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Method and Madness Japanese Trilogy - Mizunara, Japanese Chestnut and Japanese Cedarwood Cask

What you need to know:

  • Irish Distillers (of Midleton Distillery) are out with a Japanese trilogy for their Method and Madness brand - featuring single pot still whiskies matured in Mizunara, Japanese Chestnut and Japanese Cedarwood casks.
  • The Mizunara cask expression is a 33-Year Old whisky (30 Years Bourbon + 3 Years Mizunara), bottled at 52.8% ABV, with an outturn of 252 bottles, and will be priced at 3,000 EUR
  • The other two expressions, the Japanese Chestnut and Cedarwood, will be NAS expressions that feature maturation in Bourbon and Sherry casks before enjoying a 13-month finishing in their respective Japanese wood casks, priced at 95 EUR, bottled at 48% ABV for both expressions.
  • The casks were provided by Japan's only independent cooperage Ariake Sangyo.
  • The 33-Year Old Mizunara expression is already out, while the Japanese Chestnut and Cedarwood expressions will be out in late March 2022.
  • We kinda guessed in our news release on the Redbreast Kentucky Oak Edition that we would see a Japanese casks series from Midleton, seeing as they were going down the path of country of origin casks series. We're still hoping for a Japanese cask finish Redbreast.
  • As interesting as they are, the Mizunara expression is nothing too exciting and definitely very pricey, while the Japanese Chestnut and Cedarwood are definitely interesting but seems too young for any proper melding of spirit and wood. We guess that they probably get too much influence from the likely very active Japanese casks used.
  • Cop the Drop or Not Verdict: Not

 

The new Japanese Trilogy (Image Source: Method and Madness, Commonwealth Fund)

 

Irish Distillers (which operates the Midleton Distillery, the largest producer of Irish whiskeys) has dropped a new Japanese Trilogy for its Method and Madness brand - with three new bottles each finished in a unique Japanese wood, of Mizunara, Japanese Chestnut and Japanese Cedarwood.

For those less familiar, Method and Madness was spun out of a desire to allow the Masters and Apprentices of Midleton Distillery to experiment and produce unique and interesting creations, guided by the ethos "What If?".

This has seen the microdistillery produce whiskies finished in some very interesting woods, such as French Limousin Oak, French Chestnut, Mulberry, Acacia and even Wild Cherry woods. This has allowed fans of Irish whiskeys to follow along their experiments and taste variations of the classic clean, fruity and rich Irish whiskeys with some interesting twists. They've also produced a micro-distilled gin and whiskies across malt, grain, rye and of single pot stills.

 

The Midleton Distillery, the biggest producer of Irish Whiskey. (Image Source: Difford's Guide)

 

This time, much like their cousins, Redbreast, they've followed the country of origin strategy by focusing on a specific country's woods to produce a series.

The new Japanese Trilogy, all of which are Single Pot Still, will feature a 33 Year Old finished in Japanese Oak or better known as Mizunara for three years, and two NAS expressions each finished for 13 months in Japanese Chestnut and Japanese Cedarwood. The three expressions were first matured in either Bourbon or a mix of Bourbon and Sherry barrels before their respective finishings.

 

Finbarr and Eva, Wood Planning and Maturation Team Lead and Distiller at Micro Distillery (Image Source: Irish Whiskey Magazine)

 

“Bringing these exceptional whiskeys to life has been a joyous journey of discovery, whilst working with each of the new wood types has continued to test and challenge our whiskey making skills.  Whilst we were confident we could apply tried and tested maturation methods for the Mizunara Oak Cask, the porosity of the Cedar and Chestnut wood – or Sugi and Kuri in Japanese – presented new challenges which required close observation to achieve the perfect balance of contribution.  It’s an honour to share this first-of-its-kind collection as we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in Irish whiskey making.”

- Eva O'Doherty, Distiller at Micro Distillery

 

While Mizunara finished whiskies are not new, the Japanese Chestnut and Cedarwood casks are amongst the first for Irish whiskey. These woods come from various parts of Japan and were procured from the famous Ariake Sangyo cooperage in Miyazaki - famous for being the only independent cooperage in Japan, with a particular focus on the increasingly sought after Mizunara.

 

The new Japanese trilogy with the signature Method and Madness trippy labels. (Image Source: Method and Madness)

 

Always with the trippy labels which sometimes feature the marbling and grooves of the unique wood used in finishing the whisky, this time the packaging has been inspired by the neon lights of Tokyo and also features traditional Japanese marbling Suminagashi designs - a marbling method dating back to the 12th Century. Kanji letters will also adorn the labels, indicating the wood type and age of the whisky.

 

“This truly exceptional trilogy represents not only our ambition and far-reaching partnerships with some of the world’s best cooperages, but three individual triumphs in skill and innovation – the ethos which continues to drive the METHOD AND MADNESS collection. It’s with great pride that we share this with the world.”

- Finbarr Curran, Wood Planning and Maturation Team Lead

 

 Let's dig into 'em.

