The trend of a distillery within a distillery is well documented. Rising in popularity in the 1960’s it only endured until the 1980’s at most, before becoming consigned as a footnote to the whisky history chronicles. Now there is a new twist in the tale.
Rather than utilising a pair of stills to provide content for blends, distilleries such as Midleton and Mackmyra have launched micro-distilleries giving the opportunity for experimentation. Whilst the latter is housed on its original distillery site in Bruk, Mildeton has a purpose-built off-shoot beside its main distillery. This tiny operation is capable of producing around 400 casks a year. Still, a significant number when compared to the craft hands-on ethic at Dornoch distillery, but a minuscule amount compared to the throbbing distilleries we’re now seeing across Ireland and Scotland coming online.
Experimentation is great where possible. In Scotland, avenues are limited by the rulebook controlled by the Scotch Whisky Association. In Ireland, things have a more relaxed and laid-back approach. This tact causes its own problems as we’ve seen with numerous fake brands and – let’s say – interesting approaches and claims around certain Irish whiskies. The upside of this possible relaxed rulebook is the ability to try new things. In Scotch-land whisky must be matured in oak whereas across the Irish sea the definition as far as I understand it only applies to wood being utilised.
Chestnut is rich in gallic acid along with charismatic tannins and its increased porosity resulting in a tendency for leaks and evaporation. All of these mean that it must be utilised cautiously in any form of maturation. Coopers must also be careful as the wood itself can split easily. It’s also unlikely to be a natural substitute for American or European oak rivals, as the blight of the 1900’s decimated stocks. Making any commercially available resources very valuable. Okay, Mark would say that it was the Cryphonectria parasitica that destroyed over 3-4 billion chestnut trees, or the more pronounceable Asian bark fungus. Remarkably in just a decade, the fungus had almost wiped out the chestnut tree in America. It’s never recovered and what historical trees survived are believed to number only in the thousands with some locations being kept secret. This dire situation means that various organisations are engaged in efforts to revive the breed with a strain that is resistant to the fungus.
The infected chestnut trees themselves were not wasted despite lacking colourisation and being riddled with insect holes. Their appearance created a new line of chestnut lumber affectionately called wormy chestnut. Waste not, want not. These distinctly riddled trees were utilised as flooring and furniture and today have a distinctive appeal. It’d be interesting to know the prices of these casks sourced from France. A reasonable expectation would be a high cost compared to the standard barrels and casks utilised in the whisky industry today.
This Batch 1 release is a no age statement pot still whiskey, matured in Oloroso sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks. Nothing interesting here you think, I’ll move on. Indeed, but the twist is the whiskey is finished for a year in 1 of 7 virgin toasted French chestnut casks heralding from the Isére region of France that were sourced from a local cooperage. Mental note to ask Adam if this is of interest to him. It is bottled at 46% strength and a retail price circa £65 with an outturn of just 900 cases means it didn’t hang around long, but expect more chestnut experimentation in future instalments.
Method and Madness Single Pot Still Batch 1 – review
Colour: it’d be a joke to say chestnut, it’s lighter yet still golden, more a traditional oak.
On the nose: initially its interesting rather than wood forceful there’s some dynamic and enjoying notes. A touch of smoke combines with wood polish, honey, mustard seed, all-spice and a touch of syrup. There are wood spices with a decaying cinnamon, cardamom, some mustiness and milk chocolate. Water reveals orange peel, popcorn, apricots and a buttery quality.
In the mouth: a little more restrained than the nose and somewhat dominated by the wood cask. On the edges there’s a tinge of alcohol and the main body is pure chocolate, roasted coffee beans, figs and a slight earthiness. Water reveals a slight tangy aspect. Diluted orange, wood polish and a creamy white chocolate.
I keep saying interesting, but that’s because it is. Like all half-baked wild ideas it’s not fully formed however the potential of experimenting is clear. More Method and Madness, please.
Thanks to Phil for sending the sample and the average photograph