This follows on from Part 1 of my coverage from Dublin, which can be found here.
The next morning – post heavy breakfast of course – I discovered Dublin was in full swing with the spirit of St Patrick.
And once the fog had cleared from my brain, I realised one thing – while I’d tried and enjoyed Jameson in many a cocktail the night before, I’d still not really experienced it on its own.
Luckily, we had a whiskey tasting booked in with distiller Liam Donegan that afternoon.
Arriving at the Old Jameson Distillery, Lukasz, Graeme, Alex and I were all very impressed with the way it had been turned into a visitor centre and shocked at how busy and buzzy it was as hoards streamed in to experience a bit of the iconic Irish whiskey brand.
Upstairs in the tasting room, we met Liam, who has been with the company for 17 years. He started out as a research chemist and is now a distiller and quality operations manager in the production team. We were to try out the Jameson Original, Select Reserve, Gold Reserve, and Rarest Vintage Reserve.
Liam started out by explaining the background of the Jameson process. The company uses a mix of malted and unmalted barley in its malt production. The malted barley grist gets mixed with hot water and heated to 60 degrees to create a wet grist, while the unmalted is soaked in cool water and then smashed to release the sugars for the wash.
The spirit is triple distilled in 75 litre pot stills and 95% of it is aged in American oak ex-bourbon barrels, while around 5% goes into European oak ex-sherry casks and port pipes. The company is also experimenting with Madeira and Marsala wine casks, but Liam could not confirm when those casks might be used in bottlings.
The company also distills grain whiskey on a column still to go into its brands and once a year does a special sweeter grain run to make a spirit that is intensely perfumed. Interestingly, the company also has a barley mashbill it puts through a column still from time to time.
There are currently 940,000 barrels in storage and to keep up with demand the company has been building two new storage warehouses every year for the past three years.
Our tasting started with the Jameson Original, which was fragrant, slightly nutty with oak and citrus notes on the nose and a cooked apple and woody taste on the palate. Not my favourite of the four but a good introduction to the brand.
Next up was the Select Reserve, which is made from whiskeys ranging in age from eight to 19 years of age. It’s non-chill filtered and sits at 40% ABV. It is richer, more rounded with a slight perfume note on the nose again, topped up by cinnamon spice, butter and honeycomb scents. On the palate, there’s a bit of toffee, candy floss, strawberry Mentos and a nice nuttiness. Liam said this was like the cool older brother to Jameson Original, the guy with a few tattoos and a record collection who you want to hang out with. It was very palatable and one of my favourite of the day.
The third one we tried was the Gold Reserve, which is made from a combination of virgin oak, first fill and European oak cask matured whiskey. Also non-chill filtered, it is normally made up of whiskey at least 14 years in age. On the nose, there was vanilla, baked oranges, vanilla pods and hazelnut skins. The palate had hints of spice, like cardamom and curry leaves, and a note of lavender right at the end, with a floral and chewy sweet finish. It was very pleasant but I personally preferred the Select Reserve.
Finally, we got to the granddaddy of whiskey: the Rarest Vintage Reserve 2007. Aged in American oak and sherry casks before being finished in port pipes, this whiskey was phenomenal. On the nose there was the scent of warm red grapes, a slight but attractive dustiness, a wood shop and sunshine. Yes, that’s right, sunshine. Okay, I sound like I’m going mad but this had a beautiful warmth that could only be described in my head as sunshine. Don’t worry – Lucasz and Graeme looked at me oddly too. On the palate, it was headily rich, with grape skins, blackcurrant cough drops and sticky fresh berries all bursting forth. My favourite by far.
Of course, the latter one is far out of my price range at £245 so, value for money, I’d definitely opt for the Select Reserve which is a steal, in my opinion, at £35 or so.
I was, in the end, impressed with what Jameson has on offer. While the Original is pleasant, I can’t imagine I’d drink it neat very often. It does, however, work very well mixed with Jameson, ginger ale and lime, which I discovered that night at Jameson Live.
First though, we had a quick stop off to the fantastic L. Mulligan Grocer (in fact, a restaurant/pub rather than a grocers) for a whiskey and cheese pairing and lunch.
Now, I’ll admit here I often spend a lot of time in restaurants grumbling about something – not to sound pernickety but I write restaurant reviews fairly frequently and this has made me notice every bit of my dining experience.
But this place stood the test – spot-on service, an incredible selection of beers and whiskey, and warming and delicious food, including the best Scotch egg I’ve ever tried. Definitely stop by if you’re in Dublin – I’d be surprised if you were anything less than impressed.
After our highly filling lunch and a quick cat nap, it was off for Jameson Live, where various bands were to perform on a live broadcast in honour of St Patrick’s Day.
Upon arrival, it was clear Jameson had taken over – branding was everywhere from wristbands to decor and signage. Music was wafting out the doors along with the scent of whiskey. And in through those doors walked innumerable people in their twenties, lured by the promise of quality music from headliners Bombay Bicycle Club.
What was key to all of this, for me, was the fact that Jameson had integrated itself seamlessly into a brand space where they were directly affecting young consumers’ decisions. That evening, over quite a few more Jameson, ginger and lime cocktails (which, I may add, are really rather refreshing, though maybe more appreciated on a hot summer’s day rather than a chilly March eve) I watched hundreds of young consumers buy whiskey cocktails. Whether that will turn into repeat custom, is difficult to measure, but I was thrilled to see bottles flying off the shelves of the bars that night.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not all in it for ‘the man’ and focusing on brand presence. But I am very much in favour of figuring out how whisky (or, whiskey) can be appealing to a younger audience. As mentioned in Part 1, within the Scotch industry I see Monkey Shoulder and Auchentoshan doing this well. It is clear, though, that Jameson are really ahead of the game. As Lucasz said: “You wouldn’t see this many people rocking out with a single malt brand.”
This is true. And whether you, dear reader, believe that these lines should be blurred, that whisky should make itself more accessible to a wider, younger audience or not, is of course up to you.
But I, for one, was glad to witness it. If people want to get into drinking whiskey by starting with Jameson cocktails, I say all the better for it.
I spend much of my time telling people about how great whisky is in order to ‘convert’ them to thinking of it instead of a vodka or rum when they head to the bar. And I’m glad to see Jameson trying to do the same thing.
Thank you very much to Jayne & Liam at Jameson and Alex at Richmond Towers for the invite and to Lukasz and Graeme from EdinburghWhisky for being savage fellow-travelers!