By Jessica Colley Clarke
To get a taste of cask #30475, first book a flight to Ireland. Then drive to a sleepy countryside town called Cong on the border of County Galway and County Mayo. Continue under a canopy of ancient trees to reach the 800-year-old Ashford Castle on the banks of Lough Corrib. Then find the Prince of Wales Bar, take a seat by the fireplace, and ask for Noli.
Bar Manager Noli Alngohuro and his team at Ashford Castle tasted sample after sample of whiskies from Midleton Distillery in County Cork between 18 and 34 years old, under the guidance of Master Distiller Bryan Nation, seeking a whiskey for a special collaboration: an expression of Midleton only to be found at Ashford. They sought a single cask that stood out in a stock of rare whiskies, the sublime among the already superior.
They found cask #30475, now known as Midleton Very Rare Ashford Cask, a single pot still Irish whiskey that aged in a virgin American oak barrel for 20 years. The result is what Noli calls, “a harmonious whiskey,” and at only 168 bottles, a scarce whiskey as well. It has rich oak and cedar on the nose, sweet toffee and honey in flavor, and according to Noli, “a finish that stays with you like it never ends.”
Beyond scarcity, this whiskey is unique for another reason: it was bottled at cask strength, or 59.4% ABV. Most whiskies are cut down to reduce the alcohol content when bottled, but at 46% ABV, the character of the Ashford Cask changed. “It was so perfect straight from the cask, that we decided not to mess with it,” Noli said. The result? A sip of MVR Ashford Cask is a chance to taste the whiskey in its purest form, as if you are sneaking into the warehouse at Midleton and drinking straight from the barrel.
I met Noli in the billiards room at Ashford Castle for a bespoke whiskey tasting. The bar team can customize tastings or whiskey flights, digging in to their deep stock of Irish whiskey, American whiskey, Japanese whisky, and Scotch whisky. Tastings can be arranged by country of origin, different expressions from a single distillery, or side-by-side comparisons of pure pot still vs. single malt. Noli recommends also sampling the Midleton Method & Madness (finished in acacia wood), Jameson’s cask mate range (finished in craft beer barrels) or whiskies from local independent distilleries like JJ Corry.
After much anticipation, the final whiskey of my tasting was the Midleton Very Rare Ashford Cask. Noli noted its complex and balanced character, its spicy notes, hints of brown sugar and vanilla on the nose. Instead of bringing it straight to my lips, I sat back to breathe in its aroma, stopping to compare it with the other glasses on the table. After a taste, the first thing I noticed was the viscosity, the slow way it seemed to move down my throat and warm my chest, that had been absent from the other whiskies.
Noli pointed out a subtle cinnamon note, soft fruit undertones. For cask strength, it was remarkably smooth. “There’s a toffee sweetness that holds firm until the very end,” he said. The finish was so long that it seemed hasty to take another sip, while so much flavor still remained.
Midleton Very Rare Ashford Cask is available by the measure only at Ashford Castle, though a few hotel guests have fallen so hard for the whiskey that they couldn’t resist purchasing a bottle to bring back home.