science

On killing bottles

Posted by: Ted

There’s a bottle I need to kill. Actually, there’s a number of them, but this particular one is an old bottle of Dalwhinnie 15. It’s been sitting around on the shelf with about a good dram’s worth left in the bottom for at least a couple of years now. I have a suspicion this may turn out to be a problem.

Killin’ me slowly with his dram…

People tend to think of whisky as being very durable. When it’s aging in the barrel all sorts of funky interactions are happening of course, but stick it in glass, that delightfully chemically stable substance, and it’ll stay unchanged forever. Maybe… although that theory does seem to have been challenged recently by the number of very old, rare whiskies that have been tested and found to have somehow magically changed themselves into much, much younger, inferior whisky that is most definitely not (‘we are so sorry to have to break this news to you sir’) that phenomenally expensive 1880’s Ardbeg you bought as a sure-fire investment. Hmm, quite.

Getting back to the point though, nearly-empty bottles left to their own devices just never seem to taste as good (or at least not the same). The flavours are diminished and changed somehow. Oxidation, causing changes to the molecules through increased oxygen interaction, gets bandied around a bit, but sources on the repository-of-all-knowledge indicate that this may not actually play as much of a role as I previously thought. Another theory that I quite like is that because alcohol and other molecules in the whisky are volatile, evaporation and dissipation occurs every time the whisky is poured, meaning some of the flavours are lost and the balance of components is changed (a more detailed explanation here care of the excellently anorak-y Whisky Science blog).

That being the case, why don’t we just finish of all those damn dregs and move on to pastures new? The thing is, psychologically it can be quite hard to bring yourself to kill the bottle. Back when it was full, we splashed the contents around with great abandon, sharing it generously with friends and pouring stoaters without care. Once the level drops below the plimsol line though, you start to think ‘gosh, that’s getting low. Better go easy… maybe I’ll save it for a special occasion’. It can be even worse when you’re a somewhat slack whisky writer: ‘Oh man, I should really get around to reviewing this. Sometime. Hmm, I better leave some in there… I’ll definitely get around to it soon’.

To kill or not to kill…

Sentiment plays a part in prolonging the life of a bottle as well. The attachment of a particular memory to a particular bottle means that we can cling even harder to the remains, fighting against our natural urges as top predator in the whisky food web. For example, I bought that bottle of Dalwhinnie as a present for my dad over six years ago. When he died in 2013, I inherited it. The stupid thing in this case is that there isn’t any particular sentimental value attached to it. It wasn’t his favourite whisky, we didn’t spend a magical night bonding over it, or a wild night getting shit-faced on it.

Yet for some reason I haven’t been able to force myself to do the dirty deed and finish it off. It just sits there gathering dust and, stupidly on my part, potentially diminishing in quality and strength. Look, if I’m forced to dig deep for an honest reason for my reticence, I think I’ve just been using the tenuous sentimental value to put off having to write a review about it. Which come to think of it, is definitely the reason that I’ve been hoarding the last slick of my Nikka Yoichi 15 for too many years. Ugh, motivation, why are you such an indolent mistress?

Pity it’s not a full bottle these days…

Perhaps it’s just an excuse to keep buying new bottles?

So what is the point of this rambling musing? I think we need to be brave, to step up to the crease and face down that last dram before it’s too late. Sometime you’ve got to kill the things you love. It’s the kindest thing to do.

Just, some other time maybe…

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Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

Reviewed by: Ted

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-13,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

The history of life on Earth is patterned with extinction. Ever since the first cells formed from the primordial soup some 4 billion years ago, countless species have risen, only to be swept away by the tides of history. Some extinctions are so devastating that they shake the tree of life to its very roots; for example the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event approx. 252 million years ago is estimated to have wiped out around 90% of all species living at that time.

The rise of modern humans (Homo sapiens) some 200000 years ago certainly hasn’t helped matters. While perhaps lacking the immediate punch of an asteroid impact, humans have both directly and indirectly had a hand in wiping out hundreds of species during our time on Earth. Hunting pressure is hypothesised to have played a role in the disappearance of a whole bunch of megafauna species 10000-50000 years ago, while we know that was definitely what killed off species such as the Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), the Western Black Rhino (Dioceros bicornis longipes) and the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) which, thanks to a merciless hunting campaign, went from an incredible estimated population of 3 billion to be completely wiped out in the space of the 19th century. Other factors influenced by human activity also play their hand, such as habitat destruction, pollution, disease and anthropogenic driven climate change.

Yet hope springs eternal and many species that look doomed to go the way of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) somehow continue to cling tenaciously to the brink, sometimes even managing to claw their way back a bit: The Orange-Bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) from Tasmania, the Merendón Mountains Snaileater (Sibon merendonensis) from Guatemala, the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) from Australia, the Volcan Tajumulco Bromeliad Salamander (Dendrotriton bromeliacius) from Mexico, Eisentraut’s Mouse Shrew (Mysorex eisentrauti) from Equatorial Guinea, Green Spot Whiskey (Maculatum viridialis) from Ireland.

