Irish Whiskey writer Stuart McNamara reviews Mitchells Green Spot Bordeaux Finish Irish Whiskey and explains the history of the famous Green Spot whiskey.
Mitchell and Son’s Green Spot Bordeaux Finish Single Pot Still – Irish Whiskey Review
My Many friends in the Irish Whiskey world will vouch for the fact that I have been a major fan of Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey for many years and long before it became “fashionable”!
In fact, I went to such great lengths in those years to ensure that many of my favourite whiskey haunts in Dublin, stocked my favourit Single Pot Still tipple that at one stage, I acquired the nickname of “Captain Green Spot”.
Some Green Spot Irish Whiskey History
Up to about 50 years ago, Irish whiskey was not bottled by the distillery, but by whiskey Bonders or wholesalers such as Mitchells and Gilbeys in Dublin. They would take delivery of the whiskey from the distillery still in the cask. They would then dilute it down from Cask strength to the approved abv (say 40% abv etc.) before hand-filling and sealing the bottles complete with the bonders own brand and label. Green Spot Single Pot Still Whiskey was a brand of Mitchells Wine Merchants of Kildare Street Dublin who had a wine and whiskey emporium directly across the road from the Irish Dáil or Houses of Parliament.
William Mitchell was an English businessman who arrived in Ireland in 1805. He soon bought a very fine building on Dublin’s fashionable Grafton Street where he established fashionable tea rooms to cater to an upper-crust Dublin Clientele. Along with tea and confectioneries, such tea rooms also sold port and sherry, sometimes disguised as a cup of tea to save the blushes of genteel Ladies. A few generations later, the Mitchell family business continued to prosper and by 1887 had acquired a second building around the corner on the even more fashionable Kildare Street. It was here at Number 21 Kildare Street that Mitchell and Son – Wine Merchants commenced business.
By the 1920’s, Mitchells had a thriving wine and spirits importing business which would have left them with a lot of empty wine, sherry and port casks. It would appear that an innovative Mitchell may have spotted an opportunity to use the empty wine and hogshead sherry casks to store bonded whiskey in and so, by force of circumstance and opportunity, the concept of sherry and wine cask finished Irish Whiskey was born. However, it was soon discovered that leaving the whiskey in casks from plummy and rich un-distilled wines or dark Oloroso sherry for ten years had too heavy an influence on the maturing whiskey. It was then decided to lessen the wine influence by placing half the whiskey in Oloroso sherry casks and half in casks used for lighter Fino sherrys for 5 years before vatting the two 5-year-old finishes together for an additional 5 years in neutral oak vats. This proved very successful and by the 1920’s Mitchells’ sherry-cask finished Single Pots Still “Pat Whiskey” featuring a caricature Irish whiskey drinker leaping through an advertising poster was one of the most popular Irish Whiskeys in Dublin.
By 1933, the brand had changed its name to John Jameson & Son, 10 Year Old Green Seal. The Green Spot and Green Seal names came from the practice of Mitchells’ warehouse staff putting daubs or spots of different coloured paint on casks to indicate their maturation time. So a Blue Spot was 8 years old, a Green spot was ten years, a Yellow Spot was 12 Years and a Red Spot was 15 Years.
When Jameson and Powers finally closed their Dublin Distilleries 40 years ago and moved to their new (present) distillery in Midleton, Co. Cork it was agreed that the Midleton distillery would now distill and mature a Green Spot Sherry finished Single Pot Still whiskey, but with the sole marketing rights retained by Mitchells in Dublin. Seven or eight years ago when I visited Mitchells in Kildare Street looking to secure my own small supply of Green Spot, I met a very nice man who remembered going down to the train station to collect the casks from Midleton, all of which had a green paint spot on the cask. He brought me down to the back of the shop and showed me where as a young man, he would fill and seal Mitchells-labelled bottles of Green Spot from the casks he had collected from Dublin’s Heuston Railway Station earlier that day. I’m afraid that I can’t remember the Gentleman’s name. If anyone in modern Mitchell and Sons might know, do contact me!
So, that’s a short history of Mitchell and Sons and their Spot Whiskeys. A few years ago, Mitchell and Sons, closed their iconic Kildare Street Shop which is a pity for me as their new location in Dublin’s Financial Services Centre is a bit off the beaten track when I visit Dublin.
Mitchell and Son’s Green Spot Bordeaux Finish Irish Whiskey Review
For this reason, I had to wait for a recent flight from Dublin Airport to buy a bottle of Mitchell and Son’s latest incarnation of Green Spot. This Bordeaux Cask finished Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey is finished in French Oak Bordeaux wine casks from the Chateau Leoville Barton vineyard founded in the late 1700’s by Irishman Thomas Barton. Today, the vineyard is still in the Barton Family where it is led by Anthony Barton.
These oak casks will be very similar to the French Oak wine casks which Mitchells may have experimented with, over 100 years ago, to age their early pot still whiskey as outlined earlier. Today, instead of leaving the whiskey in wine or sherry casks for 5 years and more, Mitchells and Midleton have filled the Bordeaux wine casks with normal Green Spot whiskey and allowed half to mature for 12 months and a half for 24 months before they are blended together under the watch of Midleton’s Master Blender Billy Leighton. It is this 12 to 24-month range that allows them to arrive at a finish of just the right balance between wine and French oak.
Having been abroad all week with work, I finally had a chance to open and review my purchase today.
- Nose: It’s virgin-oak infused with rich dark fruit and berries. Slightly musty but not unpleasant. Reminiscent of an oak wood humidor I once owned or a steamy forest glade after rain on a warm day.
- Taste: Challenging at first, with tightly packed notes and flavours. The oak is definitely different to the normal bourbon barrel from Kentucky. The pot still spice is mellowed. The wine influence is more subtle than I would have expected. Cabernet sauvignon? For 46% ABV, this is a very gentle whiskey and is nearly as smooth as its 12-year-old sibling Yellow Spot. A small drop of water on my second glass works wonders at opening out and separating the different flavour elements.
- Finish: A medium finish. Pot still spice fading to leave an oakey finish with lingering dry tannins.
Mitchell and Son’s Green Spot Bordeaux Finish Irish Whiskey Review – Final Thoughts
I’ll be judging in the Spirits category of the Irish Quality Food Awards in the coming weeks. One of the interesting facets of this competition is that we will also be asked to judge a spirits product on the quality of its presentation and packaging. It’s not something I would have commented on before, but I have now been convinced of the significance of this important element of the “Feel Good” factor when one buys that extra special bottle of whiskey as a personal treat or present.
The New Green Spot from Mitchell and Son is interesting as the bottle label mimics a Bordeaux wine label and the tube encasing the Green Spot is predominantly bottle green with white, vellum and burgundy highlights and close representations of other wine label elements. All are factors which I will pay closer attention to in my future reviews.
Overall, the French Oak and Wine Cask influences are quite subtle. Green Spot is a very fine whiskey on its own and a wine cask finish will always struggle to influence or rebalance the naturally robust flavours of a Pot Still whiskey. I’m glad I bought it to try it and will buy it again, but I’ll probably stick to the original for future consumption.
Old habits die hard for Captain Green Spot.