Whiskey moves from American oak barrels to Irish oak hogshead casks for final touch
January 2, 2018 | 10:57 am CST
Flaming oak barrels at Antonio Páez Lobato cooperage before shipping to distilleries and wineries.

Photo By Antonio Páez Lobato, S.A.

NEW YORK CITY - Honoring their country's native oak, Irish Distillers has unveiled Midleton Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest Edition, the next chapter in its Virgin Irish Oak Collection of Single Pot Still Irish Whiskeys.
First matured primarily in American oak Bourbon casks, the whiskey is finished in barrels made from Irish oak grown in the Bluebell Forest of Castle Blunden Estate in County Kilkenny, imparting a what is said to be a distinctive flavor of Ireland. The trees were sawn in Spain, where the lumber was aged 15 months, then machined into barrel staves and made into larger hogshead casks, about equivalent to 1.5 conventional barrels which hold 32 gallons. 
Dair Ghaelach, which is Gaelic for 'Irish oak', is the result of an eight-year exploration by the expert production team at the Midleton Distillery, County Cork, into using native oak to finish Irish whiskey and follows the release of Midleton Dair Ghaelach Grinsell's Wood in February 2015.
In collaboration with expert forestry consultant, Paddy Purser, the Irish Distillers team of Kevin O'Gorman, Head of Maturation, and Billy Leighton, Head Blender, chose Bluebell Forest on Castle Blunden Estate to provide the oak for the second edition in the Midleton Dair Ghaelach series. Each bottle can be traced back to one of six individual 130-year-old oak trees that were carefully felled in the Bluebell Forest in May of 2013.
"It is a joy to be able to showcase more of our experimentation with maturation in Irish oak through the release of Midleton Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest," said Kevin O'Gorman, Head of Maturation at Midleton Distillery. "The naturally sweet compounds found in Irish oak work in perfect harmony with this whiskey to deliver milk chocolate and honeycomb on the nose, a beautifully round and silky-smooth mouth feel and a long, pot still finish."
Bluebell Forest is found among the historic stone walls of Castle Blunden Estate in County Kilkenny, in the southern part of Ireland, adjacent to Waterford county. 
Since the 1600s, generations of the Blunden Family have watched over a stand of Irish oak trees with a carpet of luminescent bluebells covering the forest floor. The carefully felled oak from these woods imparts its character and nuances into Midleton Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest to create an intrinsically Irish whiskey with historical provenance, traceability and a clear link to the sustainability and rejuvenation of Irish oak.
Artisans at the Maderbar sawmills in Baralla, north-west Spain used the quarter-sawing process to cut the trees into staves to craft the oak into barrels to be sent to the Antonio Páez Lobato cooperage in Jerez. After drying for 15 months, the staves were worked into 29 Irish oak Hogshead casks and given a toast over flames.
The whiskey, made up of a selection of Midleton's classic rich and spicy pot still distillates matured for between 12 and 23 years in American oak barrels, was then filled into the Irish oak Hogshead casks, nosed and tasted each month by Leighton and O'Gorman. After a year and a half, the pair judged that the whiskey had reached the perfect balance between the spicy single pot still Irish whiskey and Irish oak characteristics.
"Expanding our portfolio in the U.S. is always an exciting moment for our Irish Whiskey portfolio," said Sona Bajaria, VP, High End Irish Whiskey, Pernod Ricard USA. "The inclusion of Midleton Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest Edition to our range is a testament to the passion of our deep-rooted heritage, innovation and commitment to taste."
Bottled at cask strength, between 55.30% to 56.30% ABV, and without the use of chill filtration, Midleton Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest is available in the U.S. starting November 2017 at the recommended selling price of $299.99. Pernod Ricard USA is the premium spirits and wine company in the U.S., and the largest subsidiary of Paris, France-based Pernod Ricard SA, the world's second-largest spirits and wine company.  Pernod Ricard employs approximately 18,000 people worldwide, is listed on Euronext (Ticker: RI) and is part of the CAC 40 index.

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Bill Esler | ConfSenior Editor

Bill wrote for WoodworkingNetwork.com, FDMC and Closets & Organized Storage magazines. 

Bill's background includes more than 10 years in print manufacturing management, followed by more than 30 years in business reporting on industrial manufacturing in the forest products industries, including printing and packaging at American Printer (Features Editor) and Graphic Arts Monthly (Editor in Chief) magazines; and in secondary wood manufacturing for WoodworkingNetwork.com.

Bill was deeply involved with the launches of the Woodworking Network Leadership Forum, and the 40 Under 40 Awards programs. He currently reports on technology and business trends and develops conference programs.

In addition to his work as a journalist, Bill supports efforts to expand and improve educational opportunities in the manufacturing sectors, including 10 years on the Print & Graphics Scholarship Foundation; six years with the U.S. WoodLinks; and currently on the Woodwork Career Alliance Education Committee. He is also supports the Greater West Town Training Partnership Woodworking Program, which has trained more than 950 adults for industrial wood manufacturing careers. 

Bill volunteers for Foinse Research Station, a biological field station staddling the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland, one of more than 200 members of the Organization of Biological Field Stations.