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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Yellow Spot 12 year old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

I hope your St. Patrick's Day was glorious and that you did not drink a drop of Trader Joe's 8yo Irish Single Malt.  While stores are rushing to put up their Easter decor, I'm reviewing an Irish whiskey that I hope will be a better option than at least two of the three that I reviewed on Monday, a whiskey that has recently started appearing on specialty liquor store shelves in the US.

Irish Single Pot Still is one of the world's great whiskies, right up there with Japanese Single Malt, Scotch Single Malt, and American Straight Rye (IMHO).  At the moment the Midleton Distillery has the pot still market cornered, so their products are the only ones I can reference at this point in time.  Redbreast is my favorite, with the 12 year old being one of the best 40%abv whiskies on the planet (I even like it more than their cask strengths and 15yo).  Power's John's Lane is a darker heavier thing and I like it a lot as well.  Meanwhile, Green Spot is good but, despite all of the hype that says otherwise, it's not much more than just good.

Green Spot (once an 8yo, but now NAS) has an older sibling named Yellow Spot.  While Green is aged in refill bourbon and sherry casks, Yellow is a vatting of whiskies from ex-bourbons, ex-sherries, and ex-Malaga wine casks.  Unlike with Green, Yellow's official site doesn't specify if these are refills or first fill casks.  But Yellow Spot does display its age statement, and does so proudly in the center of its front label.  I'm way behind the times in reviewing it, which makes me some sort of a reverse hipster I guess.

Another brilliantly bottled sample from Eric S.
Thanks, Eric!

Brand: Spot
Spot Color: Yellow
StyleSingle Pot Still
Country: Ireland
Distillery: Midleton
Age: at least 12 years
Maturation: a vatting of ex-bourbon barrels, sherry butts, and Malaga wine casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? ???

The color is a peachy gold.  The nose leads with orange peel, vanilla, and apricot.  Smaller notes of both golden raisins and green grapes follow.  Plenty of butterscotch in there, along with a lemon tart (as opposed to a tart lemon) or maybe lemon bars.  When the vanilla and butterscotch notes click together, it's reminiscent of a bourbon cask Speyside single malt.  But as the whisky airs out it starts to sniff like a low-rye bourbon.  Citrus and loads of salt start the palate.  Then comes the sweets -- chocolate eclairs, creampuffs, caramel sauce, and vanilla ice cream.  A little bit of bitterness along with the acidic citrus keep the sugars from going overboard.  Mango sneaks into the finish behind a louder salty note.  It's creamy and acidic (all over the tongue).  A hint of fuji apples shows up just before a sherry aftertaste settles in.

I added a few drops of water to drop it to 43%abv.  The nose gets even more bourbony, shedding all of the other characteristics.  The palate gets bitterer, also losing most of the sweets.  And the finish gets very mellow, with vague honey and caramel.

So, bottling it at 46% was a very good idea (attention: Bushmills).  All of the notes I list for the nose were very light or faint.  At 43% things were starting to fall apart.  At 40% it would have been a waste of decent pot still.

Anyway, back to the experience.  The nose was full of fruits, yet not grossly winey.  The bourbon casks definitely hold court, possibly due to a number of first fills.  The sherry didn't show up for me until the finish.  So for my preferences, it was a solid vatting.  And it seems like a single pot still for single malt fans.  (For other opinions see Tim's and Sku's reviews at LAWS and Serge's at Whiskyfun.)

I don't quite get the pricing.  It's a 12 year old whiskey, it's not cask strength, and it's not scarce.  But in the US it's priced at $90-$110.  That's more than twice the price of Redbreast 12 in most areas.  So, I'm not sure what we're being asked to pay more for.  A nicer label?  The used Spanish wine casks?  Mr. Spot's entourage?  In Europe the whiskey runs $60-$80 (before shipping), so that would be where I'd look if I were to buy it.  While Yellow is a full step better than Green Spot, I'd happily recommend Redbreast and Power's John's Lane first.

Availability - Specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $90-$110 in US; $60-$80 in Europe (before shipping)
Rating - 85 (neat only; and please consider my usual Irish bias)


  1. I also like how Midleton is slowly experimenting with different woods rather than go hog wild like Scotland's distilleries. The newest Midleton special release that was matured (or finished?) in Irish oak is something I really want to try. From the looks of things, the first batch is for European markets but they could be doing some like Balvenie's Tun 1401 and release the next batch here.

    1. The Irish oak finish (I think) sounds fun. Not sure how much difference it will make other than to get folks to pay a whole lot more for their whiskey. I think a few Scotch distilleries have tried Scottish oak finishes without much fanfare. Nonetheless, I'd certainly like to try those experiments.

  2. The price baffles me as well. Captive market maybe? Redbreast is great but it's been around forever and with the Dead Rabbit leading a small rally in Irish whiskey Yellow spot is the only 'top shelf' irish that you'll find anywhere thats new and interesting. People are used to paying 100$ for things regardless of quality so they can get away with it? Marketing push? I don't know. I'll gladly pay redbreast's price for redbreast but for a hundred im getting 18y/o scotch or something like that.

    1. I agree. I'm wondering if Irish Distillers are attempting to do some sort of step ladder approach to pricing -- Redbreast 12 & Green Spot at $50, Redbreast 15 & Powers John's Lane at $70, Yellow Spot at $100, the Middletons and Redbreast 21 at $200+. That's my best guess.