By Kurt Maitland
This February at NYC’s Dead Rabbit Bar, I had the distinct pleasure of having Midleton’s Master Distiller Brian Nation walk me through the history of the Spot Range and what Yellow Spot itself represents. Keeping that in mind, who better to tell you about Yellow Spot that Brian Nation himself:
BN (The Beginning): The Spot range was what we called a “bonder’s” whiskey. Mitchell & Sons established themselves as wine importers in 1805. They were bringing fortified wine casks into Ireland and around 1887 they began to take those empty casks and bringing them to the Jameson distillery to be filled.
They would then be matured in their own cellared warehouses and they signified the age by a dab of paint. That “dab of paint” is effectively how the “Spot” range got its name. Blue would have been the youngest of the range, Green would have been 10 Years, Yellow would have been 12 and Red would have been 15.
BN (Interregnum and Rebirth): In the 1960s with the amalgamation of Jameson’s, Powers and Cork Distillers there was a decision made to not continue contract sales. That change caused stocks to dwindle at Mitchell and Sons. Even with that, the Green Spot always seemed to be available and sought out.
In 2010 there was a belief that single pot still whiskey was going to be a driver in the market. So we repacked Green Spot. We kept the relation with Mitchell & Sons, who have the sole distribution rights of the Spot range in Ireland, while Pernod has the distribution rights in the rest of the world.
BN (The Yellow Spot): The key difference between the ranges is the use of an extra cask – the Malaga Cask. The Bourbon Cask brings vanilla and toasted wood, the Oloroso sherry cask brings a dried fruit/nutty flavor as well as the European Oak which brings leather and fruitiness, and the Malaga brings more exotic fruits such as peaches and a lot more honey sweetness.
So let’s talk about this release….
Color: It’s a beautiful amber honey color. In the glass it is rich, viscous looking liquid and a pleasure to behold.
Nose: The nose of this release is full of cloves, citrus and honey.
Palate: The Yellow Spot 12 (46% abv) is oily smooth at first blush, and then turns to lush stone fruits, powered cocoa, black pepper and baking spices.
Now let’s just address the obvious. This is a surprisingly fruity release. Swirls of stone fruits and grapes appear at the start of this whiskey and the hard candy of the bourbon cask tussles with the pepper and spices found at the end of this whiskey. According to Brian Nation, “When we were coming out with it, people thought it was a whiskey just finished in Malaga casks. The fact is it’s proportionately matured and that does add an extra complexity and that extra sophistication”.
With a few drops of water, the sweetness changes, the cocoa is still there but the hard candy of the bourbon finish makes an appearance but still can’t displace the rich fruits and cocoa.
If I was going into this blind, I would not think it was an Irish whiskey. Irish whiskeys are tasty in their own right but they don’t generally come off as fruity as this. In some ways it reminds me a bit of the Redbreast 21 Yr Old (it’s that good).
A final word from BN – We’ve laid down stocks since the 80’s at Midleton. The easier decision would have been only to produce what was needed but my predecessors, like Barry Crockett and others were very involved in laying down stocks and using a wide variety of different casks. Because we’ve continued to do that we have a lot of stocks laid down that are maturing in casks that haven’t seen the light of day yet in Irish whiskey.
Finish: The Yellow Spot is tangy and sweet from the Malaga cask, but not too sweet. It’s a delicate balancing act of flavors that manages to shows off the best of what Irish whiskey can be.
This release runs between $80 and $90 dollars US. A bit pricier than many equivalently aged single malts but well worth it in my opinion.