March 3, 2014

Review: Green Spot Single Pot Still Whiskey - The Beast Goes Green!

The best whiskey store on the Upper West Side is Martin Brothers Wine & Spirits (sorry everyone, we bought the last Port Ellen but there's plenty of other goodness going on!).  We found ourselves there at an auspicious moment a couple of weeks ago as the owner Liz and manager Dan were sitting down with some folks from Midleton to sample two new Irish whiskies that would soon be available in the US: Green Spot Single Pot Still and Redbreast 21 Year.  Liz, being the rock star that she is, pulled in SmokyBeast for an impartial opinion.

As we stood there chatting away and comparing notes on these two beauties from the Emerald Isle, we realized that SmokyBeast had a grave and serious flaw.  With over a year of blogging and almost a hundred bottles reviewed, we had yet to cover a single Irish whiskey!  Oh for shame...  Well building up to St Patrick's Day, we are going to address this grave oversight and do so in true SmokyBeast style!  We're getting dressed up in our best beastly greens and reviewing three incredible and quintessential Irish whiskies.



What's Different About Irish Whiskey
Courtesy of www.singlepotstill.com

Since this is our first foray into Irish Whiskey, let's cover some basic ground before we jump into tasting notes.  What do we look for in a stellar Irish whiskey and what makes it different from Scotch, Bourbon, etc?

Unmalted barley - Malting is a process that mimics the conditions of planting barley by soaking it in warm water.  This causes the barley to begin to sprout and increases the sugar content.  Heat is then applied in order to stop the malting process at the desired state.

Irish Whiskey (unless it's designated a "single malt Irish") tends to include both malted and unmalted barley into the mix.  Scotch is made of 100% malted barley, bourbon is made primarily of corn with wheat or rye as a common secondary ingredient.  The use of un-malted barley is mostly unique to Irish whiskey.  Unmalted barley has less sugar and hence less sweetness, and results in a more earthy and neutral flavor.

Triple-distillation - Irish Whiskey is almost universally triple-distilled.  Whiskey is typically double-distilled, going through a "Wash Still" which produces the first run called "Low Wines" and then a "Spirit Still" which produces the final distillate for barreling.  Their are exceptions: Auchentoshan is a triple-distilled single malt scotch, Woodford Reserve is a triple-distilled bourbon.  But triple-distillation is a characteristic trait of Irish whiskey.  Triple-distillation adds a third "Intermediate Still" between the wash and spirit stills.  The additional distillation typically removes more of the oils and "impurities" in the distillate resulting in a smoother spirit with less of the bold and envelope-pushing flavors of some whiskies.

Single Pot-Still - Irish whiskey's equivalent to the "single" in single malt scotch is the "single pot still" designation.  This means that the whiskey is not blended and comes exclusively from the stills of a single distillery.  The single pot still tradition was mostly lost in terms of export during the twentieth century in favor of the popularity of blended whiskies like Jameson, however it's now being revived by brands like Green Spot and Redbreast.

Flavor - So these ingredients and techniques define a specific desired flavor profile for Irish Whiskey.  The lack of peat in the process means that the whiskey is not smoky like an Islay scotch.  The presence of unmalted barley means it's generally not as sweet as scotch (and not nearly as sweet as bourbon).  And the triple-distillation means that it's very pure and smooth.  All these attributes combine to make Irish whiskey a very distinctive taste:  incredibly smooth and somewhere in the floral / fruity category without being very sweet or spicy.

Green Spot Single Pot Still

Leading the resurgence of traditional pot still Irish whiskey is Green Spot.  Green Spot was one of the first and still one of the only independent bottlings of Irish whiskey.  Mitchell & Sons was a wine merchant outfit that started buying barrels of pure pot still whiskey around the turn of the century.  By the twenties, Michtell's was buying over a hundred casks of pure pot still per year.  The casks themselves varied between darker sherries like Oloroso and lighter varieties like Fino.

Irish farmers use a method of identifying their livestock with dabs of paint.  Each farmer has a different color, and this way the animals can roam around the countryside and graze without getting mixed up.  Here's a picture we took on a trip to Ireland of a sheep with a blue spot...

Blue Spot Sheep
Michtell's used the same technique to mark the age of their barrels.  One group of casks would be marked with a green spot, one with a blue spot, etc. so that they could tell them apart in the warehouse.  They carried on the naming technique to their bottles.  Green Spot contains 7 to 10 year whiskey.  Mitchell's also had Blue Spot (a 7-year variety), Yellow Spot (12-year) and Red Spot (15-year).  Yellow Spot is still produced in limited quantities for the UK.  Red and Blue Spot have been discontinued.

Tasting Notes


Nose:
 Wonderful nose of fall fruits coming out of the bottle with intense apple cider and then opening up into ripe green pears.  You can note the Fino, if perhaps not the Oloroso, and a whiff of the white oak behind it.

Palate:  All the big sweets sort of disappear for a nice warm and perfectly balanced palate.  Just some touches of green grapes, a little oaky age, and some very mellow grain.

Finish:  Just miraculously smooth.  There's not even a whisper of alcohol burn.  It's not a very memorable finish in terms of lingering flavors, but this stuff is just so amazingly drinkable, you're thinking more about your next sip than about the finish of the last one.

Review

Green Spot is hitting the shelves at $49.99.  It's an awesome deal, well worth the premium over typical Irish blends.  Since it just came out in the US over the weekend, most people still haven't tried it.  Grab a bottle as a gift or to bring to a party, or just for yourself.  We bet you won't be disappointed.

Happy March everyone, tune in next week for SmokyBeast Irish Whiskey Bonanza Part Two: Midleton Very Rare.

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