The 38-warehouse facility is under severe pressure to expand its storage facilities due to worldwide demand – a 22 per cent global rise in Jameson sales in the nine months to the end of March is the sort of pressure IDL could do with – and IDL will now double maturation capacity by setting up a new €100 million storage facility in Dungourney, about nine kilometres from Midleton.
IDL’s Production Director Peter Moorehead expects the new facility to double capacity in the medium term beginning within the next two years.
Brian Nation, Midleton’s Process Engineer, was our guide through the distillery for the day.
“We’d needed two additional warehouses a year to cope with demand to date but due to growth in sales, the need is for three additional warehouses a year,” he explained, “At the moment, with everything stored on-site at Midleton, IDL has enough space here until 2014.”
Midleton’s Master Blender Billy Leighton added, “In total we have over 100 million litres of alcohol in casks in the maturation process”.
The capacity for single pot still whiskies will also be increased and IDL Chairman and Chief Executive Alex Ricard has a programme of new releases and innovations from IDL mapped out for each of the next 22-years.
As our tour progressed, Brian Nation provided a thorough explanation of the distillation process itself where ‘heads’, ‘tails’ and ‘feints’ ran around our heads condensing on both hemispheres as we contemplated the increasingly imminent tasting session.
During the distillation process the ‘immature spirit’ has an ABV of 83 per cent but by the time it comes to mature in the Midleton warehouses, the ‘cask strength’ is a mere 63 per cent after which – many years ‘after which’ – it’s transported in bulk in this condition to the bottling plant where it’s reduced down to bottle strength.
Apart from the tastings themselves, the highlight of the tour for me was undoubtedly the Midleton cellars.
During the long process of maturation the famouns ‘Angel’s Share’ can remove up to 42 per cent of a Jameson 18 Year-Old. At the height of Summer, these losses can be as much as 10,000 to 15,000 bottles of whiskey a day at 40 per cent ABV.
“It’s just a natural part of maturation, but we can’t do anything about it. We’d love to get it back,” sighed Brian wistfully.
Ger Buckley repairs and refurbishes Midleton’s wooden barrels, both American Oak Bourbon casks and sherry casks from Portugal.
Pernod Ricard IDL actually owns the ‘fired’ sherry casks/butts from the time they are first made in Portugal (including their time spent maturing Oloroso wines and sherries). Then the empty casks come to Midleton to begin their work maturing the Irish whiskey — and allowing the angels get their share.
The Bourbon barrels have been charred on the inside to increase the surface area of the cask. This allows the whiskey greater penetration into and out of the wood – but it also forms a filter for taking out any unwanted products such as sulphur.
The wood can add flavours to the whiskey and will remove other flavours during the abovementioned Summers.
“It’s essentially a fourth distillation that further refines the spirit,” explained Ger.