Midleton Master Distiller Barry Crockett's biography reads like a fairy tale for whiskey aficionados. Born on the actual grounds of the Midleton Distillery in County Cork, Ireland – Barry's father Max was Master Distiller before him – he has spent the last 32 years overseeing the production of iconic brands Red Breast, Midleton, and Jameson, and is as integral to Irish whiskey production as anyone alive today. Crockett finally retired this year (just a couple days before St. Patrick's Day, fittingly enough) and has been honored with a (very) special edition bottle of his own creation. Drinking it is like attending a master class in Irish whiskey.
In many senses a master distiller's job is to be an unwavering guardian of the precious formulation, making certain that the spirit they oversee stays consistent under their custodianship. For distinguished master distillers, they may be rewarded with the keys to the castle, and allowed to create their own expression of the various elements that go into the main brands they oversee, often with a cost- (and price) -is-no-object production. Crockett's entry into this rarified category of spirit, Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy, is a hyper-refined culling of the varied barrels at his disposal. It's also an elegant clue to what this artisan – who bears a world-class and scientific knowledge of distilling and the aging and barreling process – dreams of when he dreams of whiskey.
Made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley, triple-distilled in traditional copper pot stills, and aged exclusively in barrels that have housed bourbon (and then again in new barrels of American oak), the Legacy is front-loaded with a distinctive blend of cinnamon and vanilla notes. But it's Crockett's delicate touch and feel for the process that elevates it above the standard, if rich, sweet Irish whiskeys of this style. A long arc of nuanced notes is one of the hallmarks of a truly fine whiskey, and a sip of the Legacy is a journey that slowly evolves as it crosses the palate. It hits the nose with toasted oak, pears, sweet peppers, and even a bristling hint of lime, then massages the front of the mouth with a mandarin orange sweetness that stops short of being cloyingly fruity or floral, but that lingers long after it goes down, anchored by the elegant complexity that comes from American oak aging. Nothing is too pronounced and instead is expressed in a harmony. Interestingly, despite drawing on classic methods and flavors, the Legacy feels distinctly modern and forward-looking. It's a pricey treat for sure, but as special occasion bottles go this one elegant parting shot from Barry Crockett is one for the ages. [From $214; mastersofmalt.com]