An education: visiting the Irish Whiskey School with Jameson (so far)

Jameson Distillery Midleton

I’m just back from Ireland, where I have been with the fine folks from Irish Distillers (Midleton, Jameson, Green Spot, Yellow Spot, Redbreast and more) at their hugely impressive distilling complex in Midleton. This site has nearly 200 years history, with it originally being an old mill (handy for water and barley) in the late 1700′s before being converted into the beginning of a distillery, in 1825.

Changes

After many years, and many changes in the way the business was run (for example originally in the mid 1800′s, they would have produced a huge amount of whiskey and beer in the area, but all brewing and distilling would coincide with the September harvest, quite a contrast from the 24 hour, 7 day a week distilling operation that is run today)  many changes in what is made (this site would have mainly produced Single Pot Still Whiskey, Grain Whiskey only really came in in the 70′s) and huge changes in production facilities (from the uniting and last stand of the Irish Whiskey families, coinciding in the huge Jameson complex being built in the 1970′s, to the last couple of years, where they have put in a whole new Pot Still Complex and a whole new Grain Distillery).

So after a quick dash through history, on to why I was there. I was there to attend the Irish Whiskey academy, which Irish Distillers run multiple times a year for bartenders, trade folks, general public and bloggers like myself (although as well as being a blogger, I probably in some ways fall into, or have fallen into all of those categories at one point or another).

Confidence

I’m going to go over the training course in detail next week. But for now, what have I gleaned from this trip? The general feeling, which I have spoken before when writing about Irish Distillers, is confidence. Confidence in their spirit, confidence in their casks, confidence in their abilities, confidence in their people, confidence in the category. This confidence comes with openness (we asked a lot of questions over the few days, and I reckon pretty much everyone of them was answered by the excellent course chap Dave).

And why shouldn’t they be confident? The Irish Whiskey category is booming, their whiskey is excellent, and as a company that faced tough times in the 60′s and 70′s, they are not arrogant, or overconfident. They still have the memories of the problems in the past, which stop any complacency.

Gossip and stuff I got up to

Now, on to the juicy stuff. On this trip, I have been keeping my eyes and ears open (when are your ears closed?) for any new releases. So here’s the gossip:

  • Alongside Ex Bourbon Casks, Port Casks, Sherry Butts and Malaga Wine Casks, they have some Virgin Oak casks maturing (I tasted SPS Virgin Oak 6 year Old; stunning), Bordeaux Casks maturing, and Sicilian Wine casks maturing.
  • They also have a number of whisky aged in beer projects on the go (they aged the beer in their cask, followed by using the cask to finish one of their whiskies). Franciscan Well Beer being one, Beavertown in London being another.
  • They have experimented with Rum casks, barley distilled through continuous still (without other grain) and many other experiments.
These are just a few things I have got from this trip, which tells you that there will be all sorts of other experiments taking place under the surface. Since they have got the new distillery, this has given them the time, the investment and liquid to do these kind of things. As Brian, their new master blender said to me, they have to keep experimenting and keep trying new things, as well as maintaining the quality of their standard expressions, to avoid standing still.
I’ll leave it here for now. Next up, I do a bit of beer and whiskey matching with Jameson’s newest beer partnership. Then next week, more about the academy.
Chris Hoban

 

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