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Back in March I reviewed the Midleton Very Rare 2013 bottling, scoring it a 91. The significant production difference in the 2014 bottling is the Master Distiller. The 2013 was Barry Crockett's last MVR (the annual release he started back in 1984); the 2014 is the first from his successor, Brian Nation.
The colour is golden but with an orange hue - unusual. On the nose, rather sweet-smelling with notes of toffee, honey, marmalade and well-charred oak. Vanilla winds through it all. Oiled leather. The faintest hint of cardamom. Water only serves to mute the nose. Distinctive in that it's both rather sweet and oaky - huge bourbon cask influence. Unusual but only partly successful.
On the palate we find more spice (caraway, cinnamon, nutmeg), as well as a tart orange note. Very, very fruity but almost in an artificial way - like Gummy Bears! Or even Tang - which becomes more dominant with water. Honey and spice add some body but it's overwhelmed by the cloying orange. Rather unfortunate.
The finish is chalky and a little fuzzy with orange zest, lip-smacking oak and soft caramels. It's surprisingly difficult to discern the pot-still influence, having been subsumed by the casks. And I'm sure they were very good casks - the sweet vanilla bourbon American oak is there in fine form - but it becomes something else entirely in conjunction with this delicate spirit. But it is very different than the 2013 (which I'm tasting right now side-by-side), which is more delicate, fruitier, spicier and in lovely harmony with the oak. Not a great start, Mr. Nation, but I have faith! Note that the 2014 bottling was very recently awarded Irish Whiskey of the Year by Whisky Advocate magazine. Well, to each their own.