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Review: How Mizunara Oak can radically remake an Irish whiskey

What we drink: Glendalough 7 Year Old Single Malt Mizunara Cask

Where is that from : This award-winning brand of Irish whiskey (Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition) is based one hour south of Dublin. Glendalough is known for its twin-barrel program, which finds some of its hooch resting (or getting extra rest) in Irish oak, Oloroso sherry casks and, now, Japanese Mizunara wood. This new 7 year old follows a 13 and 17 year old version in these rare wood barrels.

Why we drink this: As well as loving the distillery – we thought their gin (featuring foraged plants near the distillery) was one of the best of 2020 – we were curious how an extremely rare and highly sought after wood could alter a single malt Irish (Glendalough says they are the first Irish whiskey brand to use Mizunara).

Problem? Although Mizunara adds a lot of character, it is extremely difficult to work with. “It’s soft and porous,” says Glendalough co-founder Donal O’Gallachoir. “It takes over 200 years to grow, it doesn’t grow straight and the staves tend to leak and crack. No one should really barrel it, it’s the worst oak to work with.

The wood also takes three years to dry out, and you have to waterproof the barrels by essentially painting them with a substance made from unripe persimmons. Oh, and the estimated cost per barrel is around $3,300, which was originally obtained in a one-day blind auction against several whiskey producers.

That said, the flavors and aromas that this difficult wood adds to a whiskey are profound, including lots of exotic fruit and even incense-like qualities. And the distillery has established enough of a relationship with a Japanese cooperage to ensure that more of these Mizunara releases will be released in the future. “From now on, we’re going to have a portfolio of these single malts,” says CMO/co-founder Gary McLoughlin, who also notes that you’ll see different batches released twice a year.

How it tastes: The new release is a 7-year-old, triple-distilled malt whiskey that spends seven years in ex-bourbon barrels, followed by four months in Mizunara (70% virgin barrels, the rest having previously held Mizunara’s 13 and 17 years of the distillery. outings).

On the nose I have hints of dark fruit and flowers, as well as lots of malt (the founders suggest hints of mango and pineapple, but I found it a bit more towards plums, raisins, etc.). On the palate, the traditional biscuity Irish whiskey picks up some body – some would call it “mellow” – with honey/caramel/fruit notes, followed by a long finish full of dark chocolate, sandalwood (this is where the “incense” note is present) and cinnamon.

O’Gallachoir calls it a “chameleon” whisky, and it seems to change with every sip – the flavors here are unique to the Irish whiskey world, so your love for it will depend on what you think of Mizunara, who adds a ground of complexity.

Fun fact: That red string on the bottle? It means “the red thread of fate”, a Japanese expression that the team at Glendalough heard when discussing the potential collaboration.

Where to buy it: Mizunara is available now in extremely limited quantities at select retailers nationwide at SRP $99.99 for 750ml. You can use the distillery site to see if there is a bottle nearby.