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Tag: Midleton

We chat all things Irish whiskey with Billy Leighton!

St Patrick’s Day is almost upon us! In the spirit of the moment, we caught up with Irish Distillers master blender Billy Leighton to talk Spot Irish whiskey, the ace…

St Patrick’s Day is almost upon us! In the spirit of the moment, we caught up with Irish Distillers master blender Billy Leighton to talk Spot Irish whiskey, the ace cask samples we have up for grabs, new distilleries and innovations for the future.

It’s St Patrick’s Day on Sunday! 17 March brings with it a celebration of all things Ireland, and it would be highly remiss if that didn’t include a splash of something boozily delicious – Irish gin, Poitín, and of course, whiskey! And to help get in the celebratory spirit, we’ve not only taken £5 off each bottle of the marvellous Yellow Spot, but we’re running a competition to win two 700ml bottles of incredible Malaga cask whiskey, too. Hand drawn by Billy Leighton, Irish Distillers master blender, no less!

But Irish spirits are for life, not just St Patrick’s Day. With that in mind, we got Billy himself on the blower to quiz him not only on Yellow Spot and those delicious sample bottles, but the past, present and future of Irish whiskey, too. And from the historical single pot still style to the wealth of new distilleries opening up (Clonakilty became the 23rd earlier this month!), it’s looking bright indeed…

Master of Malt: Hello Billy! First off, in your own words, tell us about the history of Spot and how all the whiskeys came about?

Billy Leighton: I think the Spot range has a really good heritage. It goes back to the family, Mitchell & Son, and they’ve been in Dublin for generations now, close 240 years. And it’s still run by Mitchell and his son; we [Irish Distillers] have a very good relationship with them. They’re a lovely family, Jonathan and Robert are the current father and son. But when their family business started up back in the early 1800s, they were wine merchants, importing wine from all around the world. Casks of oak, fortified wine: sherry, Port, Madeira, Marsala, all those fortified wines. And then, about 1880, 1890, they then became whiskey bonders. They had all these empty wine casks, having the wine bottled, and where they’re left with the casks. So they then will have bought new-make spirit from the Jameson Distillery in Dublin and filled that into their freshly emptied fortified wine casks. I don’t know what spawned the colour-coding system, but it was a good idea to colour-code their casks, to designate the age of the whiskey they were going to bottle. For example, they would have put out a green dawb of paint on casks that were intended to be used at ten years old, and that became their ‘green spot’. And likewise, the yellow paint was 12 years old; the red paint was 15 years old. They had a ‘blue spot’ as well, which was a seven year old. So that’s how the whole Spot range came about.

Spot Irish whiskey family

The Spot family of Irish whiskeys

MoM: And that was in Irish whiskey boom time…

BL: Well certainly in the 1970s, 1976-ish I think it was, Irish pot still whiskey had gone through a very, very bad time. Between the early 1900s and right up until the 1960s, Irish pot still whiskey was almost dead and buried! It was brands like Green Spot and Redbreast, two single pot still brands, that endured the bad times. In the mid-seventies, Irish Distillers basically took over the Spot Whiskies – of which there was only one at the time! The Green Spot. It became an Irish Distillers brand but the distribution in Ireland remained with Mitchell & Son. Then we did a bit of a makeover on the brand, and it got a new lease of life. I think the interest in Irish single pot still whiskey was starting to gain a bit more traction again, so we decided then to extend the range. That’s when we re-introduced Yellow Spot with the 12 year old age-statement on it, and then just recently the Red Spot, with the 15 year old statement.

MoM: Why do you think the Green Spot survived and the others didn’t? Was it to do with the age or the flavour profile? Why did one endure when the others fell by the wayside?

You know, it could have been availability of stock. The Irish whiskey category had dwindled away to virtual extinction. They couldn’t have sustained or justified maintaining the full range. The Green Spot is no longer a ten year old, it doesn’t have an age statement. So I think it was just to keep that brand alive. And maybe more for sentimental purposes than anything else, you know?

Bill Leighton Irish whiskey

Billy does his thing

MoM: Sure. And today, aside from age statements, what separates the different Spots, and are they very similar at all to the historical ones?

