Yellow Spot – 12 “High on the Pot Part III”

While Middleton’s modus operandi seems to bank on the historical names of Jameson & Power’s I would say that it’s had the most success with the brands It acquired from wine & spirit merchants. Both Redbreast & the “spot” line-up succeeded in reaching a single malt loving audience in ways it’s other brands had not.

Both product lines were created by independent merchants who bought bulk spirit from Midleton which they put into the various fortified wine casks that were left over from their main businesses. It’s a formula that works well in today’s cask finish dominated market and allows them to sell more of their whisky without seeing too much of an overlap in flavor profile.

The final subject in this Irish pot-still throw down is Yellow Spot, a 12 yr old blend of Ex-bourbon cask, sherry butt & Malaga wine casks (a fortified wine made using Pedro Ximénez & Moscatel grapes).

Nose: Sharp, sweet oak, mineral oil, the nose starts of tight, a bit of apples and jujubes. Yeasty, floral a bit of gooseberry. With time it gets creamy, like whipped cream on top of fruits & custard. There is some oak but it’s in the background like a green sappy feeling, overall it’s focused on the rich and floral.

Palate: Initially sweet, macadamia nuts, firm oak, coconut, pears and melon. Linseed oil & cooked porridge. There is darker notes from the casks, rich and perfumed with a slight musky center.

Finish: Apples & dried fruit mingle, there’s a sharpness there but it is subdued under the richness of the fortified wines. Which in turn dry out rather than allow the palate to naturally decay.

Notes: It is quite a rounded whisky, initially rich and bright, it’s just on the border of being too much and that astringent finish doesn’t help.

So we now reach the conclusion of out foray into Irish single pot still whisky, what have we learned?

There is a thread that runs through all of them, a mineral, plasticine wax & linseed thing. This unmalted pot still distillate is a trip texture wise, it’s super clingy and heavy no wonder it’s been successfully used as the backbone of the Jameson blends, I can see how this full bodied whisky can hold up to a heavy diluting of grain whisky.

All 3 had that powdered sugar confectionery note, like the powder at the bottom of sugar covered jujubes.

They also all had a little spirit kick left to them and some astringency I don’t know if that’s just the casks or maybe it’s the ABV at which the casks are filled.

It’s unique and breaks from the flavour palate you’d get in single malt.

Yellow Spot 12

46% ABV

86/100

Redbreast – 12 “High on the Pot Part II”

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.

Redbreast 12

40% ABV

87/100

Power’s – Signature Release “High on the Pot Part I”

The next couple of reviews are based around an exploration of Irish “single pot still whiskey” I did some weeks back. It’s a style I have been drawn to of late and the historical elements are just as fascinating.

The journey starts with Power’s, it’s a brand that is likely not as well known as the now ubiquitous Jameson but it was part of what was known as the “Big Four”. These were the four main houses that would come to dominate the then booming Irish whisky industry.

From what I can gather the original James Power distillery was founded a bit later than some of it’s eventual peers. 1791 is the year the label states and that was when the original still located in the public house owned by James Power came online. They moved to a site on John’s Lane around 1822 and that’s were the real money moves started paying off following the passing of 1823’s Excise act.

What’s important to acknowledge is that the Irish distilleries of the time were among the biggest in the world in the later 1800’s the we’re cranking out millions of gallons of spirit and what they produced had a good reputation. The robust flavour of their whisky made from a mash of barley, malt and other grains was what build their empire and it was their steadfast refusal to start blending down their whiskys and adapting that ultimately caused their downfall.

Inside the old John’s Lane still house, massive direct fired stills.

Despite the best efforts of the Powers clan, the “Big Four” eventually consolidated under one large umbrella as Irish Distillers Limited and closed all their respective distilleries in order to build one major facility that would supply all of the grain and pot-still whisky in Ireland.

Since then under the power of Pernod Ricard and loads of marketing on the lifestyle brand that is Jameson, Irish whisky has risen from the ashes Phoenix like with Midleton resurrecting many of IDL’s old brands and playing the historical angle quite hard. The Power’s brand is still somewhat of an underdog in comparison to say Redbreast or the spot line-up but several of it’s releases especially the 12 year old John’s lane have attracted the whisky geeks.

Signature release is a strange one, It first caught my attention because it’s priced quite affordably (under 60$) and at 46% ABV. Compare that to both Green Spot and Redbreast 12 who both retail for around (80$) and are both bottled at 40% ABV. It is also predominantly vatted from refill ex-bourbon casks with a few ex-sherry, so I figured it should be a clean style from which to make comparisons on the more cask influenced extension lines.


Nose: Powdered sugar, talcum, sweet confectionery notes like jujubes and gummy candies. There is a slight varnish sharpness, that gives way to dry grains and oak shavings. It comes out of the gate ready to fight but if you give it time you’ll get more. Candied pineapple, green apple a touch of wax, vanilla buttercream and some grassy notes.


PalateOily, creamy and a bit sharp. Peaches and cream oatmeal, very oily, loads of grain, unripe fruit like kiwi & pears. There’s also a touch of dried fruit. 


FinishSweet, sharp astringent, vanilla, coconut or mineral oil & tinned pineapples.There is a kind of yeasty quality (from the sherry cask perhaps?) and some cake batter.


