How did I end up in Waterford? Well, I had been meaning to return ever since my visit to Waterford Distillery last May—a chance to return and see how things were progressing at Ireland’s only cuvee-conscious distillery.
As it turns out, my return to Waterford began via Instagram. I posted a video of some Irish dancers at a winter ball in Ireland on my IG stories for the benefit of Alexandra and Rose in January. They really do love anything leprechaun-driven, and I figured this would sate their leprechaun lust.
I get a message very soon after stating that “My son is there too!” Unbeknownst to me was that the son of the founder of the Waterford Whiskey Society, Val Voit (@whiskeyval), was also in attendance. It turns out we have mutual friends both socially and also within the ever growing Irish Whiskey community. Six degrees of separation, eh?
Val and I have kept in regular contact since, which led to an invite to a special Green Spot Single Cask tasting he would be holding in May. In an above-and-beyond offer, Val also invited me to stay with him and his family. Hard to say no to that! Arrangements made, time booked off work, the date was set in the calendar.
Chris Hennessy (@flair_ireland) then messaged me upon spotting that I was heading to Waterford for the tasting. Another invite followed: Chris and his buddies from the Dylan Whiskey Bar and Paris, Texas in Kilkenny were traveling down for the tasting too, but had also arranged a tour of Waterford Distillery and wanted to know if I’d like to join them. Another offer I’d be foolish to ignore, so I did not.
It’s great to say that going round Waterford for a second time was as exciting as the first time. The attention to detail is unreal, and I think a few minds were blown among the Kilkenny crew, especially once we got into the tasting room. Once again, Neil and Ned both proved to be excellent hosts, informative, entertaining, and full of enthusiasm for what’s happening at Waterford.
Happily, too, I finally got to meet Ian O’Brien, one of Waterford’s distillers and a David Lynch lookalike. I’ve only known Ian via Twitter and Instagram previously, but thankfully, his online character transferred to real life. As a true gent, the best of craic, he turned out to be a great tasting buddy when we made it to the Revolution Bar in Waterford for the main event.
On to the whiskies, then.
Val purchased the three official single casks himself, two from The Whisky Exchange, and one from Mitchell & Sons (who happen to produce the Spot range of whiskies with just a little help from Midleton distillery). Two bonus drops were then provided by Ger Garland from Midleton distillery with the added plus of Robert Mitchell, from Mitchell & Sons, who also popped in to share a few anecdotes and artefacts from their archives.
Tickets were €70 each, and unsurprisingly, this was a sell-out. The selection was as follows.
First up, The Whisky Exchange 12-year-old, first-fill bourbon-matured Green Spot. Bonded in February 2006, it was bottled at 59% and was one of 192 bottles. It originally sold for £140 but is now reaching €450.
To follow this was one of Ger’s picks: a 13-year-old first-fill bourbon-matured single pot, still of the same variety that makes it into Green Spot whiskies. This was bottled at 59.2%, and it was chosen to highlight cask variance.
Drop three was the Mitchell & Son 13-year-old Green Spot exclusive. Bonded in March 2005, this was bottled at 60.7% and was one of 288 bottles. This whiskey comprised a vatting of bourbon- and sherry-matured spirit then recasked into a Bordeaux wine cask. They called it a finish, but I’d argue that three years in a Bordeaux cask warrants this as further maturation. This originally sold for €200 but is now extremely sought after. Goodness knows what these are changing hands for….if indeed they are changing hands.
Whiskey four was the fairly recently-released, and still-available, Whisky Exchange 26-year-old Green Spot, another three-wood whiskey. Again, a vatting of bourbon and sherry casks, after which it spent 11 years in an ex-Villa Flurio Marsala Butt. Bonded October 1991, this was one of 576 bottles and was bottled at 55.7%. The asking price is £500.
Finally, we have a 13-year-old fully sherry-matured single pot still that makes up the sherry component of the Yellow Spot expression. This particular sample was bottled at 59.2%.
The Whisky Exchange exclusive Green Spot 12-year-old (1st-fill bourbon) 59% – review
Colour: barley gold
On the nose: surprisingly restrained at 59%. Vanilla cream, lime juice, clean and grassy. Cut tart apples and fresh cereal notes. Citrus zest and cream soda.
In the mouth: a sweet arrival. Cereal & light honey, green apples with a hint of pear. Unripe apricot, lime zest. Pot-still spice with a slight alcohol heat. The finish is drying, spicy with a delicate coffee note which then became increasingly sour and gummy.
Score: 4 out of 10
13-year-old 1st fill bourbon 59.2% – review
Colour: much like above
On the nose: cask char really apparent, verging on smoke, pencil shavings, sweet grilled onions (yes really), hay. Real funk to this on first nosing. Then, the underlying green Spot orchard fruit, slight floral quality followed by caramel, milk chocolate and bubblegum. Apple crumble topping with custard.
