The other day I was putting clean glasses in my cupboard and noticed a Jameson rocks glass at the very back. How it got there, I have no recollection. Likely pilfered from a pub by myself or friends, it must have been sat there for ages without going noticed.
This is, for me, how Jameson whiskey itself has been until recently. It’s one of those ubiquitous brands that is so massive it’s ever-present on store shelves and in advertising, but it’s not one that I have personally connected with.
Back in December, I wrote about how that can sometimes happen with other major global whisky brands, such as Glenfiddich – gargantuan in reach but one I’d forgotten to come back to as I searched for the rarer, stranger, more hidden-away drams.
So when I was recently offered the chance to head to Dublin with the brand to learn more about its history, releases and cultural placement in Ireland for Jameson Live, I agreed to get on board and fill in a gap in my whisky knowledge.
What I discovered – and which the Edinburgh Whisky Blog chaps also speak about succinctly in their trip review here – was that Jameson has managed to do what other whisky brands are only just looking into: connect with a younger audience and make whisky (or whiskey) very cool. The only ones I’ve seen trying to do that from the Scotch world are Monkey Shoulder and Auchentoshan.
Now, I know what some of you may think: I was on a press trip and, therefore, may have only seen the ‘chosen’ points of view. There is that, I agree, but it was hard to deny as I watched hundreds of twenty-somethings rock out on St Patrick’s day with Jameson cocktails to think the brand wasn’t doing this well. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I leave up to you to decide.
But, getting back to the review itself, the weekend was a whirlwind of events and tastings, many of which are a slight blur. Again, my fellow-travelers Lukasz and Graeme deserve a mention here for their awesome ability to live-blog it all. As such, I shall not discuss everything, otherwise we’ll be here for ages.
But, it’s always good to start with a little bit of background. If you didn’t know already, Jameson is not actually distilled in Dublin. The capital city is home, instead, to the Old Jameson Distillery which was built in the late 18th century by founder John Jameson. It is now a stunning, wood beamed, stone-walled, interactive visitor centre and by far the most modern I’ve ever seen; given the queues for tours were seemingly never-ending it’s obviously one that many people are keen to take in, even if they won’t get the chance to walk around a working distillery.
Jameson is, in fact, distilled now at Midleton Distillery near Cork, about two and a half hours south west of Dublin. It is owned by Irish Distillers (owners of the single pot still brands from Midleton like Yellow Spot and RedBreast) which is itself a subsidiary of Pernod-Ricard.
We started the weekend off by heading to a workshop with David A Smith, a glass artist from Torquay who creates incredible gilded artwork on glass and mirrors using things like 20k gold and silver nitrate. He designed this year’s Limited Edition Jameson bottling, which he showed us the original drawings for here.
The artist, who has recently collaborated with musician John Mayer to design his new album cover, is one of a handful left in the world who can do this tricky Victorian style of artwork. The finalised version of the drawing, above, went on to be duplicated and printed (in a screen-printing style) onto the St Patrick’s Day Jameson bottling, shown at the start of this piece. It is available globally (bar the US) and in travel retail. David also designed a mirror for Jameson, and showed us how he applies gold leaf and colours to a mirrored surface, shown below.
That evening, we headed out to Damson Diner, where the head bartender made us a gorgeous whiskey sour made with Jameson that had been infused with ginger and lime for three months – it was spot on and showed a great way to use the company’s mainstay blend to make a sharp, refreshing cocktail with loads of depth. Afterwards, on a tour of some of Dublin’s hottest bars, I sampled some of my favourite Midleton drams yet again (Yellow Spot and Green Spot) and refreshed with a few Jameson cocktails, before realising that it was time to call it a night as the sun was soon planning its ascent.
In part 2, I get the chance to sample Jameson’s various offerings neat in a tasting and see how the brand has aligned itself with a new generation of whiskey lovers.