Notes: This one bites back a little, it still has some asperities that might lead many to dismiss it as green or not quite there. Yet it’s got charm in abundance and the strength is just right for delivering those flavours. The bottle really blooms once it’s been open for a while

Power’s Signature 

46%ABV

86/100


Bushmills SMWS 51.12 – Pastries and sweet treats “A dram in hand is worth two in the Bushmills”

SMWS 51.12 “Pastries & Sweet Treats” Bushmills Distillery 15yrs old Distilled 22nd May 2002 58.9% ABV

I’ve doubled down on tackling my sample box of late, I’ve had success by putting my sessions together around contrast/compare, rather than honing in on a specific expression. With that in mind, when I went in search of a whisky to pit against a 9 yr Hazelburn Barolo cask, I remembered this sample that @talexander graciously provided.

This is a 15 yrs. old Bushmills triple distilled single malt from a first fill ex-bourbon barrel. It was bottled exclusively for the Canadian arm of the SMWS.

Nose: Starts off big all on fruits & jujubes, pineapple, pears, Muscat grapes a touch of talcum. Fresh oak, a slight dusty feeling, with time we get a lot of grain almost a beery lager smell. Finally it gets a bit herbal, lemon zest & thyme.

Palate: Sharp, astringent & mouth drying. Brown sugar, porridge, a touch of beeswax. There’s a green almost grassy feeling, lemon lozenges, and a touch of milk chocolate.

Finish: Creamy yogurt, more porridge, coconut oil & Brazil nuts, chili pepper heat & then finishes on astringent lemon pith and eucalyptus.

Notes: Interesting quite the difference between the nose & palate. It’s a big & bold version of Bushmills, that crazy astringency is a bit distracting, I had a similar experience with another Irish single cask from Eilin Lim and it just sucked the moisture right out of your mouth.

I am happy to have the opportunity to try this release as we rarely get access to Bushmills at cask strength or as single casks, it certainly would put an end to all this talk of Irish whisky being “light”.

Bushmills SMWS 51.12 – Pastries and sweet treats

58.9%ABV

83/100

Teeling Small Batch – “Rhum Baba and fresh laundry”

Teeling Small Batch Rum Finish

46%/ABV

The final review of the budget trifecta from my club’s blind tasting in March.

I chose this for a myriad of reasons, I knew I wanted to throw a blend into the mix and an Irish blended whisky was the curve ball I needed. Besides the Teeling Single Malt was extremely well received in a past session and was curious to see if the blend would be of similar quality.

Yes I’m getting on with it.

Nose: It’s rather sweet on opening, coton candy, caramel corn, then shows its youth and grain with varnish and copper smell.

Rising dough, vanilla, banana chips, trail mix. There’s a feeling of celery and lanolin.

Palate: much like the nose to begin with, sweet things, cotton candy, creamy vanilla, caramel, underripe banana. A slight feeling of violets like a popular brand of fabric softener, brioche and a hint of mozzarella cheese, all of this is sitting on a fairly grain forward blanket.

Finish: barrel char, heavy cream and Rhum Baba. The texture is oily but it doesn’t end too sweet despite the sweet aromas.

During my blind tastings, I thought this was the Deanston Virgin oak. How wrong was I?

All things told, it has some interesting nuances but it’s fairly rough and at times strange. The abv which is an asset in the Teeling Single malt, is definitely highlighting the rawness. It’s decent if a bit high priced for what it is.

81/100

Franck

Redbreast 12

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Redbreast 12 yrs old

40% ABV

79/100

The Irish whisky market is drastically different than that of Scotland, beyond the differences in production style (triple distillation, grains, pure pot, single pot) The situation was born out of consolidation that created a monopoly of just a few large distillers to remain in action.

With all the consolidation the emphasis is on brands rather than on the distilleries themselves, especially considering at one point in the 80’s and early 90’s there we’re only two actual functioning distilleries.

Some of the brands we’re born out of partnerships with wine merchants, who at the time (late 1800’s) had access to better casks in their trade, would sometimes keep bonded warehouses of maturing whisky for both the distillers and for their store trade. I believe Redbreast and Green spot to be the more prominent blends to be created of such a system.

Redbreast was an emblematic choice to represent Irish whisky for our March club meeting. There are few representative of the Single pot-still (formerly pure pot still) style of Irish whisky, it consistently receives praise across most of its expressions. With it’s proportion of Sherry matured whisky I thought it would be a style that would be familiar to our members, a good starting point. I didn’t count on the 12 year old being austere to the point that it would go unnoticed, it didn’t help that it was preceded by the stunning Teeling single malt (review to come).

Redbreast 12 is a vatting of both bourbon and sherry matured spirit, it’s a single pot still whisky meaning it is a blend of malted and unmalted barley, double or triple distilled in those huge Irish style pot stills.

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Nose: Freshly poured concrete, sherried oak, soaked fruitcake, plasticine, a hint of pears. Marzipan, tobacco, buttered toast, wet cardboard, it’s not very fruity.

Palate: Despite it being 40% it’s got a nip, almost like a cognac, soaked raisins, honey nut cheerios, ginger, a carpenters shop floor, wood shavings, mineral oil. It then turns dry, a smidgen herbal, dried lemon zest, a bit of toffee with nutmeg and cloves.

Finish: astringent, green peppercorns and oak shavings a bit of the plum pudding and almonds but it’s gone so quickly and that’s perhaps where the low ABV hurts it.

There are elements of this whisky I love, the interplay of the robust grain and plasticine notes with that of the sherried oak. Airing out the bottle helped bring some definition to the palate but ultimately I’m still unsure how I feel about this whisky. It’s certainly well crafted and while I’m curious about the cask strength version, I’m not certain the higher proof would fix my qualms with it. Perhaps that short finish?

Franck