Like buses, you wait decades for another Spot whiskey and then three come along in the space of three years. The whisky world is packed to the rafters with series, selections and collections. These often follow the Fast & Furious model of leveraging a pre-existing audience with ‘more of the same, but different’ – retain the lead actors, add some new faces, change the location and then slap a new number on the front. Job done. But irrespective of whether entertainment or booze the idea of replication and repetition holds just as may pitfalls as it does potential blessings.
Every producer does (or at least should) consider their ranges in the round. What drinkers do certain whiskies appeal to? What whiskies need to be created for certain drinkers? Does a range cover enough of these people? And, most saliently for today’s discussion - could a range be expanded to either capture wider market share or generate repeat custom from pre-existing fans?
Enter the series. There’s little better for hooking drinkers than an ever-expanding range based around a common theme. Playing cards, mythical beasts, a once beloved TV series with an entirely dissatisfying ending, or just a capital city transport network. And everything in between. Producers love producing series – they’re fun, creatively imaginative and they pull in both new and pre-existing fans. Tried the first couple? Well you simply must try the latest release.
Similarly to a movie trailer which proudly proclaims that it's from the same producer - whisky series naturally lean into this same space. The idea being to present consistency alongside modernity. More of the same, but different. "From the producer of the Spot series comes the 135th anniversary edition - Gold Spot." There, easy.
This all said, whilst it is as theoretically as easy to extend a whisky series as it is a film or TV show, there’s always the danger of quality variance. The Walking Dead, Dexter, perhaps even the Simpsons – and in whisky terms Bowmore’s The Devil’s Cask series. These all in some ways outstayed their welcome following feted earlier episodes. As such, any producer creating an ongoing collection of related whiskies needs to be keenly aware that whilst an addition can trade on the goodwill and reputation engendered by earlier releases – a dud or a dramatic change in the proposition (See Bowmore’s Devil’s Cask part 3 – with its almost predatory price increase over the two previous iterations) can often tarnish what has come before.
There are of course exceptions to this rule. Ichiro’s Playing Cards offer huge variance across their iterations of Hanyu– however anyone lucky enough to try just one of them will likely be so overwrought with excitement that the discrepancies in quality and style between the numerous bottles will be meaningless. We’re still waiting for the next full deck tasting – when folks can make proper comparisons between all the cards in terms of the qualities - but with pricing as it is, I’m genuinely not sure this will ever happen again.
Taking the Spot range into this equation, I’m surprised it took as long as it did for the Red and Blue Spots to make their reappearances. However, now that we’ve had three new Spots within three years – assuming interest and eagerness remain the same (and there's no reason to think that they would'nt), I’d not bet against additional colours being introduced over the coming years. The Spot range is well-known and well-regarded – who’d not want to try the next iteration? No one wants a series to end prematurely on a cliff-hanger.
Gold Spot is the first whiskey in Mitchell & Sons range that doesn’t draw from a pre-existing, blob of colour used to denote a cask’s intended purpose. Instead, Gold Spot has been created anew to symbolise “quality, prestige, specialness and celebration.” All very buzzy words indeed – but sure – at some point when expanding a pre-existing range you simply run out of actual history (and colours) to draw from. Here the antiquity doesn’t come from the colour of the spot, but rather from marking Mitchell and Sons 135th anniversary of becoming a whiskey bonder. As such, I’d say that gold here is just fine. Platinum was rather spoken for in 2022.
The release is created on a foundation of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (similar to much of the range). But it contains a selection of Bordeaux wine casks and port pipes from the Douro Valley – marking the first time that port has made an appearance within the Spot series. The noted age is 9 years and the ABV has been selected at 51.4%. You’ll find this available to buy in Ireland, France, UK, USA and Global Travel Retail from mid-July at a price of €120 a bottle.
Nose: Unmistakably pot still. Powdered sugar and nutmeg spiced apples and pears. A scattering of macerated berries joins banana peels whilst cream tarts, fudge and macadamia nuts join aromatic cask spice from ginger and liquorice together with a handful of dried stone fruits. The addition of water reveals a more tropical side with underripe mango, nectarine and melon sitting alongside almond biscotti and split vanilla pods.
Taste: Nicely weighted and mouthcoating. The wine cask influence is far more prominent now – raisins, dark berries and mirabelles and some tangible tannins along for the ride. Café latte, burnt caramel and charred staves give way to bristly ginger and nutmeg, whilst newly patented leather joins back-palate baked apples. Reduction again pleasingly favours the spirit character – banana, kiwi and tingly cinnamon.
Finish: Medium in length. Charred oak is to the fore, whilst burnt toffee is tempered by residual orchard and berry sweetness.
All rather harmonious and offered at a great drinking strength which provides a fulsome experience (and scope for dilution should one wish) without ever risking taking ones eyebrows off. This said, the wine/port cask influence is a little taut throughout the palate and it brings with it a grippiness which one would almost certainly describe as ‘modern’. Some of you will doubtless enjoy this more than others. Nevertheless, the consistent quality throughout the Spot range is still certainly intact with this addition which doesn’t tweak the formula too much – and retains the pot still character that is synonymous with each release.
But, the main point of conclusion that many readers will likely want me to tease out here is a comparison to 2020’s Blue Spot release. Whilst the two expressions are formed of different cask compositions (Blue utilising madeira), there are some parallels. Both are at the younger end of the Spot spectrum. Both are bottled with higher ABVs than the existing Green, Yellow and 2019’s Red Spots. And I appreciate those aspects in both recent releases.
However, with a 50% bump over Blue Spot’s RRP of €80, Gold Spot enters the range and sets a new price pinnacle with it. Is two additional years in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry and swapping madeira for wine and port ‘worth’ the surcharge? – particularly when it is offered with a 7.3% reduction in ABV when compared to the Blue Spot (though I’m certain that the wine and port casks speak better at this lower strength). That decision is, as always, down to the drinkers. But personally, I’d just edge it to the Blue Spot in bottle – and I’d hand it on a gold platter to it when price is taken into account.
Review sample provided by Richmond Towers on behalf of Irish Distillers