BL: Well, we like to think so. But the wood management wouldn’t have been as sophisticated as what we have today. So they would have had all of those different fortified wine casks available – sherry, Port, Madeira, Marsala – they wouldn’t necessarily have… structured their formulations to call out any cask type in particular. What we have tried to do is stay as close to the heritage of the brand, but we tend now to call out the different fortified wine casks that we’re using. In the Yellow Spot we call out the Malaga cask inclusion, with the Red Spot it’s the Marsala cask, Green Spot has got oloroso sherry casks. It is the only fortified wine cask in there. The Yellow Spot and the Red Spot have a little bit of oloroso sherry in there, but again, it’s kind of doing what the Mitchells did. It wasn’t so much one particular cask type became Yellow Spot and a different cask type became Red Spot. There would have been a mix of casks. Back in the day, the age was the only differentiating factor.

MoM: So we’ve got these two Malaga cask bottles up for grabs, which is incredibly exciting. Tell us a little bit about what sets these apart, and how you go about choosing casks for bottling…

BL: Well for these special bottles that are up for grabs, we went and looked at what Malaga casks we’re currently using in Yellow Spot. We sampled a few of them, and picked out a good one that we felt had a nice balance of the single pot still character and also that Malaga component we’re using in Yellow Spot. How I see the Malaga cask manifesting itself in Yellow Spot is kind of heather-honey sweet note. It takes the sweetness you would see in Green Spot and it takes the sweetness up another level. The Malaga casks, whenever they’re seasoned in Malaga, the wine that’s used is 100% Pedro Ximénez. 30% of the Pedro Ximénez grapes would be sundried, so it’s concentrating the sweetness there. And I’m particularly partial to sweet wine, and the Malaga just fits the bill. Those honey-sweet notes very much complement and balance with the spiciness of the pot-still distillate itself. So it works, it works very, very well for me.

Red Spot Irish whiskey

Red Spot is a recent addition to the Irish pot still family

MoM: Fabulous. More broadly, Irish whiskey is obviously booming. Why do you think that is, and why do you think single pot still Irish whiskies are so popular again?

BL: Taking a step back a little bit, I think it’s fairly well-accepted within the Irish whiskey industry that the whole renaissance has been brought about by the success of Jameson. Around the world, you know?  And where people are getting a taste for Jameson, they’re more inquisitive; a lot of the flavour is being driven by that pot still component. People are always wanting to find out more, and Green Spot would be the opportunity for them to try that single pot still component. I think it’s consumer awareness brought about by the attention that Jameson is bringing to the Irish whiskey category as a whole. ‘Why do we talk about Irish single pot still whiskey, is it not just the same as Scotch malt, only it comes from Ireland?’ When they try it, they find out that Irish single pot still is a completely different style of whiskey from a Scotch malt. And once they get the experience of a single pot still, such as Green Spot, they want to know a little bit more about what other offerings there are. And then of course there are other brands, like Redbreast for example, which is a single pot still Irish whiskey but with a different expression of maturation. I really think the Irish single pot still whiskey is where the future is.

MoM: Absolutely. But Irish whiskey as a whole is changing, not just single pot still. I think one of the reasons is all the new distilleries coming online. And now we’re seeing a lot of new spirit coming into the market. Do you think we’re going to see significant shifts in the structure of Irish whiskey and the character of the category?

BL: There are lot of new distilleries and it’s exciting when you see so many opening up, and they’re all going to want to make their mark and have their own individual style. I think that’s only good for the whole category, consumers included in that. I think for a long time, like ten years ago when we had only four operating distilleries, we didn’t have such a selection. And neither did we need one, to be honest! But each new distillery coming on stream is going to want to make their own mark and do things their own way. The only thing maybe to add there is that [it’s great] as long as all these new styles of whiskey don’t compromise the quality standard that Jameson has set, you know? That’s one thing we want to be careful about, that the perceived quality of Irish whiskey doesn’t slip.

Yellow Spot Irish whiskey

Oh haiiii Yellow Spot

MoM: Yeah, it’s got to be good!