In the mouth: again, a very sweet arrival. Melted vanilla ice cream, nougat, brown sugar, juicy fruit chewing gum, papaya, grilled cinnamon covered apples. Simple, flavourful and enjoyable.
Score 6 out of 10
Mitchell & Son exclusive Green Spot 13-year-old 60.7% – review
Colour: caramel brittle
On the nose: compared to the ex-bourbon casks, this is a drier and more restrained nose. Toasted oak, mellow bourbon sweetness topped by red berries, pink lady apples, new leather. Fudge bars. Sherry notes fairly muted here.
In the mouth: a salivating whiskey this one….very moreish. Red berry central….strawberries, raspberries, sweet red apples, cracked black pepper and fudge. Blackberry coulis, ginger cake. Lovely mouth-coating quality. The finish is long, chewy; has a little casks’ char, but full berry sweetness. Probably a touch dominated by the wine cask, but it’s actually not a bad thing.
Score: 8 out of 10
The Whisky Exchange exclusive Green Spot 26-year-old 55.7% – review
Colour: root beer
On the nose: loads of wood influence here: tannins, vanilla, old oak. Old leather, sweet leaf tobacco. Crushed walnuts with a real sweet marsala hit of stewed apricot and brown sugar and licorice. Salted peanuts and dates.
In the mouth: a decent mouthfeel, not as unctuous as the 13-year-old Bordeaux cask. Demerara sugar, immediate Sherry and fortified wine sweetness with ground almonds, dates, raisins and toffee. There is little evidence of the bourbon component, and the pot still spice and orchard fruit have been pulverised by the excesses of the Sherry and most importantly the marsala. The finish was really surprisingly short and fleeting. All in all rather one-dimensional.
Score: 4 out of 10
13-year-old 1st fill Sherry 59.2% (Yellow Spot Sherry component) – review
Colour: burnished copper
On the nose: hoisin, soy, a little sulphur, game meat and a little campfire smoke. Orange zest and marmalade, rubbed brass, a little green herbal note with orchard fruit of the pot still overlaid with nuts, leather and caramel snaps.
In the mouth: oily and chewy on arrival. Dry oloroso Sherry with the usual accoutrements of almonds, dates, figs and toffee. Sweet but savoury; the gaminess of the nose is still present. Grilled meat and a touch of sulphur. Surprisingly, the orchard fruit of the base spirit is very much present, but also integrated; nothing jars. Apples, pears, and apricots; along with the pot still spice. Really vibrant and engaging. The finish was long, fruity, sweet and spicy….just a beautiful drop.
Score: 9 out of 10
Well, quite the journey, and a rare opportunity to sit down and try these single casks, starting with the 12-year-old from the Whisky Exchange, which was unfortunately just lacking. The nose was simple and inviting, but the palate lacked power, and the finish was just poor and actually ruined the experience. Especially for £140, I would have expected much, much more.
The 13-year-old bourbon cask was a much-improved experience and very much achieved Ger Garland’s plan of highlighting cask variance within the same family. A much better-balanced drop than the first. Simple and tasty, hence the score.
The 13-year-old from Mitchell & Son was a cracker, and I can see why this is so sought after. Lively, exuberant and balanced, it was a delight to drink. Glad to have got to try it, but I know I’ll never be able to afford to own one without selling a kidney on the black market. Very much the star of the official line up.
The 26-year from the Whisky Exchange. Well, well, well…..what a massive, massive disappointment. The nose hinted at possible greatness, but it all fell apart in the mouth. Totally over-oaked, cask-dominated and thoroughly one dimensional. If I had £500 to spend, I’d very much advise you to look elsewhere, although I’m quite sure this will still make it into many a collector’s mantlepiece. Certainly, this expression highlights why age isn’t everything.
Finally, the beast! What a drop of whiskey the 13-year-old sherry-matured pot still was. The nose was so good that Ian pestered me for at about 10 minutes to actually taste the stuff. Thankfully, the palate more than lived up to the nose. Just a flavour fusion of sweet, spicy, savoury and a little umami. Bottle it, Midleton….just bottle it! But sadly, due to the fact that 90% of all aged whiskies in Midleton’s warehouses go straight to the Jameson brand, such is its global popularity, seeing this as a single cask expression is unlikely. This also accounts for the high prices asked for any of the single cask options available from Midleton’s family of brands.
Thanks to Val & The Waterford Whiskey Society for hosting the tasting and for the hospitality. Can’t wait for the next meet up!
There is a commission link within this review but after the score do you really want to buy it?