Firstly, I love the name and the idea behind Method & Madness from the great team at the Midleton Distillery and wider Irish Distillers group. And the products are, frankly, superb, so what is Method & Madness Irish whiskey all about then?
Midleton has always been the home of some fantastic innovation in the Irish whiskey category, and when others sing about innovation it often does not mean they necessarily have innovated at all, more reworked an existing idea, but that is definitely not the case here as the Masters and Apprentices of the distillery have created something quite special.
Inspire through questioning the established.
And by Master and Apprentices working together, that’s really what they mean; the Apprentices, in a nice display of not not having a finger wagged in front of their faces with a Lord shouting ‘you’re fired’ for asking something silly, were encouraged to ask questions of the process, ask what if we did this that or the other, encouraged to challenge convention and to inspire action in the maturation to get to a new, innovative end result.
The creation of a new brand.
What is really interesting for me is how they have deliberately minimised the connection to the Midleton Distillery and on the packaging, just one line on the neck label, and one on the mandatory address details at the back. This is a standalone, fully fledged brand that they are looking to build and play with using their new micro-distillery down in Cork, Ireland.
The packaging is fantastic; they are so very proud of it, and rightly so.
Having been designed by a husband and wife team of designers who have never designed a whiskey bottle before, I must say the result is great; lovely faceting on the bottle, the corks (especially the 31 Year Old Single Grain) are nicely engineered and the copper foiling is fantastic.
Each product has had a unique artwork created using screen printing to represent the flavour profile and to add good shelf standout in store, and presumably in bars.
The MM logo marque, for Method & Madness Irish whiskey, is neat, tidy, and very grown up. There is a sophistication here that is an interesting take on what a new Irish whiskey brand means when you compare it to other startups and expressions from existing brands looking to introduce new ranges, mightily impressive.
One curious thing is that for some of the releases they are using 14 Year Old whiskey and finishing it, but not using age statements aside from on the back label, buried within the copy; an interesting way of having the age statement present, but highlighting that it is about the innovation, not the number that they are wanting people to think about, enjoy and talk about.
The breakfast range tasting
Yes, a breakfast whiskey tasting, the morning after a really cool launch event with great cocktails and a more informal way of sampling, and enjoying thoroughly, the whiskies.
We sat down and heard the whiskies, the idea and the people involved be introduced, then we tried them one by one – I truly love my job.
Part of the introduction was to point out that the Method & Madness Irish whiskey range is about trying lots of things out that do not fit with the other brands that they are quite precious over and that there were lots of experiments going on; some were working, others were not.
Single Grain – 46% ABV – Non-Chill Filtered
The nose was really meaty for a single grain, much more flavour than I’d have expected, very oaky, pencil shavings and quite perfumed, nice.
Over the years the very light grain distillate they produce does pick up wood character but, as Billy Leighton, IDL’s Master Blender, notes; “it needed to be beefed up a bit” so they finished it in virgin European sherry casks for twelve months to give it a bit of oomph.
The palate was spicy, hints of cloves and other exotic spices, wood influence is evident here much more so, and the finish is long, dry and spicy.
A solid start, and a clear enhancement from the virgin oak element of the maturation.
“It is not the age that is important, but the cask influence here is key to the flavour”.
Single Malt finished in French Limousin casks – 46% ABV – Non-Chill Filtered
There was a lot of love in the team for this one as the malt used was from Bushmill’s distillery and had been distilled whilst Billy was there earlier on in his career. Amazing how things roll around eh?
“This has been a good bit of fun, but have message a fair bit up over the years, lots of work to understand different oak from France and we decided to go with Limousin for this as it made the most amount of sense for the flavour”.
This whiskey has been aged for fourteen years in ex-bourbon casks, then finished for a year in French Limousin casks giving the nose a lot of fresh fruits, strong perfume notes, apples and a sweet biscuity character.
The palate develops the sweet perfume notes further to include a strong herbal note with a dry and fruity finish; really nice whisky and like nothing I’ve tried before.
“The thing about maturation is that it takes time” – never a truer word said in whisky
Single Pot Still finished in French Chestnut Casks – 46% ABV – Non-Chill Filtered
The Irish whiskey act allows distillers to push boundaries in wood programmes much more than the Scotch producers are allowed to, they don’t just have to use oak, for example, to this release explore the use of sweet chestnut wood to finish the single pot still whiskey.
And boy does it deliver.
This started off as a post still spirit being matured in American oak with a little bit of sherry influence, but not much, then put into French chestnut casks and checked every three months to ensure the wood was working and the flavours were maturing how they wanted them to.
The nose is sweet, very oaky, I would have to say it is the perfect palate with a nice medium toast note there too, and lots of juicy exotic fruits.
My favourite of the main range for sure.
31 Year Old Single Grain Single Cask – 52.546% ABV – Limited to 105 bottles
The oldest Irish whiskey released from a distillery brand, from what I can recall, and wow did it deliver; beautiful whiskey that I wish I could buy a couple of bottles of, but at €1,500 it is a bit rich for me, and may be a bit punchy price-wise in truth, but with only 105 bottles released it all adds up.
The spirit was distilled 11th July 1985, and as they don’t like round numbers when bottling, decided to wait until it was 31 years old in order to bottle and take to market under the Method & Madness Irish whiskey range. And I’m glad they did.
What a whisky.
This started life as a neutral grain distillate that over time in the same cask has developed into something extraordinary and goes to show what top quality grain distillate can do when given time.
Only notes relevant here are: buttery, juicy, smooth, stunning.