BL: And from that point of view, Irish Distillers has probably been in the business the longest, but our doors are always open. We have a mentoring scheme in place now where new distillers can come along, probably through the Irish Whiskey Association, and see how we do things. We’re not telling them how to make the whiskey because they’d probably all end up making the same sort of whiskey! But it’s just to highlight production methods, even cask procurement, things that people don’t even think about. Like how much freight on casks costs. We’re quite open to tell things as they are, because we want to see everybody succeeding in the Irish whiskey category, making their own contribution to future growth.

MoM: Through the mentoring programme, you and the team must meet a lot of new people and a lot of new minds with a lot of new ideas. Is there anything that particularly excites you?

BL: It’s early days, but a lot of the new brands that we’re seeing in the marketplace now are pretty much different maturation expressions. People are procuring some whiskey for themselves and then doing their own twist on it. That in itself is adding a bit of excitement, maturation styles and tweaks that wouldn’t have been done before. When we had the four operating distilleries [Midleton, Cooley, Bushmills and Kilbeggan], everybody was kind of just set in their ways. They had successful formulations, why mess with them? But now we have the Irish Whiskey Regulations, they’re out there, but they’re there to be tested. There will be opportunities for using different types of wood, for example; Irish regulations allow us to use wood other than oak. So there’s interest there at the moment. We’ve introduced a whiskey finished in chestnut casks with Method and Madness. Bushmills has introduced an acacia cask finish. But also, whenever the new distilleries are up and running there are loads of opportunities for using different cereal types rather than just barley; raw barley and malted barley. There are opportunities there for other grain types, maybe rye or oats, wheat, whatever. I would say in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be seeing a little bit more variation on the distillate type itself, driven by different cereals.

Billy Leighton Irish whiskey experiments

Billy being all experimental

MoM: That’s exciting. And how much of this might be happening at the Middleton microdistillery?

BL: Oh yeah, we do quite a lot of experimentation there in the micro. We have done some trials with various cereals over the past few years. Some of that will actually become whiskey in the next while – it will be over three years old. It’s going along and it’s working very nicely. But we wouldn’t be giving anything away on that or releasing anything until we’re happy that it’s of the quality and the style that we’re happy to share with the consumers.

MoM: And going back full circle to Spot Whiskeys, what’s next for the Spot brand? We don’t have a Blue Spot anymore, might we see a return of that?

BL: We get this on social media all the time: ‘when are you going to complete the family of Spots?’, and it’s not something that we have ignored at all. It’s been discussed, but we don’t have any solid plans at the minute to reintroduce a Blue Spot. There have been discussions. Maybe what could be more likely, I’m not saying it would happen, but we might look at other variants on Green Spot. For example, to add to the Léoville Barton and the Chateau Montelena expressions. So I think there’s a lovely story there that connects Irish families that have left Ireland to go and get involved in the wine business around the world. And the Mitchells are still wine importers, so they have contacts all around the world. So anything we may do in that direction would be in collaboration with the Mitchells. You probably will see maybe the odd single cask offering with the Green Spot label on it. But that’s as much as there is really at the minute.

MoM: Lots of potential developments in the future. Thanks so much, Billy!

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10 genuinely epic single grains from across the globe

If you’re of the opinion that single grain whisky is ‘all mouth, no trousers’ – as in, multiple cereals but zero flavour – you’re very sadly mistaken. Here, we’ve picked…

If you’re of the opinion that single grain whisky is ‘all mouth, no trousers’ – as in, multiple cereals but zero flavour – you’re very sadly mistaken. Here, we’ve picked out 10 of the most sumptuous single grains the world has to offer. Tasting glasses at the ready…

It’s quaffable, affordable, and forms the backbone of many a blended whisky: could it be time to cut single grain some slack? David Beckham obviously thinks so, and we’re inclined to agree (though this list is, we assure you, Haig-free).

In reality, the things that many would consider to be grain whisky’s biggest weaknesses – light in character, industrial, no grain off-limits – have been transformed into the category’s greatest strengths by diligent distillers.

Now, I’m pretty nosy, so I wanted to find out a little bit more about the kinds of grains you can expect to find in each bottling. Easier said than done, because this information generally isn’t readily available.

