Over the past couple of years, that experimentation has come in the form of No Age Statement (NAS) releases, which helps balance out cask shortage issues and give a wider spectrum of whiskies for master blenders to create whiskies from. For the Scotch Whisky industry, any other experimentation tends to come around differentiated cask types, and maybe stretching to different barley varieties (think: Glenmorangie Tusail, which used Maris Otter barley) due to strict regulations around what can and cannot be done in whisky making.
Other countries are not so locked down – in England, for instance, you do not have to mature whisky in oak, though having spoken to the latest players (Cotswolds, Lakes Distillery, The London Distillery Company) most seem to be sticking to that style.
But it is Ireland that I am turning my attention to more and more of late. There is a huge amount of growth in that country, with about 13 in planning production. Teeling is the latest to set up shop and begin whisky distilling in Dublin. I’m very excited to see what will be happening to Ireland’s whisky scene over the next five to 10 years. Once the powerhouse of whisky making globally, Ireland is rising up once again.
The heavyweight of the industry is still Midleton Distillery in County Cork (where Jameson is made), and it is there that many interesting projects have been going on the past few years. Back in April I wrote about Dair Ghaelach, which is a Midleton release finished in Irish oak casks, the first of its kind that master blender Billy Leighton had come across.
Recently, the company expanded its options for consumers, with a Bordeaux red wine cask finished whiskey. Now, using red wine casks in finishing a whiskey is not in itself a new idea (Glenmorangie and Teeling have both used these casks, amongst others) but the story is one that has roots going back to the beginning of the brand involved in this release (Green Spot) and is a lovely one indeed.
Green Spot itself was created by a wine merchants, Mitchell and Son wine merchants, which operated in Dublin in the late 1800s. The company were, according to records, “large holders of John Jameson & Sons casks in bond and on shelf – matured in fresh sherry casks and fresh wood.” They would also likely have been using wine casks given their trade in this product.
On the other side of this is the Barton family. Thomas Barton was involved in shipping in Inniskillen but in the 17th century, sailed to Montpellier and set up a business in 1725. He became a successful wine merchant in Bordeaux and, while he did not own any land due to French stipulations about land ownership by foreigners, he established his family there and it was his grandson, Hugh, who carried on the family business. Hugh was imprisoned during the French Revolution and he and his wife managed to escape, returning to Ireland. The French connection was too strong, however, and the family returned after the Napoleonic wars and resumed the business partnerships that had continued running successfully in Bordeaux during their absence. They finally bought vineyards of their own, and Straffen House in Ireland (a famous country estate) which kept the Irish connections alive. In the 20th century, Ronald Barton helped to revive the vineyards (having been neglected by various stages of family ownership) before his nephew, Anthony, inherited and continued the traditions of wine making. The Barton family are the oldest owners of classified growth in the Medoc, and today have a beautiful winery.
When Irish Distillers went to the Mitchell & Son to get their thoughts on finishing Green Spot in wine casks, Jonathan Mitchell says he could think of only one family with long-standing Irish connections based in the French wine industry: the Bartons.
And so, Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton was born. The release comprises whiskies of between 8-12 years (which make up Green Spot) further matured for 12-24 months in Bordeaux wine casks. There are plans in place to continue the release if successful, but the initial run is of 10,000 bottles, available in the UK, France, Germany, Ireland and South Africa at a retail price of around £45.
I was lucky enough to try this at the launch in Bordeaux a few weeks ago. I found it to be a beautiful summer whisky with enough bite from the proof (46%) to give it power and a lovely balance of fruitiness and classic Irish pot still characteristic. And at the price, with all the heritage and years of development, I think it’s another classy buy for Irish whiskey that sits alongside the Dair Ghaelach and RedBreast Mano a Lamh as standouts this year for me.
Here are my full notes:
(n): Sticky fruit but less toffee – definitely a winey note (plums?), incense sticks, orange peel. As it airs, it dries out, with emerging notes of older fruit, baked apples, raspberries (even the pips), bit dusty and dried mango, very light nutmeg (as if on top of rice pudding), marzipan and cork.
(p): Creamy, silky with a big fruity backbone: dried apricots, peaches, warming spice, honey, then later, darker fruits (warm blackberries), vanilla and just a hint of dry grassiness (hay) at back of palate.
(f): Slightly drying, touch of black pepper & sulphur.
The whisky world is full of interesting new releases on a monthly basis. But I believe it will be experimentation – the use of new casks or barley types or yeast strains even – and building on interesting well-founded stories that will get consumers keen to try new things. The connections between two age-old wine and whisky families in this release show off the long-standing relationships that exist in this industry and made for an excellent whiskey indeed.