So yesterday I reviewed something that was a first in Irish whiskey, so I figured why not try a second time? Today we are looking at a very special Irish release, the Glendalough 13-Year-Old Mizunara Finish, the first and at time of writing only Irish Whiskey to be finished in Mizunara Oak. A word that rings keen in the ears of whiskey circles, but for those that are unaware, that’s Japanese Oak. It may not sound important, but it means a great deal when it’s all said and done. Roughly 80% – 90% of flavours comes from the cask, so your choice of what you put your whiskey into will change the outcome of your whiskey greatly. Most commonly, a producer will use white American Oak (Quercus Alba) in the form of ex-bourbon barrels, simply because they are in great supply, cheap, and the industry standard. Next you will see European Oak (Quercus Robur), most commonly in the form of French or Spanish, before you bring up the rear with the Hungarian, Czech, Virgin American OaK and your odd wine finishes. Mizunara however is a different beast.
Japanese Oak has a few peculiar properties.
- Higher moisture content makes the oak more unwieldy for maturation
- A tree needs to be at least two centuries old before it can be harvested for barrel use, due to ungainly and odd directional growth
- The casks are terribly prone to leaking
- Lastly, not down to the wood, it is intensely expensive
All of this makes for a terrible canvas to be working with, and I’ve had few samples of Japanese Oak matured stock that take their place down the drain. However, should you find the right whiskey and pair it with the right cask, you do get an incredible taste of tropical fruits and smooth mellow flavour. Glendalough found themselves with the right whiskey at the right time, and managed to make a whiskey that is unique in the landscape we now see today. Double distilled from local sourced barley, aged in ex-bourbon before finishing in Mizunara, I’m not sure who they had to pay to get themselves a cask but damn, I don’t really care when my nose hits the glass.
We start with easy spice, light and tonal of fizzy incense, we soon see a showering of grape and orange juice, fading after a touch to reveal a wooden board topped with mango, banana, rock melon, grapefruit and passionfruit before we head into a desert of soft vanilla cream and meringue, a pavlova topped with all manner of tropical fruits and an emphasis on kiwi fruit, revelling in the joy and simple fun that such an easy nose can bring.
Our palate is soft, a touch lighter than I imagined of a Glendalough but I was very happy when I found the light gnashi, lemon sherbet and slightly green banana making a good back to the whiskey. A small twinge at the back made me think of fermenting fruit salad, and I spared a thought of how hard the oak must have been to work with before I was sucked back into a world of light milk chocolate, shredded coconut and fresh green tree sap that dispelled any disbelief of the maturation team’s ability. Blood orange, peach skins, nectarine flesh and butter cream all flowed quickly and thoroughly, so much I wished they had stayed for longer before a long finish of spiced apples, pears and banana in a clove and coffee spiced salad with a soft yet prickling mouthfeel, lingering before an inevitable yet long lasting end.
It has been awhile since I have had a dram that made me think of summer so much as this. Well balanced, long lasting, delicate yet eager to please with a complexity to the fruits inside so much that I feel an entire bottle would leave me struggling for notes, Glendalough have seen what whiskey is doing and decided to up the ante. How limited is it? I am unsure to be honest. I have seen it on the shelves here and there for some time, and pick up a bottle when I can, and the thought that when it one day runs out (as, let’s be honest, all good whiskies do) makes me reach for that dram all the more readily. Yeah, you could save it. Put your bottles away in a cupboard and wait for the day to flip them, but this isn’t one of those bottles. This is a bottle to be opened and enjoyed by you, your friends and family. It’s a bottle to be shared for the enjoyment of the whiskey within, and it’s been a long time since I had a whiskey such as that. Now if you’ll excuse me, my local still has a few bottle on their shelf, and my bottle is almost out.