So, where possible I’ve included the variety of grain each distillery primarily dabbles in (or dabbled, should it now be silent), so you can draw your own conclusions if you so wish…

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The Nightcap: 23 November

Oh hi there! You’ve made it to Friday. Well done. Pull up a comfy chair, pour a dram, and give yourself a pat on the back. But before you go…

Oh hi there! You’ve made it to Friday. Well done. Pull up a comfy chair, pour a dram, and give yourself a pat on the back. But before you go into full weekend mode, we have one final thing for you. Yep, The Nightcap is here with the week’s booziest developments in one super handy digestif!

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve has LOADS on this week. MoM Towers has been buzzing. It all kicked off on Monday with #WhiskySanta’s Craigellachie 31 Year Old Super Wish! Then we received news that Brora’s stills have been whisked off for refurbishment ahead of the closed distillery’s reawakening. We kicked off our mega Ardbeg competition on Tuesday (want to visit the distillery? Check out the blog post and you could be away on a jet plane/train/ferry/alternative mode of transport and be Islay-bound!)

That’s not all. Henry got the lowdown on Dandelyan’s final cocktail menu (sob!), Annie caught up with New York Distilling Company’s Allen Katz, and we introduced our delicious Black Friday Deals. Oh, and we launched a tiny little thing called Master of Malt Auctions… Phew.

Enough for now, though. Here are the other need-to-know drinks stories from the week that was!

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The Nightcap: 2 November

The Nightcap is back once again to circulate the latest in booze news. This week we look at the Whisky Illuminati, how the Budget affects the drinks industry, and an…

The Nightcap is back once again to circulate the latest in booze news. This week we look at the Whisky Illuminati, how the Budget affects the drinks industry, and an actual whisky vending machine!

We have arrived in November, though we’re still cleaning up surplus jack-o’-lanterns and discarded fake vampire teeth (at least we hope they’re fake). As you prepare for a weekend of stockpiling woolly gloves and bobble hats for the coming frost, fill your head with the news of the booze with another edition of The Nightcap!

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Introducing: Two new Method and Madness bottlings!

Irish Distillers has expanded the Method and Madness range once more with two new and typically experimental Irish whiskeys… Anyone for Virgin Hungarian Oak finish or Ruby Port Pipe Single…

Irish Distillers has expanded the Method and Madness range once more with two new and typically experimental Irish whiskeys… Anyone for Virgin Hungarian Oak finish or Ruby Port Pipe Single Cask?

The very point of the Method and Madness brand, first launched in 2017, has always been to push boundaries and innovate. So it should be no surprise to any Irish whiskey fans that two fabulous and unconventional new bottlings are poised to launch from the famed Midleton Distillery: Method and Madness Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey Finished in Virgin Hungarian Oak and Method and Madness Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 28 Year Old Ruby Port Pipe Single Cask.

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Midleton Very Rare 2017 and Cask Circle – own a bottle or a cask!

Midleton Very Rare 2017 launches in Ireland The distillery also launches The Midleton Very Rare Cask Circle, its new cask ownership club Jake tastes Midleton Very Rare from every decade,…

  • Midleton Very Rare 2017 launches in Ireland
  • The distillery also launches The Midleton Very Rare Cask Circle, its new cask ownership club
  • Jake tastes Midleton Very Rare from every decade, including some of these newly available whiskeys
  • Lots of Irish whiskey to talk about here, as well as a bit of a sign off from yours truly, but feel free to skip ahead to the 2017 release, or to find out about more the Cask Circle

    First off, a bit of housekeeping. Yes, I’m still alive! You’ll no doubt have noticed a plethora of posts from our awesome new content team hitting the blog lately. It’s a team made up of our new editor Kristiane Sherry, fellow new faces at MoM Towers Annie Hayes and Adam O’Connell, and the one and only Sam Smith (he of Tom Hanks’ Big fandom and aversion to flying).

    You’ll notice that my name didn’t feature on that there list. Ooh, mysterious. Suffice to say that I’m still busy doing all sorts at MoM Towers. Emphasis on the busy – that’s how I’m keeping (especially with national present day fast approaching!*). I may chip in with very occasional blog posts going forward (so what’s new, exactly?), but it does rather feel like a passing of the torch moment as I’m typing this. Fitting, then, that this is a post about Irish whiskey, which you may have noticed over the years is one of my favourite topics (see older posts such as Irish Whiskey – Everything You Need To Know! as well as the more recent Spotlight on… Redbreast and interview with Master Blender Billy Leighton).