 

Method and Madness Limited Edition 33-Year Old Mizunara Oak Cask

The expression here, the oldest of its kind for an Irish whiskey, was first distilled in 1988 and matured for 30 years in ex-Bourbon barrels before being refilled into a Mizunara puncheon for 3 more years of maturation. The Mizunara used was sourced from the Hokkaido region in Northern Japan. A total of 252 bottles will be released at an RRP of 3,000 EUR, bottled at 52.8% ABV.

 

 (Image Source: Method and Madness)

 

Tasting Notes

Nose

Coffee cake, toasted nuts, worn leather

Taste

Nutmeg, vanilla, wood tannins

Finish

Pot still spice, subtle fruits, fresh oak

 

 

Method and Madness Limited Edition Japanese Chestnut Casks

The Chestnut wood used for this expression comes from the South of Japan, an area of more rocky terrain and heavier rainfall that produced wood of lower density. The expression itself was matured in a combination of Bourbon and Sherry casks before a 13-month maturation in Japanese Chestnut casks. While there has been no mention of the total outturn, it is bottled at 48% ABV and will retail for an RRP of 95 EUR.

 

 (Image Source: Method and Madness)

 

Tasting Notes

Nose

Peppermint leaves, caramelised almonds, ground pepper

Taste

Liquorice, orange zest, cooling menthol

Finish

Herbal fruits, roasted coffee, lingering spices

 

 

Method and Madness Limited Edition Japanese Cedarwood Casks

The Cedardwood expression used Cedar barrels traditionally used for Sake maturation, sourced from the Kyushu region in Southern Japan, which features warmer, wetter climates that created a more fragrant and porous wood. The expression itself was also matured in a combination of Bourbon and Sherry casks before a 13-month maturation in Japanese Chestnut casks. Similarly, while there has been no mention of the total outturn, it is bottled at 48% ABV and will retail for an RRP of 95 EUR.

 

 (Image Source: Method and Madness)

 

Tasting Notes

Nose

Eucalyptus, fresh botanicals, balsamic undertones

Taste

Herbal tea, caraway seeds, clove spice

Finish

Delicate fruits, sweet-scented wood, rich spices

 

The Mizunara cask finished 33-Year Old is already available now in Ireland, France, UK, USA and travel retail, while the two NAS expressions finished in Japanese Cedarwood and Chestnut casks will be released in late March, with US release scheduled for September 2022.

 

Our Take

We kinda guessed in our recent news coverage of the Redbreast Kentucky Oak Edition that it if Midleton Distillery was going to pursue a country of origin casks series, it would not be out of the cards for a Japan series, and there you have it! A Japanese casks series coming out from Midleton Distillery, except this one's for the Method and Madness brand rather than Redbreast. Still holding out for a Redbreast version though.

 

The upcoming Redbreast Kentucky Oak Edition. (Image Source: 88 Bamboo)

 

This wasn't too far of a stretch given that basically the very reason for the Method and Madness' existence is to capitalise on the more narrow Scotch regulations that disallow a whole host of casks (that is until recently) from being used and for a long time really only allowed the common Bourbon, Sherry, Rum and Wine casks for maturation and finishings, which really mostly meant European and American oak casks for the most part. Now that all that is changing with the new broader Scotch regulations, these Irish folks have got to dig deep and really push the parameters of what sort of casks can be used before the jig is up.

That said, what this does prove is that Midleton has been able to get their hands on some pretty unique Japanese casks and they are putting them into use. It's a relatively safer strategy to apply them to the Method and Madness range because then whatever outcome, good or bad, is just another exotic cask in the lineup of exotic casks used by the range. Relatively good upside, not much of a downside risk here. It'll be harder to apply this for a brand that has more of a distinctive house style like Redbreast, because if you deviate too far and it doesn't go well with with the classic Redbreast style, it's going to be poorly received and will incur the ire of Redbreast fans.

But, certainly one can hope!

 

The new expanded Scotch regulations opened a floodgate for long awaited more creative cask usage for Scotch whiskies. A Lagavulin that has been finished in Mezcal casks. (Image Source: 88 Bamboo)

 

With this Trilogy, the 33-Year Old Mizunara cask expression is probably the least attractive (thankfully for my wallet) in price, and it's simply nothing to write home about given that Mizunara cask usage has been increasingly common - even Chivas has a Mizunara edition. That said, I actually suspect it would taste the best because with such a well-aged Irish whisky, you're probably going to get a very mellow, fruity, well integrated whisky with the Mizunara influence gelling pretty well.

What is probably more exciting and interesting are the two NAS expressions. We certainly don't see those so often - though perhaps we're not too far away from seeing what I'm guessing is Japanese craft distiller, Shizuoka, using them given that they are in abundance and native to Shizuoka. It's certainly interesting what influence the casks will have on the spirit but solely judging from the notes, we can probably guess that the spirit is pretty young (which is not at all a surprise obviously, they are NAS after all), and as a result a 13-month maturation in some seemingly pretty active casks would exert too strong an influence on the whisky. I'm guessing they probably end up overly-oaked and too sharp, without and real harmony between the spirit's flavor and the influence of the oak. Color me a skeptic. They're also a little too pricey for me.

 

For all three expressions,

Cop the Drop or Not Verdict: Not

 

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Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot