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‘Triple distilled, twice as smooth, one great taste’: The history and tasting notes for Jameson Irish Whiskey

By David Marsland, Drinks Enthusiast

Jameson is one of those brands that you see everywhere – most pubs, bars and restaurants stock the brand and it’s the first name to be mentioned when talking about Irish whiskey.

I’ve recently been lucky enough to learn about the Jameson experience at one of Manchester’s well-known whisky bars – Trof.

UK Brand Ambassador Stephen Carberry named Ireland as the originator of whiskey with their belief that the monks in Ireland were distilling it as a healing remedy to combat illnesses.

It’s then believed that this practice was taken over to Scotland. 

Irish whiskey covered 80% of the world export market back until the 1900s when an unfortunate turn of events occurred.

The institution of the Irish Free State in the early 20th century caused a fatal trade war with Great Britain, closing down the Irish Distillers’ main market, and then the US Prohibition declaration in 1920 served as a final nail in the coffin.

With no way to export their local trade the majority of the Irish distilleries closed or merged together, leaving only three distilleries running compared to the huge number of Scottish venues.

The new Midleton Distillery houses Jameson, an iconic brand that was established in 1780 and fought its way through Irish hardship and bad luck.

Created by Scotsman John Jameson it uses the family motto ‘Sine Metu’ meaning ‘Without Fear’ (awarded for their bravery in battling pirates on the high seas back in the 1500s), he moved to Dublin in 1879.

To make his mark on the whiskey world he set up his Bow Street distillery and created what he thought was the smoothest whiskey around.

This was due to his use of a triple-distilled method instead of the usual double-distilled adopted by the Scots, as well as using a traditional copper pot still.

The introduction of column stills by the Scottish blenders in the mid-19th century enabled increased production that the Irish, who still using the copper pot stills, could not compete with.

There was a legal enquiry in 1908 to deal with the trade definition of whiskey, which the Scottish producers won and blends became recognised in law as whiskey.

The Irish in general, and Jameson in particular, continued with the traditional pot still production process for many years and to this day much of Jameson remains pure pot.

The production has now moved to the Midleton distillery and as of 1988 is owned by Pernod Ricard.

The Bow Street site is currently a museum and visitors centre.

Jameson is made following the original 1780 recipe that uses a mixture of malted and unmalted or “green” Irish barley, all sourced from within a 50-mile radius around the Cork distillery.

The barley is dried in a closed kiln fired by natural gas to preserve its flavour, it is then distilled three times in copper pot stills and matured in ex bourbon and sherry casks for at least seven years.

This brings me nicely onto some of the Jameson portfolio.

Jameson – 40%

Matured for at least seven years. Soft hints of vanilla on the nose with a light, smooth aroma boding well for the long offering on the palate.

Smoother offering of grain and honey with a slight dryness near the end.

Jameson Select Reserve – 43%

Produced using a small batch of grain collected once a week per year from a field that is never touched thereafter.

Around 10 years matured. There’s a slightly sharp nose at the beginning that softens out with a wisp of smoke.

Sweet offering on the palate with very smooth texture of toffee and lingering smoke.

Jameson Gold Reserve – 40%

Matured in original fresh oak barrels, then ex-bourbon barrels and finished in ex-sherry casks.

Rich malt on the nose with almond aromas dancing nicely.

Very smooth when it hits the palate with flavours of honey and oak mixing well – a long finish of malt.

Jameson 18yr – 40%

Bold with lots of flavours of honey, cherry, caramel and dark fruits mixing well on the nose.

They carry onto the palate and change slowly as you breathe in.

A lengthy finish which is incredibly smooth.

Yellow Spot 12yr – 46%

Very smooth on the nose with a rich malt aroma dominating, but notes of sweetness following.

The palate experiences a slight spice that tingles warmly.

Honey, chocolate and red fruit blend over the longevity.

The session provided me with a great chance to try the range that Jameson offers and to see why it has lasted all these years – it’s always a pleasure to experience the Yellow Spot too!

It also included a blind tasting of Jameson, Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker Black which gave a unique insight into how Jameson differs to the two main competitor markets and the traditional style that they still work hard on.

Although Jameson is seen everywhere, give it a go on its own.

On the rare occasion a brand is well-featured for a reason – Jameson is certainly one of them.

You can find an extensive range of reviews at the Drinks Enthusiast blog.

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Photo courtesy of Trof, with thanks.

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