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    Irish whiskey shifts 100 million bottles a year!

    The world has got a taste for Irish whiskey! With 2016 sales soaring by 11.3%, we explore the state of the market, from the new distilleries, to who is actually…

    The world has got a taste for Irish whiskey! With 2016 sales soaring by 11.3%, we explore the state of the market, from the new distilleries, to who is actually drinking it all…

    The Irish Spirits Association has issued the results of its first-ever market report, and it makes for very interesting reading. Even though alcohol consumption itself in Ireland has been steadily falling (take that, lazy stereotype) exports of Irish spirits are growing at an ever-increasing rate.

    “This is the first-ever industry and market report issued by the Irish Spirits Association and it comes at a time when our sector is undergoing vibrant growth and has a lot to be proud of,” said John Harte, chairman of the Irish Spirits Association.

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    An interview with Irish Distillers Master Blender Billy Leighton

    We speak to Irish Distillers Master Blender Billy Leighton about Redbreast, the latest Irish Distillers news including Jameson’s renovated Dublin home and the growing Irish whiskey scene.   Continuing from…

    We speak to Irish Distillers Master Blender Billy Leighton about Redbreast, the latest Irish Distillers news including Jameson’s renovated Dublin home and the growing Irish whiskey scene.
     
    Continuing from yesterday’s Spotlight on… Redbreast + WIN an incredible one-off Redbreast drawn straight from a single Sherry cask!, we had the chance to catch up Irish Distillers Master Blender Billy Leighton this week about all things Redbreast, recent developments at Midleton and in Dublin, their new brand Method And Madness and also the many burgeoning Irish whiskey distilleries. The interview was originally going to make up part of yesterday’s post but once we got Billy speaking passionately about single pot still Irish whiskey we knew this was going to be a post of its own. Are you sitting comfortably dear reader? Then let’s begin…

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    Spotlight on… Redbreast + WIN an incredible one-off Redbreast drawn straight from a single Sherry cask!

    ‐ Single pot still Irish whiskey is made using malted as well as unmalted barley (and up to 5% other unmalted cereals)   ‐ The world’s best-selling single pot still…

    ‐ Single pot still Irish whiskey is made using malted as well as unmalted barley (and up to 5% other unmalted cereals)
     
    ‐ The world’s best-selling single pot still Irish whiskey, the award-winning, rich and creamy Redbreast 12 Year Old is available for reduced price of £35.99 until St. Patrick’s Day!
     
    ‐ WIN two 70cl sample bottles of 16yo Redbreast drawn from a single Sherry cask selected by Master Blender Billy Leighton!

     
    With St. Patrick’s Day (17th March) just around the corner, we’re looking at Redbreast Irish whiskey from the truly excellent Midleton distillery in Cork. To mark the occasion we’re also reducing the price of delicious Redbreast 12 Year Old to £35.99 (down from £40) until the big day, which means there’s literally no reason not to buy a bottle immediately! It’s the best-selling single pot still Irish whiskey in the world and an absolute award magnet that’s adored by critics, but there’s more… Everyone who buys a bottle of Redbreast 12 Year Old from now until the end of St. Patrick’s Day will be automagically entered into our draw to win 2x totally exclusive bottles (as in ‘2 of 2′) of 16 year old Redbreast drawn from a single Sherry cask selected by Irish Distillers’ affable Master Blender Billy Leighton!

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    Method + Madness = A Whole New Range of Irish Whiskeys!

    The marvellous minds at Midleton have unveiled a new series of Irish whiskey which “…aims to harness the creativity of Midleton’s whiskey masters through the fresh talent of its apprentices.”…

    The marvellous minds at Midleton have unveiled a new series of Irish whiskey which “…aims to harness the creativity of Midleton’s whiskey masters through the fresh talent of its apprentices.”
     
    They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Irish whiskey legends Midleton clearly do not subscribe to that train of thought if their freshly announced series of bottlings is anything to go by. The Method and Madness range is about giving in to the curiosity and experimental nature of whiskey production, with a careful mind to the history of expertise that can be found at the Midleton distillery.

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