I was in London last April visiting a friend who was living there for the year, and, it being that time of year, we decided we would be unable to forgive ourselves if we did not head over to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day.
The day after the festivities, we had a flight back to London at seven in the evening, but that left the entire day to recover and see the rest of the sights in Dublin. My two companions, being girls, decided to check out the local shopping.
I, being hung over, decided that their giddiness was taxing my tolerance. I ventured off to tour the Old Jameson Distillery, and catch a little hair of the dog, while they browsed and purchased to their hearts’ delight.
The Old Jameson Distillery was the site of the distillation of Jameson’s products from the company’s founding in 1780 until, as best I can tell, the Irish Distillers Group was formed in 1966 and production shifted to the Midleton facility.
The Midleton distillery now produces all mass market Irish whiskey with the exception of Bushmills. The old distillery in Dublin has been converted into a tourist destination.
On entering you are greeted by a huge open room which used to hold one the huge mash tuns. Immediately ahead of you, visible under a glass floor are the concentric brick rings required to support the weight. Beyond that is the ticket counter where you can purchase tickets for the tour. To you right as you enter is a bar where you can purchase a variety of cocktails made with Jameson as well as drink the whiskey straight.
For sipping neat, on the rocks, or with water you can get any of the whiskeys in the Jameson line, from the original all the way up to the Rare Vintage Reserve. As I recall they offered Jameson mojitos, but I wouldn’t try one.
On your left is the Jameson gift shop. You can get pretty much anything you like with the Jameson logo on it, from pens to golf club bags. You can also get any of the whiskeys produced by the Irish Distillers Group, including, if you happen to have €55,000 to spend, the full twenty-five year run of Middleton Very Rare.
The tour begins with a video stressing the importance of exploration, bravery, and all that good stuff in the history of Jameson. This all stems from the motto of the company: 'Sine Metu', without fear. It also stresses the claim that Ireland is the original home of distillation, not Scotland, which is interesting as John Jameson was a Scott. Regardless, at the conclusion of the video, the guide chooses four men and four women to partake of a tutored whisk(e)y tasting. I was not picked, though I did partake of all of the offered whisk(e)ys.
The cat is the actual cat, which was stuffed when it died. The workers are not the actual workers. They are manikins. In each room there is a video about the contents of the room narrated by the tour guide. You then proceed through the whiskey making process where you see the malting of the grain, and the drying, which, unlike in Scotch whisky used a closed furnace.
Next up is the waterwheel which provides the water for the mash as well as powering the mash tun’s mixers. You then see a scaled down mash tun. Next you see the distillation. You see all three copper pot stills, but they are scaled down. As I recall the scale is one twentieth, but I could be wrong. They tell you about all three stills, the wash still, feint still, and spirit still. The guide stresses how the triple distillation produces higher purity.
She didn’t mention that most vodka is similarly triple distilled. I regret to suggest that the guide was not particularly well informed beyond the basic tour. When I asked her about the process in more detail, she could not answer my question.
The last part of the tour proper was, I felt, the most interesting. It concerned the aging process.
They mentioned how they got their barrels from a variety of sources and how the source of the barrels impacted the taste. They also had five barrels with Plexiglas lids at various points in the aging process so you could see how both the color changed, and how the angels’ share increased. They had one, three, five, ten, and eighteen years of age.
The colors ranged from a pale flax after one year to a dark gold after eighteen years. Meanwhile, you could also see how the color, and, presumably, flavours had been leached from the wood. I wish I could have gotten a picture of all five barrels, but I was a tad slow on the camera action.
Finally we moved to the tasting. You could enjoy your Jameson neat, with water or a cube of ice. Alternately you could enjoy a James and ginger, James and Cran, or James and Coke. The tutored tasting involved first tasting Jameson, Powers, and Paddy. You then chose your favorite Irish whiskey and compared with an American whiskey, Jack Daniels, and a Scotch whisky, which I don’t remember.
As I recall, however, it was a five year old vatted whisky. Ironically, none of our group chose Jameson as their favorite overall whisk(e)y, and I think only one or two people chose an Irish whiskey at all. After enjoying quite enough whiskey, as well as a little bit of Jack and some Scotch, we proceeded downstairs to the main area and the tour was over. There was also a restaurant there as well, with sit-down service.
The Scribe is currently in school in America. He writes about his adventures in the world of booze and his travels on his blog, A Mixed Dram.