Widening a beloved whisky series is fraught with danger. Whilst it’s always tempting to try to fulfil bubbling demand, there’s always a risk that if it’s not done correctly that it taints the existing range. Similarly, though the last few years have seemed ripe for expansionary tendencies – the introduction of any new core bottling needs to consider whether this release will supplement or pirate existing sales. A bottling which is viewed (and/or positioned) as a strictly better proposition has the potential to syphon sales from bottles which are both above and below it within a pre-existing range. Equally a bottling which has been created just because of burgeoning demand and nothing else can often just muddy the already often murky consumer choice waters.
Last week’s reintroduction of Blue Spot (well trailed for quite some time) eschewed all of these easy to make mistakes. The Spot range, as cherished as it is, had room for extension – but this was not with the introduction of a 21 year old ‘Platinum Spot’. Of all the developing pieces of the resurging Irish whiskey sector – super premium (aka, bloody expensive) is not the niche that to my mind should be the primary area for enlargement. Whisky and whiskey risks undermining its own successes should it too eagerly position itself as a two-horse race – the ‘standard’ and the ‘elite’ – with little in-between to both bridge a growing price divide and, fundamentally to encourage consumers on what should be a progressive journey.
Blue Spot has astutely entered the Spot family somewhat in the middle of the range. And in doing so offers something new to the series at the same time.
Blue Spot’s arrangement stems from an amalgamation of both factual and guessed history together with a sense of modernity. There’s some known and some speculated inclusions in terms of the cask composition utilised, whilst the positioning of the expression comes with a keen perception of how a new Spot family member can be made relevant – both within the existing range – and for the current-day whiskey drinker generally.
The historical aspects are somewhat tricky – but at the particularly slick online launch I attended last week, they were pleasingly not ignored nor skirted over. Whilst Mitchell & Sons state that they have records going back to the turn of the 20th Century when the release was introduced, no one living seems to have actually seen a bottle. The expression was discontinued in 1964 - I’ve never spotted (!) one in the flesh, at auction nor even when applying my Google-fu. I can’t find any visual evidence for its existence. And it turns out that the Midleton blending team haven’t seen one either. Like the universe to the masses - Blue Spot simply existed because we’re told it did.
The Mitchell & Sons records noted a bygone use of madeira casks. And they’re present and correct in Blue Spot – though I suspect (and indeed rather hope) more for flavour than just a historical sop. For the re-imagined 2020 release these casks originally come from Portugal before being shipped off to Madeira for seasoning with Tinta Negra – a full-bodied demi-sweet wine. Similarly, at the launch event we were informed that the original (unicorn) Blue Spot was offered at a slightly higher ABV than the other Spots within the range. A trait which has been taken to its obvious extension for this re-release – not higher strength – but full cask strength.
2020’s Blue Spot blends both real and conjectured history with a freshness and a holistic view of the wider Spot range. The Blue Spot of today is a batched (more on this shortly) vatting of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-madeira casks presented as a seven year old whiskey (though with some madeira influence noted as being significantly older) that neatly fits into the middle of the range pricewise, but that at the same time offers both fans and those new to the series a proposition at cask strength.
The decision to bottle Blue Spot at Cask Strength is to my mind the canniest of this reintroduction. And it should be noted that whilst the majority of questions at the launch event focussed on this trait – it was Bill Linnane (who if you don’t follow you really should) who crystal balled this release around the time of the reintroduction of Red Spot back in 2018. Spot on Bill.
By offering Blue Spot at Cask Strength, Mitchell and Sons have presented an extension which doesn’t (at least from my perspective) pirate from the other releases that already exist within the range. Ignore the low age statement – indeed ignore virtually all low age statements generally – Blue treads its own path in terms of offering the consumer a characteristic that some Irish whiskey fans are crying out for. Those interested in that, can read more on The Dramble here.
The batched approach to Blue Spot reflects several aspects. Firstly, it’s a recognition that there’s enough mad bastards out there who will want to purchase each and every batch purely to be completist. Secondly it offers the producer Midleton some scope in how to manage their stocks – particularly those of the madeira casks. Whilst this maiden Blue release is noted to containing madeira casks of up to 20 years of age, with a lower age statement of 7 on the label, there’s plenty of scope for exploring different parcels of liquids with which to craft future batches. The result will likely be similar, but at the same different. Perhaps different enough to persuade drinkers of a horizonal tasting in time.
Finally, a batched approach simply reflects the ebb and flow of demand and the producer’s ability to meet that. Within a few hours the direct sales of Blue Spot via the Mitchell and Sons website had all been snaffled up. Whilst more (quite a lot more) is due at retailers across Ireland, UK, France and travel retail (which I hear was a thing at one point) with the US receiving its allocation in February 2021 – a batched approach allows for a certain degree of demand/supply management over longer periods of time. This is something which all distilleries yearn for. Managing the knowns makes dealing with the unknowns somewhat easier.
The maiden release of Blue Spot re-imagined comes in at 58.7% ABV – though it’s stated that this will vary with future batches. A bottle will set you back 80 Euros – you can buy now directly from the Spot Whiskey website or depending on where you’re based in the world you might want to wait a few days for more preferable shipping rates.
Nose: Apple compote and slices of honeydew melon sit with banana skins whilst typical pot still character of nutmeg and mace is joined by dusty pumpkin spice. Buttery nut toffee and toasted bread is enriched by white chocolate and macadamia nuts whilst toasted oakiness runs throughout. Dilution adds substantial additional nuttiness – hazel and cashew nut brittles alongside vanilla and golden cereals.
Taste: Soft, yet still impactful. A notably excellent alcohol integration presents an arrival of prominent spices – cinnamon black pepper and chilli pepper (all lingering) alongside split vanilla pods, crème patisserie, melon and gooseberry. Lightly charred oakiness pushes through the centre with a scattering of chopped nuts and a squeeze of lemon juice. Reduction presents a silky texture that’s more cask-driven – drying, sustained oakiness and perky wood spices alongside fresh and reduced apples.
Finish: Long with black and chilli peppers, milk chocolate and dusty shaved chocolate sweetness.
Straight in as my favourite Spot whiskey - Blue Spot delightfully manages to walk the tightrope of impact and gentleness – remarkably achieving both at the same time. Pot still spice runs throughout – the character is unmistakable, but at the same time, the Cask Strength delivery is incredibly sympathetic to the composition which results in a whiskey that drinks far easier than its ABV suggests. A worthy additional that feels concordant to the range, but at the same time offers welcome variation.
Review sample provided by Richmond Towers on behalf of Irish Distillers