The whisky formerly know as “Pure Pot Still” has had a tumultuous history. It was created as a middle finger to the government, who imposed a malt tax in 1785. Irish distillers set about modifying their whisky recipes to include a portion of unmalted barley and other grains (often oats but wheat & rye were used). Not unlike the mixed mashbill of American distilleries.
Turns out it was pretty tasty and in turn it created a unique category of whisky that set them apart from their Scottish counterparts. Each facility used their own proprietary mix of grains in their whisky creating brands with a loyal following. The eventual decline of the Irish whisky industry caused all major players to consolidate under one large umbrella that became IDL. They continued to fabricate pot still whisky at Middleton but it was mostly used as “flavouring” agent in the blends they were forced to create in order to compete with the Scottish who had found much success with this formula earlier.
The variety of “pure” pot still whisky dwindled down to a few (Redbreast and the contract brand Green Spot) and the recipes used also were streamlined to the following rules. A minimum of 30% unmalted barley and a minimum of 30% malt with a maximum of 5% “other” grains.
As Midleton was the only producer of Pot still Irish whisky they were able to dictate that their preferred ratios be the one to define the category in the IGP, despite the fact that it flies in the face of the history of the many brands they actually use to market their products. There is an interesting set of articles about this controversial IGP on Blackwater distilleries blog blackwaterdistillery.ie/heritage-3/
They are also able to corner the market price on premium offerings of this category since there is literally no competition to bring those into the realm of reason. Many Midleton special editions sell for 300$+ without an age statement or reason to validate this kind of premium. So what’s all the fuss? What does this stuff taste like and will we be able to pick out a common thread to these different brands? Let’s find out.
Nose: Mineral, sweet dried fruits, slight varnish note, almonds, a subtle yeasty sherry note. Putty or perhaps plasticine, there’s a touch of mint too. Some leather, plums, dusty grains and chamomile.
Palate: Light, all on the interplay between the dark dried fruits and the thick pot-still texture. Prunes, buttercream, old oak, spices, some bready notes too.
Finish: Lots of dark notes, paraffin, a slight sulfur. Rubbery notes at the end hold it back a touch.
Notes: Elegant and classy, I didn’t understand the fuss about this whisky at first in fact I reviewed it quite poorly before. It requires attention as it doesn’t jump out at you.