Irish whiskey has been around for centuries, with fans including Queen Elizabeth I and Peter the Great. When John Jameson came over to Ireland from Scotland in the late 1700s, Dublin was the centre of the whiskey world.
Their sparkling rep came from using pot stills for distilling, and not using peat to stoke malting fires like the Scots (leading to a less smokey and smoother flavor). Jameson was the first to try distilling whiskey three times, now a signature feature of Irish whiskey.
The first still stands on the north side of Dublin City. It’s more of a museum nowadays, but it still celebrates the golden liquid on the site with lessons on the distilling process and tastings to take the edge of the ‘learning’ part. We sent Brit McGinnis to hear the story.
The Jameson Distillery tour
Now, it’s not every day you tour a distillery. It’s not every day you fill your head (and your mouth, but I’ll get to that) with whiskey’s back-story, bang in the middle of Dublin City’s cobbled core. I’ve done my time on the other side of the bar in the past, so I reckoned I was already pretty well-versed about Jameson’s popularity. As it turned out, I had a lot more to learn.
In addition to being Latin for ‘Without Fear’, Sine Metu is the motto of the Jameson family. Should you have been pottering around Dublin City circa 1770, you would have heard of John Jameson. At the time, Dublin was to whiskey what the Champagne region is to, er, well, champagne. Dublin was where whiskey got tasty, and it says a lot about the man and his tipple that we’re still sipping his stuff in a wee dram or piping hot Irish Coffee today.
This liquid luminary distinguished himself from the other distillers by developing a ‘triple distillation method’, revolutionary for the time. Jameson was famous for his intense attention to detail and being finicky about ingredients – even down to the barley seeds he sent his farmers. He once threw a salesman out of his house because he tried to sell him a tonic that would artificially age his whiskey. Safe to say, this was a guy who didn’t believe in shortcuts.
Of course, when Jameson gets to us it’s either in a shiny green bottle (bigger the better, thank you!) or a glass, but what really hits you while walking around the old distillery, is a sense of how much care went into making Jameson back in the day (and still does now). Threshing (quite literally separating the grain from the chaff), mashing (where the malt is ground into coarse flour and mixed with hot water), fermentation (add yeast and wait)… we’re talking a lot of work! The tour showed how the factories were specially heated to make the barley produce sugars, replicas of behemoth water wheels that helped turn the machinery, and the enormous washbaths cleaned by workers who arrived late to work that day. No snooze button for the Jameson employees, anyway.
Even though I knew that the tour ended in a tipple or a short I was genuinely so caught up by all that went before that it slipped my mind. So when we were told it time to sample the merchandise, it was a rather nice surprise. And it wasn’t just one – at the classy but funkified Jameson Discovery Bar, out came one of four different Jameson cocktails (I recommend ‘Big Ginger’ for both taste and name). The real aficionados threw themselves into the whiskey tasting, cleansing their palates with water after each sip giving me the sneaking suspicion that they’d done this before… hmmm.
When you think of Ireland, lots of images come to mind – but they’re joined by various tastes, too. Creamy butter on whopping thick slices of soda bread, salty oysters slipping down your throat and meaty mussels bathed in white wine. Possibly the most cherished (for us over 18!!!) is a wash of oaky nectar bringing our tongue and tastebuds to life. Jameson Whiskey is one of the many fabulous tastes of Ireland. And after seeing all the hard work, heart, love and precision that went into invent this little tipple… I don’t think l’ll ever mix up a Big Ginger in quite the same way again.
Whiskey isn’t not the only liquid history you can taste. Follow our blogger on the Guinness Storehouse tour, in St James’ Gate Brewery in Dublin.