The Green Spot

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Not knowing much about Irish whiskies, I took the opportunity to do a bit of exploring during our trip to Ireland last week. The first dram recommended to me by the friendly bartender at the Porterhouse Temple Bar in Dublin turned out to be my favourite.

For all its mild aroma of soft grain and vanilla, Green Spot Single Pot Still was strong – it had a note of mint and oak, and managed to remain smooth and warm. An excellent introduction to the world of Irish whiskey. green-spot-single-pot-still-whiskey

Irish whiskey is unique in that it is almost always triple-distilled, as opposed to the usual double-distillation process of most single malt Scotch whiskies and bourbons. Another distinctive trait is the Irish use of unmalted barley in addition to the malted barley used in single malt Scotch. Unmalted barley contains less sugar, thus adding less sweetness to the final product.

The ‘Single Pot Still‘ style of whiskey, which originates from a single distillery, is defined by these two elements of triple distillation and the barley mix. Whiskey makers began cutting malted barley with green barley in response to high taxes placed on malt during the 18th century, and the practice held over into the 20th century, even as Irish whiskey’s popularity was overshadowed by blended Scotch whiskies.

Because spirits like single malt Scotch, Irish whiskey and American bourbon are so closely with their place of origin,  I’m always interested in where distillers source their grains and just how ‘local’ the overall production really is.

Cistercian Dunbrody Abbey (1182) beyond Barley Field, County Wexford, Ireland Photo: Artflakes

Cistercian Dunbrody Abbey (1182) beyond Barley Field, County Wexford, Ireland
Photo: Artflakes

In the case of Irish whiskey, at least according to Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, 90% of the malting barley used in the country is locally produced through a local division of Boortmalt, a large European malting company that is a subsidiary of French agricultural cooperative Axereal.

These days, the tasting experience of a local product that feels entirely bound to a specific place – in my case, the delicious Green Spot I had on a warm spring evening, to the sounds of excellent live local music in a Dublin pub – is often the result of a larger network of industry that extends far beyond national borders.

Green Spot is produced for Mitchell & Son of Dublin, by Irish Distillers at the Midleton DistilleryCorkIreland. As far as I can tell, almost all Irish whiskey is produced in three main distilleries: Midleton, Bushmills and Cooley‘s. However, there are plans to open (or re-open) up to sixteen new distilleries in Ireland over the next few years – Irish whiskey is on the rise.

There’s a nice little video on how Green Spot got made here. My favorite quote? Green Spot “isn’t just a whiskey that you throw around and drink at midday…” Indeed.


Fields near Lough Corrib, Ireland
Photo: PK Read


Serendipitous Walk

Near St. Austell, earlier this year. If I had known about Hicks & Heaney whiskey back then, I would have gone in search for it.  Photo: PK Read

Near St. Austell, earlier this year. If I had known about Hicks & Healey whiskey back then, I would have gone in search of it.
Photo: PK Read

I read some time ago about a new whisky produced in Cornwall, the first in 300 years. Small-batch, impossibly difficult to get a hold of, and well out of my normal price range. Hicks & Healey, who spell their whisky with an ‘e’. Cornish whiskey, made with Cornish barley and local spring water. It’s a collaboration between St. Austell’s Brewery and Healey’s Cider Farm.1

I love trying drinks, foods, customs that are highly localised, so of course I was intrigued. But Hicks & Healey’s is hardly the kind of drink that your average whisky bar is going to have sitting around. At a limited edition of only a few hundred bottles a year, this is specialized stuff.

So, this weekend, I am back up in Exeter with my daughter. I thought to myself, maybe I should try and find a sip of H&H, but St. Austell is just a bit too far outside my driving range for this short visit, so I had silently chalked this up to one experience I was not yet destined to have.

Mill on the Exe

Mill on the Exe

Instead, we took a long walk down to the Mill on the Exe, a riverside restaurant and pub that gets very high praise from visitors and which we hadn’t yet tried.  It’s a lively and excellent place. We had a lovely meal, tasty wine, and I decided to see what kinds of whiskies were stocked at the bar.

Chatting with the bartender, I decided to revisit Monkey Shoulder – my first impression of it last year was good but not great, and I like second chances so that’s what Monkey Shoulder was going to get. And as we were talking over whiskies, Ashley Millgate – who turned out to be the manager of the establishment – mentioned that he had bought a wonderful, limited edition Cornish whisky.3

Well, long story short, Ashley went up and got his own private bottle of – you guessed it – Hicks & Healey, bottle number 105. Then Ashley went beyond the bounds of regular hospitality and offered me a taste.

It’s funny how small, unspoken wishes can sometimes manifest themselves in our daily lives.

I don’t know which was better – the light, floating caramel, apple flavors of this unusual, delicate and rare whiskey with an ‘e’, or the generosity and friendliness of a fellow whisky enthusiast.

All in all, a perfect whisky experience, and a great night out. Thank you, Ashley and thank you, Hicks & Healey.


St. Austell Brewery website

Lady apples

Lady applesPhoto: benrequena via

Lady apples
Photo: benrequena via

I bought a bag of Lady apples at a local market in New York yesterday, small, bright red and green apples that looked like someone had tried to play pattycake with them. A bit flattened. Sweet, aromatic, the skin more flavorful than the flesh. I was walking back to my hotel with one in my hand and thinking it could fill a room with its heady scent.


So I looked up the variety, and it turns out it is an old French variety (at least according to the highly informative Orange Pippin resource site), known also a as a Christmas apple due to its late harvest time, and used more for decoration than dining. Not to be confused with the much more recent and popular Pink Lady variety. But it’s known in France as pomme d’api, and is a part of a French nursery rhyme song my daughter learned in school.

Pomme de reinette et pomme d’api
Tapis, tapis rouge
Pomme de reinette et pomme d’api
Tapis, tapis gris.

Which translates to:

Pippin apple and lady apple,
Carpet, red carpet,
Pippin apple and lady apple,
Carpet, grey carpet.

And the song made me think of harvest time in our corner of France, with the carpets of apples around the base of the trees. Red for the red varieties, or grey-green for the pippin variety we have in our own garden.

As it turns out, the Lady apple is thus known in English because ladies once carried them to mask any unpleasant odors. And yes, my otherwise perfectly odor-free hotel room is now filled to the ceiling with the sweet and dainty perfume of the pomme d’api.