Today, I’m putting myself on the spot.
This review was prompted by Matt Kusek, who not only provided the sample for this review (thanks, pal) but also the impetus for the unconventional (by Malt standards) way I am going to approach this one. What do I mean by that?
In a chat with a group of whiskey writers, Matt recently posed an interesting question, which I will paraphrase here: when reviewing, do we consider a whiskey in isolation, or in the broader context of how differentiated it is relative to comparable options out there in the whiskey market?
Since I’ve only ever formally reviewed whiskey here on Malt, I have hewed very close to the “Malt method,” or at least the interpretation of it that I have internalized and elucidated to myself. I figure out what a whiskey is, in the sense of the specifics of its production and maturation. I consider those aspects both in terms of their impact on the aromas and flavors that come out of the glass, as well as whether they justify a premium price either as inputs (due to increased expense) or as outputs (resulting in different and/or better tasting whiskey)
On that last point: there are a few examples of methods of whiskey making that might explain a higher price for a bottle. Craft producers have diseconomies of scale relative to large, industrial distilleries of the types that churn out the best-known global brands. I am conscious of this and therefore not as demanding of price competitiveness when I am evaluating the offerings from a smaller-sized producer as I would be from one of the behemoths of the whiskey world.
Heirloom grains, sweet mashing, lower barrel entry proof, and premium cooperage (e.g. air dried staves) are all inputs that can add additional cost. If I know that these have gone into the whiskey, then it’s only reasonable to expect to pay more for the whiskey made from them. Older whiskey, all things being equal (which they never are) should be more expensive than young whiskey due to the costs of storage, loss to evaporation, and the time value of money. Sometimes (but not always) the trade-off that justifies the higher expenditure is a novel profile of the type not available by using commodity grains, sour mash, the maximum permissible barrel entry proof, lower-cost barrels, or bottling young whiskey.
In practice, researching all these details prior to tasting a whiskey means that I have already judged it – at least on paper – to some extent. What if I were to strip away all that prejudice and approach a whiskey with as clean a slate as possible?
I’ve given the full blind approach a shot before; I have also tried semi-blind tasting where I did not know – nor did I ever learn – the actual identities of the whiskeys, beyond their producer. Today’s review will lean more toward the latter than the former. So, what is it that I know in advance of trying this?
I know that this is a recent entry in the acclaimed “Spot” range; the Yellow Spot was first reviewed on Malt back in 2012 by Mark. A different Mark tried the cask strength Blue Spot a few years ago, while John followed up with the Green Spot in 2021. Most recently, John revisited the range, tasting through Green, Yellow, Red, and Blue back in April.
This is the Gold Spot Limited Edition, though I am not yet sure what differentiates it from its siblings. I only know the age (nine years) because Matt reproduced the label in miniature on the sample bottle he gave me. I don’t know the ABV or cask type or anything else. I seem to recall a price in the mid-$100s range, though I’m not certain whether it was closer to $100 or $200.
As noted before, I’m a comparative novice in the broader field of Irish whiskey. I haven’t tried any of the Spot whiskies to the best of my recollection; if I did, I wasn’t paying attention closely enough to fix an opinion of them in my mind. I am aware only of the generally good regard in which these are held. Here I reach the end of my foreknowledge, so I’m going to shut my yap and get into the whiskey.
Gold Spot – Review
Color: Gold, obvi!
On the nose: Orchard fruit sitting equidistant between fresh and ripe jumps immediately from the glass. This might be the most perfectly fruity nose I have ever gotten on a whiskey, Irish or otherwise. There are abundant aromas of pears and nectarines, but wait – as they used to say in the old infomercial – there’s more. This pivots to very different (but no less intense) notes on the darker end of the spectrum. I’m getting anise, polished ebony wood, Brazil nuts, and a hefty, meaty note unlike any I have previously encountered in Irish whiskey. With some time in the glass, the piquant spiciness of lemongrass and the oily, earthy bite of ramp begin to emerge, as well as some rocky notes at both the high (limestone, chalk) and low (igneous) ends of the register. Candy, confectioners’ sugar… this just keeps evolving. There’s so much here, and I am hoping for a similar breadth of flavors on the palate.
In the mouth: The first sip delivers a pure expression of malted barley, hinting at the comparative youth of this. It doesn’t matter, however, as this quickly transitions into pear-flavored hard candy at the middle of the palate, a note that sends me back to childhood in the best of ways. There’s a dry floral nuance of potpourri which blooms for a second, in turn yielding to a creamy flavor of hot chocolate made with whole milk. This takes on a woody element and some more of that nutty meatiness as it moves toward the finish. There, this whiskey quiets down substantially, not necessarily in a bad way, but in a dramatic departure from the assertive presentation heretofore. Some green, stalky notes reminiscent of rye whiskey sing this one out, with the whiskey fading to leave only more of those dried flowers and the occasional resurgence of mocha as reminders of the whiskey that came before.
The nose on this is a tour du force, raising my expectations for the palate to levels that were, in hindsight, unobtainable. Trying to mentally push aside that preconception and judge the mouth in isolation: there are a few youthful notes here, especially in the front of the mouth. Not immature, mind you, but they’re evidence of the fact that this was bottled on the earlier side.
That pear candy flavor in the middle of the mouth is a pure delight, married to a few twists and turns that keep this intriguing. I would have loved this whiskey to follow through with a symphonic grand finale through the finish, but the orchestra of flavors went all pianissimo as this transitioned into a diminuendo dynamic into the coda.
Using Matt’s proposed methodology of evaluating this on its own merits as a whiskey, I am feeling like this is somewhere between a 6/10 and a 7/10, though whether I round up (or down) in the end will be somewhat dependent on the price, per the dictates of our scoring bands.
Before I get to that, though, let’s go back to my normal point of departure. What are we dealing with here, from a hard factual perspective?
Per the official website for Gold Spot, this expression is “matured for at least nine years in Bourbon Barrels, Sherry Butts, Bordeaux Wine Casks and Port Pipes. Non chill filtered and bottled at 51.4% ABV.” Clicking on the “Buy Now” link takes me to the Midleton distillery shop, where the whiskey is no longer listed. A little Google-fu taught me that the release price of this was €120 and – checking back in with Matt – I see he paid $110.
So, solid bottling strength and a good mix of exotic cask types in addition to the standard bourbon barrels and sherry butts, but at a premium to the other members of the family (for reference, Green Spot is $60 in my area and the 12 year old Yellow Spot is $100).
Would I personally buy a bottle of this if I saw it for $110? Let’s put it this way: I’d be tempted. It’s very tasty; without realizing it, I’ve finished the remainder of the sample over the course of composing this review. That said, it’s no Redbreast 12 Year Cask Strength in terms of intrinsic quality, nor in terms of value for money.
However, I’d happily put this in front of someone as inexperienced as myself (or more so) as an example of “very good Irish whiskey.” The several cask types have been utilized well to deliver a breadth of aromatic and flavor development, and I actually like that it has a bit of malty youthful edge to it. To sum it all up, I am rounding down within my previously contemplated range. Don’t let that fool you, though… this really hits the spot.
Photo courtesy of Spot Whiskeys.