I’ve always had an affinity of sorts with Ireland. My first bar job in Australia was working in an Irish Pub. Not, it must be stressed, a pub built to the universal cliché of Irish Pubs, but a pub owned by an Irishman that reflected pubs in Ireland. Needless to say, there were no plastic four-leaf clovers on the walls. I learnt there many core life skills – how to pour pints, how to drink pints, how to behave in such establishments and, perhaps most importantly, how to know when it was a good idea to leave them. It also had regular live music – and despite playing in pop-punk cover bands since I was about thirteen, Clancy’s (as the pub is called) first showed me what music could do in that kind of environment; folk music and traditional music, where everyone knew the words and it meant something to them. I owe a lot to this place.
I also discovered whisky there, and Jameson on ice was my first regular tipple. It only made sense then that once I’d move to Scotland, my first trip in Europe would be to Ireland – to Dublin, on to Galway and back again over Paddy’s Day. For my 21st. It was obviously a big trip. My Guinness consumption would be most accurately measured in litres. I fell in love about seven times a day, as is the compulsion for a man of that age. I listened to a lot of amazing musicians in even more pubs. It was a fantastic trip and cemented my love for a lot of the things that, in the end, kept me in Scotland for the next ten years – music, banter, welcoming, hospitality – the craic, as it were. However, it would be another decade until I returned to Roisin Dubh.
Almost ten years to the day, I’m landing back in Dublin with my wife. We needed to get away, and I found a deal for flights/four-star accommodation/transfers for the weekend for an absolute bargain. In Dublin. With Scotland away to Ireland in the six nations. I was terrified it was too good to be true. It’s been a hard week (we were at a funeral yesterday) and if I had in some way been scammed, I’m not sure we had the fortitude to deal with it. Luckily, everything was impeccable, with the hotel being exquisite. Having landed quite late we had a couple of pints and an early night, ready to enjoy the atmosphere of a rugby weekend in Dublin – not having tickets was hardly going to matter.
The secondary motive for me personally on this trip was to better acquaint myself with Irish whiskey. It was a long way from the top of the list on that first visit – but not only has my own experience with whisk(e)y grown, so has the Irish industry in general. While I now encounter more Irish whiskey in my working life than ever before, I was sure it would be nothing compared to what could be found at the source. So – whilst jumping from pub to pub, watching games of rugby* and enjoying some live music – I asked the bartenders about whiskey, as those working behind three feet of wood will oft be the most knowledgeable.
I found more than a few gems as it turned out – a highlight being in Bowe’s Lounge Bar on Fleet St, which I cannot recommend highly enough if you’re in town. There I tried Dunville’s PX cask. A re-invigoration of an old brand (and exceptionally tasty), this Dunville’s expression took on a lot of richness from the PX without the sulphuric and tannic influence sometimes found in PX cask Scotch. But the Yellow Spot we’re here to talk about I discovered as my nightcap in the hotel bar.
Admittedly, Yellow Spot is hardly an obscure treasure to be found only by the lucky hunter. It’s readily available in the UK and I didn’t have to go to Ireland to try it. Point is, in that hotel bar at 1am after 15 pints of Guinness I thought it was fucking delicious – in fact I sent a picture of it to a friend with the caption ‘Liquid Haribo’, implying that this was in fact a good thing. Fast forward a bit to Corona Virus lock down boredom and I got hold of another bottle of it – mainly to see if it was as good as I remember. As the Persians always said: ‘if you come to the same conclusion sober as you did drunk, it must be right’. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.
For a bit of background on the whiskey, it is aged in a combination of bourbon barrels, sherry butts and Malaga casks (Malaga being a fortified wine from the Spanish province of the same name. Though it is made from Pedro Ximinez and Moscatel grapes, making it similar in style to sherry, it has a DOP all its own). These casks combine with the sherry to create some fat fruity notes, backed up with some subtle vanilla expected from the bourbon barrels. While ‘liquid haribo’ might have been an exaggeration, it is certainly sweet and moreish in much the same way. If you’re worried about numbers, the 46% ABV paired with the relatively young age might make you baulk at the £70 price tag. However, if you’re more concerned with flavour, it is certainly worth the while (to me anyway, and I’m the one writing remember?). It’s the first whisky I’ve tried that has been influenced by Malaga casks, and I have to say I’m a fan. It is also made at Midleton Distillery – where Jameson is produced – so it’s brought me full circle in my whisk(e)y journey, which is somewhat pleasing.
*To the surprise of no one, Scotland lost that weekend. However, if you’re in Dublin looking for somewhere to watch the rugby, you could go far worse than Peters Pub on Johnson Pl, where we watched the game. For the best pint of Guinness (and the first pub I went to all those years ago), The Swan Bar on York St. I was thrilled to see this place as good as I remembered it – and also perfect for watching the rugger.
Irish Distillers, who ultimately produce Yellow Spot, are in turned owned by Pernod Ricard. While it would be impossible to work in the industry I do and have had absolutely no connection with them, there are merely a couple of ambassadors/reps I see periodically through my job. I paid full retail price for my bottle of Yellow Spot 12.
Distillery/Brand: Yellow Spot
Age: 12 years
Cask: Bourbon, Sherry and Malaga
Non-Chill Filtered: Y
Natural Colour: Not Stated on Bottle
Price: Approx £65-£70