From its origins sometime between 1000AD -1400AD (although the fossil record is still unclear whether the common ancestor of whisk(e)y initially arose in Ireland or Scotland), by the mid 1800’s Irish whiskey (Phylum Hibernica) had ascended to become the dominant grain-based spirit on Earth, with Dublin alone producing around 45.5 million litres of whiskey per annum. The most popular style was Single (or Pure) Pot Still Whiskey (Order Bihordeales), made using a mixture of malted and unmalted barley (Hordeum vulgare) (sometimes also utilising a small amount of other cereals such as wheat (Triticum sp.) or oats (Avena sativa)) and usually triple distilled (Class Trinephela) as per the Irish tradition. The style had initially started as a way of dodging a 1785 tax on malted barley, but quickly came to surpass single malt whiskey (Order Monohordeales) due to its popularity.

By the early 20th Century however, the Irish whiskey industry was in massive decline due to a combination of factors. War (the Irish War of Independence, followed by a civil war and then a trade war where the British Empire, Ireland’s biggest market, banned import of Irish whiskey), prohibition in the US (cutting out Ireland’s second biggest market) and questionable political and management decisions all left the Irish industry hurting. In addition, the wide scale uptake of the Coffey still (Subclass Semperfluida), ironically an Irish invention, by the Scottish distilling industry led to the meteoric (pun intended) rise of blended Scotch whisky (Phylum Caledonica, Order Mígmales), which by the turn of the century had overtaken the Irish market. The population of Irish distilleries went into free fall, the hundreds of distilleries that had once operated during the 18th and 19th centuries gradually vanishing until by the 1970’s only two were left, themselves amalgamations of a handful of survivors who had banded together for survival and mainly focused on blends.

What then of the the king of the Emerald Isles, the Single Pot Still Whiskey, the keystone style in the Irish ecosystem? By the time the 80’s rolled around, only two lonely members of this once great lineage were left, one being Redbreast (Rubus pectales) and the other Green Spot (Maculatum viridialis), a curious beastie in it’s own right. Mitchell & Son est. 1887, wine and spirit merchants based in Kildare St, Dublin, would purchase single pot still-style spirit from the nearby Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery and then age it in their own bond store. For the first five years of maturation, half the spirit was kept in casks that had contained darker styles such as oloroso and PX, while the other half spent its time in casks that had been used for lighter finos. After this initial aging period the casks were vatted together and then put under oak again for a further five years before bottling.

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-13,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Originally known as Pat Whiskey, it was rebranded as John Jameson & Son Green Seal in the 30’s, before becoming simply known as Green Spot. Due to its popularity, other Spot variants soon emerged, with the 10yo Green Spot joined by a 7yo Blue Spot (Maculatum caerulea), 12yo Yellow Spot (Maculatum flaveolens) and a 15yo Red Spot (Maculatum rubrum), the names apparently deriving from the practise of marking barrels with a daub of paint to differentiate between the various age statements. The plight of the Irish whiskey industry soon took its toll however, with only the Green Spot surviving of its relatives. Matters became particularly grim when John Jameson & Son, the source of single pot still spirit for Green Spot, merged with John Power & Son and the Cork Distilleries Co. to form Irish Distillers, basing themselves at the New Midleton Distillery. Fortunately Mitchell & Son were able to strike a deal with Irish Distillers to allowed continued production of single pot still spirit at New Midleton (where Redbreast is also made), saving the brand from extinction. A slightly controversial stipulation of the deal was that the spirit had to be aged on-site in Midleton’s own casks, but Mitchell & Son still retained exclusive rights to the brand and its distribution.

Modern Green Spot has evolved to become a non-age statement release containing 7-10yo single pot still whiskeys aged in a combination of new and second fill american oak ex-bourbon cask and the brand’s traditional sherry cask. The colour is probably significantly lighter than its original ancestor, but still has a burnished red-gold hue thanks to the continued presence of sherry casking.

The nose is warm and fruity, abounding with peach, banana, pineapple, lemon and coconut, as well as polished timber, grape seed oil, crushed grass and grains.

The mouth is moderately sharp, yielding honeycomb, apricot, salt, aromatic herbs, pinot and oak, as well as a curious smokiness that briefly appears in the first few sips. The finish is relatively dry and leaves a pleasant citrus tang with undertones of cinnamon, cloves and cassia.

Lovers of Irish whiskey should be grateful that careful conservation efforts have prevented Green Spot and the Single Pot Still style from dying out in the wild completely. In fact, the famed whisk(e)y naturalist Jim Murray has been noted as stating that Green Spot is “…to the true Irish whiskey drinker what the Irish Round Tower is to the archaeologist…Unquestionably one of the world’s great whiskies.” In even better news, the style is now starting to make a resurgence, with a small population of the rare Malaga-matured Yellow Spot 12yo (Maculatum flaveolens malagaensis) being rediscovered, as well as new producers such as Dingle (Family Parvosonitaceae) emerging.

In summary, everything comes to an end eventually right? Luckily on occasion the inevitable can be staved off for a while and second chances granted. As such, I highly recommend that you make it a goal to sample the Green Spot before your own personal extinction comes upon you.

★★★★

BONUS – Alcohol Taxonomic Hierarchy

Ex. Green Spot

Domain – Alcohol – Spirita

Kingdom – Type – Whisk(e)y

Phylum – Origin – Hibernica

Class – Distillations – Trinephela

Order – Style – Bihordeales

Family – Distillery – Novaemidletonaceae

(Tribe – Independant bottler – Mitchellfileae)

Genus & species – Variety – Maculatum viridialis

#IrishWhiskeyWeek