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Raj Gill talks whiskey with master distiller Brian Nation of Irish Distillers

By Raj Gill  |  February 1, 2020

Meeting master distiller Brian Nation is quite a treat, he is so passionate about whiskey, it practically oozes out of his every pore! And no doubt it actually probably does! Our reporter Raj Gill had the pleasure of meeting Brian at the launch of the Midleton Very Rare 2019 Gala Dinner which was held at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, in the beautiful and very grand Constitution dining room. The perfect setting for such an occasion.

Brian has the most enviable job; he has to spend a fair amount of his day tasting whiskey, tough life! I guess someone has to do it. However, he such a pleasant and knowledgeable chap, you can hardly begrudge his occupation, it is well deserved.

We kicked off the evening with a showcase of Midleton Very Rare “Tasting through the Decades”. As we tasted whiskey from each decade, Brian gave us a thorough break down on the thought behind that particular decade’s edition.

1751-Midleton-7O7A8945-Photograph by Angus Bremner┬®X-2_2019
The Midleton Very Rare 2019 is the result of the careful blending of exceptional, rare and hand-selected single pot still and single grain Irish whiskeys. Image credit: Angus Bremner

Renowned the world over for making some of the finest whiskeys, Irish Distillers finally unveiled the eagerly awaited Midleton Very Rare 2019, aptly introduced to the world by Brian whose name graces the bottle as he created this special blend. This is the 36th edition in this collectable range and the process involved hand-selected single pot still and single grain Irish whiskeys of exceptional quality and rarity within the Midleton inventory. With each whiskey having been matured exclusively in lightly-charred ex-bourbon American oak barrels for between 13 and 34 years, 2019 marked the oldest collection of casks used to create a Midleton Very Rare.

In his introduction, the master distiller explained: “Each year, for over forty years, we have been setting aside very small amounts of the finest single pot still and single grain distillates so that the Midleton Very Rare legacy can continue. I am delighted that our 2019 vintage is once again a whiskey of exceptional quality that fits beautifully into the family. This vintage features an extraordinary blend of whiskeys from the rarest casks in our collection, with the youngest whiskey in our 2019 vintage having been aged for 13 years, and the oldest dating back to 1985.”

Midleton Very Rare 2019 is a whiskey of great depth and flavour that marries the spice of a pot still whiskey and the floral fragrance of grain whiskey with a layer of delightful sweetness from the finest bourbon casks. Offering ripe fruit and sugary notes that complement the charred American oak of the barrels, Midleton Very Rare 2019 is a luxurious liquid with a touch of spice that slowly fades to give way to charred oak and barley notes that linger.

Each cask has been matured exclusively in lightly-charred ex-Bourbon American oak barrels for between 12 and 28 years, imparting a vanilla sweetness
which is in keeping with the rich tradition laid down by the series over the past four decades

When asked how he got into this line of work, Brian claims: “I didn’t set out to work in a distillery – it was almost by accident – but probably the best accident that ever happened to me.”

And perhaps the “best accident” that could have happened for the Jameson Midleton Distillery. Brian travels the world spreading the good word of whiskey, promoting and educating people all about Jameson. He tells me: “I’m very passionate about what I do, so I love getting the opportunity to bring the Jameson message to the people.”

Brian joined Irish Distillers in December 1997 as an engineer, overseeing various projects in the environmental department until 2002. During his time in the business, Brian discovered he had a passion for distilling, and he was given the opportunity to learn at the knee of former master distiller Barry Crockett. He spent a decade soaking up all the knowledge Barry had to share. He certainly had big boots to fill as Barry was one of Jameson’s largest characters. When he became a distiller, Brian certainly proved his mettle; he won the Worshipful Company of Distillers Award for achieving the highest IBD distilling exam results in the world in 2006 – the first Irish distiller to receive the award. Quite the accolade.

The Midleton Very Rare 2019 has a RRP €180

Brian oversees the production process from brewing to distillation, to ensure the correct flavours and that unique pot still spiciness are present. “Jameson is a single distillery whiskey, it’s a blend of a pot still whiskey and then a grain whiskey, both produced at the Jameson Distillery in Midleton. That is very important for me as master distiller – to ensure the quality of the product from grain to glass,” he says.

A man who embraces the bright future of Irish whiskey, Brian has been instrumental in further expanding the Jameson distillery, consistently bringing fresh new ideas. A firm member of the Jameson family, when asked what he enjoys most about his role, Brian put it simply: “It’s the strong team ethic, everyone heading in the one direction”.

With Brian at the helm you can be sure that Midleton whiskey will continue to hit that number one spot.

Image credit at the very top of the article: Irish Distillers