This past week I had the privilege to be invited to a great, yet swift, 19.5 hours in France, most spent at the Chateau Léoville-Barton in Bordeaux, to welcome the new red wine cask finished Green Spot single pot still Irish whiskey to the world.
There is often a lot of pomp and self-congratulation around whiskey launches but this one was different. But when it comes to launching a new whiskey, the team at Green Spot and Irish Distillers have it nailed. Rather than host the launch of a new addition to their range at their distillery, a select group of journalists were flown out to a fabulous chateau and vineyard in Bordeaux.
It felt like I was part of an incredible family event to celebrate something joyous without being over the top, retaining a humble outlook on all that had happened and that we were there for.
Five years in the making, this whiskey is more than just a liquid (said with my brand consultant hat on), this is a story about the unification of two houses, very Romeo and Juliet, the Mitchells and the Bartons.
Both of Irish descent, both involved in the alcohol industry but both taking very different paths.
From the humble baking background of William Mitchell, the Mitchell family came wine merchants and were based Grafton Road, Dublin (sadly their original premises has made way for a McDonalds) who started storing in bond and bottling Green Spot in around 1887, subsequently adding Yellow Spot and Red Spot (now Red Breast).
The Barton family moved to France in 1725 and set up as a wine merchant and have occupied Chateau Léoville-Barton, a Second Growth, ever since 1836 although the chateau itself, formerly part of the vast Léoville estate, dates back to 1772.
Back to the launch, we were very lucky to have both Jonathan and James Mitchell in attendance, showing all who had been invited just how special this event was not only in terms of adding a new product to the portfolio but in acknowledging an association that goes back decades.
The UK writers were all flown out together, presumably so we did not get lost or wander off to check out duty free as is often the case, and were greeted at Bordeaux by searing heat that many of us had not experienced for a good seven or eight months. Really.
A swift shower and change at the luxurious hotel nearby and we were off on a on hour scenic view-filled drive to Chateau Léoville-Barton at which point we were given a brief tour and history of the chateau then led into the tasting room.
Whilst I took lots of notes on the chateau and its history, the pictures below can tell a better story, particularly the casks although will pull out a couple of highlights…
Interesting fact – the red midsection of the casks are there purely for decoration, not due to spillage or using different stave segments etc. – I’m always a sucker for a photo of casks, weird isn’t it, so I took about fifty photos of them, some are below.
There is a lot of chat in whiskey production and on distillery tours about the benefits of wood wash backs vs. stainless steel ones and we were told that the wooden vats here had been there up to 50 years, although most were newer, and whilst a real pain in the proverbial to clean they actually protect the grapes from ‘thermal shock’ as they are naturally warmer than steel.
We were later told that the sister chateau has step vats and they are perfectly happy with them so mixed messages; guessing they are both absolutely fine, just wood evokes the romance of yesteryear vs. the industrial production of today.
Once in the tasting room there were a number of speeches, really humble and genuine words that transcended brand messaging and really was about all those involved. Both families seemed moved by the occasion and it was genuinely moving to be a part of something so monumental for them.
In his speech, Jonathan said “when I was approached about this project a number of years ago, there was only one family with the Irish connection in Bordeaux that I wanted to work with and that made sense. That was The Bartons.”
He finished with “we are all very thrilled about this at Mitchells”, before thanking all involved and presenting gifts to key people at the chateau who were involved in bringing this product to fruition and to market.
Billy Leighton, master blender, lead the tasting for everyone in the room.
Our evening was then about an incredible dinner, lovely wine and great company. It really did feel like a family party.
As regular readers will know, and new readers are about to find out, I am a massive packaging geek. By that I mean my phone’s camera is littered with hundreds, if not thousands of photos of different products’ packaging – both inside the whisky category and out – as my main business is brand consulting which leads to a lot of packaging projects.
Green Spot and Yellow Spot for me have, in their most recent guises anyway, a lovely simplicity about them. From the outer pack (the tube) with evocative production imagery to the cleanliness of design with lots of white space which all ladders up to impressive shelf blocking.
Shelf blocking is where a brand’s packaging is so strong that then a number of their products are on a shelf together, consumers / shoppers’ yes are drawn to that product and give it more time and attention than others around it.
With the new red wine cask finished Green Spot you have all that same goodness from the existing sophisticated design system but now you have lots of red wine cues.
By red wine cues I am talking about the faux-wine label on the from of the outer pack, the red line that is not solid red but is a blend of dark and darker reds to make it feel liquid, maybe even capturing some element of movement or the flowing of the wine.
I really like this pack, it does a great job for me in premiumising a product that was already good but now has a tier above that allows whisky explorers to try a new expression, preferably side by side with the original.
10,000 bottles in this initial release
Aged 8 – 12 years
The whiskey has spent 12 – 24 months in the red wine casks
46% ABV (and feels it!)
Released mid-July in Ireland, UK and France
Likely to become a permanent addition to the range if the initial release is well received.
Nose: Lots of fresh fruit, nutmeg, berries at a push. Warming this already tells you that this whisky has more to it than meets the eye.
Palate: Very nice, would rank this as on of my favourite Irish whiskies in all honesty, the red wine casks clearly take the traditional Green Spot liquid and give it a lot more spice, a bit more power and makes it a little less rounded, but in a good way.
Finish: Medium length to it, the spicy palate evolves and wisps away leaving you wanting another sip… or maybe a few more sips.
Overall: A really nice addition to the range, sits nicely in price point and quality between mainline Green Spot and Yellow Spot at €65. I will definitely be picking up a couple of these, that’s for sure.
Thank you very much to IDL and Mitchell’s and of course Chateau Léoville-Barton for an incredible 24 hours, it was an honour to be a part of this launch.