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

Nikka – From the Barrel “From the Barrel Came Forth The Sweet”

One of the few Japanese Whiskys one can still obtain easily and that seems to be hitting US shores as of recently. Nikka must have caved in and had it bottled in 750ml rather than the customary 500ml bottles.

This is said to be a blend of malt & grain whisky, I won’t even entertain the speculation that it’s only from Japanese made spirits as the similarly packaged pure malt range contains Scottish whisky.

The whisky gets it’s name from the method of putting the finished blend into refill casks to mellow out and marry before being bottled rather than a large stainless steel vat or tun. A practice I’ve heard other distillers mention, Bruichladdich comes to mind. It is bottled in a distinct square blocky vessel, almost like medicine or a lab bottle, there are large 3L versions that come with a wooden stand and a glass pipette to dole out a measure of the whisky as well.

This is from a bottle circa 2017 from a sample graciously provided by Robert

Nose: Caramel, Sweet oak, coconut. There’s a sharp, slightly acetone like note but it’s not unpleasant and doesn’t mar the proceedings. Dried apricots, a prominent corn note like in bourbon. With time it develops on apple blossoms,creamed honey and apple skins.

Palate: Very full, old oak, a kind of rubber note, dark fruits and a touch of sulphur. Musky dried fruit like persimmons or longans, a light char/clean smoke and a mineral note.

Finish: Herbal, a touch of oregano/sage, bitter, dry and fairly boozy, honey and dry wood shavings.

The Blab: This is pretty decent and punchy I can see why some folks would love this, especially those for whom it’s cask strength or bust. It loses steam because of that dry/bitter oak finish coupled with the sharpness at the tail end. I was often reminded of a Canadian whisky when drinking this. The char/smoke note is very faint when drinking the whisky but the empty glass after a few hours had a scent that reminded me of mesquite.

I’m glad I tasted this and if I could get the 500ml bottles at a good price I might consider keeping a bottle of this around.

Nikka – From the Barrel

51.4%ABV

84/100

Maker’s Mark Private Select “Meet Your Maker Part III”

Last part of this Maker’s trio.

If we believe the marketing, while attempting to find the perfect formula for Maker’s 46 the distillery went through all kinds of permutations of oak types, char & toast levels before settling on the one that worked for them.

They decided to bring the same spirit of experimentation to their private barrel purchase program, where clients are able to choose a few options for the 10 staves that will be added to their barrel of Maker’s. One is a Maker’s 46 stave, the other nine are chosen from the following types: Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuvee, Roasted French Mocha and Toasted French Spice.

Photo credit Sara Havens

What’s interesting about this process is that it allows a level of customization that is personal to the client’s taste but that you’re also unlikely to see exactly the same exact profile when buying different store picks as well.

This one is a store pick by the Liquor Locker in Hagerstown MD. I unfortunately do not have the details of the stave selections.

Nose: It starts with a bit of varnished oak, pepper, mocha/cafe au lait, cinnamon red hots and a touch of chili peppers. With time I get ginger, chewy toffee, lightly toasted bread. Coconut cakes with candied cherry. Orange zest & a touch of bacon fat or is that barrel char perhaps?

Palate: Sharp and full, candied fruit, cinnamon candy, cloves, green pepper, menthol,candied peanuts, buttered raisin toast with cinnamon. _There’s a lot happening with this one on the palate, all great flavours but it can be a bit relentless.

Finish: A bit of leather, green oak, ginger and pepper, and those toasted peanuts with Sichuan peppercorns

The blab: You can feel the oak pulling tannins over your teeth at first but somehow that’s not the most dominant note like in some bourbons. There’s an oily, waxy character that is pleasant, a solid bourbon with some interesting twists.

Much thanks to @paddockjudge for the samples, this trio was a great lesson.

Maker’s Mark Private Select – Liquor Locker, Hagerstown MD

55.7% ABV

88/100

Maker’s 46 “Meet Your Maker Part II”

Ok round two in this Maker’s Mark match-up.

Maker’s 46 was released sometime around 2010, it has the distinction of being the second products to be released by the distillery since it’s inception. It uses the same mash bill as standard Maker’s 70% Corn, 16% Wheat, 14% Malted Barley but the whisky is put back into barrels that contain seared french oak staves and re-racked for an additional period (the exact amount of time is unclear). This is a fairly unique process not unlike what Compass Box initially did with it’s Spice Tree blend. I am surprised more distilleries are not doing this, unless they are and aren’t mentioning it. I know MGP offer’s something similar to it’s contract distilling clients.

Nose: Chestnut purée, ginger, green oak, a bit of tobacco and menthol, it’s all very discreet. It’s as if these notes are a kind of film on top of the usual sweet caramel and oak of a bourbon nose. It then gets Peppery, freshly stained wood, sugar glazed cereal and cherry ice cream. It needs lots of air, but it’s very rich

Palate: Sweet soft oak at first, fresh bread. A feeling of glycerin, wine gums, caramel corn, Turkish delight & lime. It’s got a peppery astringency and a ginger zing, it’s fairly oily and smooth for the ABV.

Finish: Medium length you’re left with with over brewed black tea and milk, lemon pith and a bit of cherry cola and ginger.

The Blab: The nose took forever to come out, initially it felt like two layers but became more homogeneous with air. The finishing does add richness especially on the palate, it’s a neat formula and one I believe that is quite successful for the company.

Maker’s 46

47% ABV

84/100