This is another in a series of occasional writings about a particular whiskey. Rather than the standard review and tasting notes, I tend to focus on the story about a whiskey, the occasion I found myself drinking it, who I was with, or some other hopefully interesting anecdote.
What more can be said or written that has not already? Plenty. Here are my musings in between sips. My first trip to Ireland was in 2007. We arrived early Saturday morning in Dublin when nothing was yet open, including our hotel rooms. Killing time, we found ourselves at the Celtic Whiskey shop where a sidewalk sign welcomed us in for a tasting. We had been told before our trip that upon our arrival, we needed to try Greenspot which at the time was hard to find outside of Dublin. As luck would have it, we now had the opportunity to pick up a bottle right away.
Greenspot at the time was one of only 2 remaining pot still whiskeys in existence, along with Redbreast. Single Pot Still whiskey, unique to only Ireland, is made from a combination of malted and unmalted barley from a single distillery in a copper pot. This was the prevalent style back when Ireland ruled the whiskey world. It is not a blend or single malt. The first time I tried it the style was referred to as pure pot still. Due to US labelling issues with the term “pure”, the name was changed a few years back to single pot still. From a marketing slant, this allows the style to play with single malt aficionados; however, Greenspot already had its legion of fans. Greenspot had a limited release each year which is why it was not widely available outside of Dublin. This rareness certainly added to the legend; however, there is a reason this whiskey survived the downfall of Irish whiskey decades earlier.
Mitchell and Sons is the famous wine purveyor in Dublin which is responsible for this great whiskey. Originally, Mitchell’s bonded whiskey in Dublin prominently in the early 20th century. As the story goes, casks were marked with a spot of paint to indicate age. Originally, blue was 7 years, Green was 10 years, Yellow 12 years, and Red 15 years. In 2007, Greenspot was the only one to have survived due to its popularity and Mitchell’s perseverance to keep it going through a contract with IDL. The whiskey is a single pot still aged in both bourbon and sherry casks with no age statement. However, it is believed that the whiskeys used now range in age from 7 to 9 years.
So what is all the fuss about you ask? First, the Nose. It is my favorite so far of any whiskey I’ve tried. Think orchard fruits; however, this doesn’t do it justice. I find I drink this whiskey slower than others mainly because I enjoy nosing it so much. This whiskey is reason enough for inventing nosing glasses like the Glencairn. I’ve often wished I could make a candle with the Greenspot scent so I could experience it outside of drinking. Tasting doesn’t disappoint. This is where you get the true single pot still experience of creamy mouth feel and spice to go with the apples.
One time I was in one of my favorite Ireland pubs, O’Loclainn’s in Ballyvaughn. If you find yourself in the Burren, stop by this pub and say hello to Margaret for me. As I nosed the Greenspot I had ordered, I looked up at my friend Gail who was staring at me quizzingly and simply said “YUM”, which immediately elicited a laugh and is now often repeated back at me.
I don’t consider myself even an amateur reviewer of whiskey. I know what I like but often find it difficult to explain why with all the fancy jargon you read in whiskey reviews. However, ‘YUM” pretty much says it all for me regarding Greenspot.
Most nights at a pub involve sampling different whiskeys including Greenspot so it is hard to associate an occasion with drinking Greenspot exclusively; however, one night a few years ago in Galway was such an occasion. We started in Dublin the day of the 2nd Whiskey Live in May 2012. The internet was abuzz about the announcement that Yellow Spot was being released. A “new” single pot still and relaunch of a whiskey thought lost forever. My Aunt Cathy and I decided to go over to the Mitchell & Sons shop so I could buy a bottle or two for the trip home. Since it had just been released, it was not in most stores or duty free yet so we went to the source. While purchasing the bottle the subject came around to Greenspot and how much we loved it. Cathy asked if they had any smaller bottles or nips available. Disappearing into the back of the store, the proprietor returned with a 200ml bottle of original Greenspot. This leftover bottle had been a promotional giveaway as part of a book signing event the prior year. Well, we walked out of there w/2 bottles of Yellow spot, a sauvignon blanc, 2 big smiles, and a gifted mini Green spot.
[An aside: A few hours later we found ourselves at the Mitchell and Son’s table at Whiskey Live Dublin. When we shared our story of how we were at the store earlier to purchase Yellow Spot, we were treated to some behind the counter special limited release 10yr and 12yr Green Spot. These rare bottles retail for around $250 and $900 respectively. With all of these spot whiskeys flowing, it was like being in single pot still heaven.]
The mini Green spot was cool in many ways. One, its size made for a de-facto flask perfect for carrying in a golf bag. Second, it was rare and unique. Not only could you not buy bottles of that size, but the liquid was original Green spot, sporting the label version prior to the re-branding. The re-branding had changed the green glass bottle with a clear glass bottle and more distinctive spot of green paint on the label. The buzz around the whiskey drinking world was that the rebranding had also changed the whiskey to a slightly milder version of the original. This belief was officially denied by IDL. This led to frequent discussions among those at pubs and often led to informal comparisons (think Pepsi challenge). It was this intriguing question that leads us back to that night in Galway.
A week after procuring the mini bottle, our family trip found us at the Jury’s Inn in Galway. We had been in Ireland a week and the weather had been great. However, upon arriving in Galway it started to rain. For some reason every time I am in Galway it is raining, but I digress. Post dinner, we found ourselves back in the lobby of the hotel. Cathy thought it would be a good time to sample her new mini Greenspot. I thought it would be a great time to compare it to the “new” version of Greenspot. We ordered 2 Greenspots neat and 2 empty glasses from the bar and hunkered down on one of the lobby couches with a table. We poured the “original” Greenspot from the mini bottle and then proceeded to do our own taste comparisons. We definitely thought there was a slight difference between the two. The original having more of a spice kick and maybe menthol taste. I do not remember all the details; however, that was not the point. I do remember it was fun and looking back how some of the coolest moments come at weird places. The only negative I suppose of that night was we finished the irreplaceable mini-bottle. (Full disclosure: My memory may have been affected by Irish painkillers prescribed to treat a broken hand and ribs suffered a week earlier, but that’s a story for another day).
Greenspot is now readily available all over Ireland and in the USA. Older versions are much harder to come by, if you find one, grab it. In any case, if you ever find yourself with the opportunity to do your own comparison, take it. If not, don’t fret because whichever version you have is as I would say “YUM”.
Allan Dwyer, President IWSA