per year, with plans to reach 9 million cases annually by 2020. The new facility was built at a cost of roughly 200 million euros, half of which was invested into production (i.e. those sparkling new stills), and half of which went into new warehouses and other facilities.
Midleton now has 45 warehouses on its grounds, with 1.2 million casks aging. The warehouses are cordoned off into A & B sides, separated by a wall for fire protection. Barrels are stacked vertically, and each bay includes barrels which are copies of one another, i.e., filled with liquid of the same mash bill and distillation type, into barrels of the same type. For instance, one bay may be all single pot still whiskey in second fill ex-bourbon casks.
Lucky visitors may even get to sample a few offerings straight from the cask. On a recent visit, a 1998 sherry cask-aged whiskey was offered, likely destined for Redbreast 15, alongside a 1991 bourbon barrel-aged whiskey, which has been refilled into a first-fill cask after spending its first 14 years in a second-fill. Its future home may be in Midleton Very Rare.
Conclude a visit at the Jameson Experience's onsite bar, restaurant and gift shop. Guests looking for a special purchase to take home should find the bottle filling station, with an exclusive to the distillery Black Barrel Select Reserve. It's a single cask, cask strength offering, allowing you to fill your own bottle and create your own label with specific cask and bottle numbers. That's a bottle of Jameson worth checking your bag on the flight home.