Scotland may have been the birthplace of whiskey, but Ireland just a short boat ride away thinks they may have done it better. Leading the charge is Jameson, the most popular Irish whiskey in the world.
The Bow Street Distillery in Dublin, Ireland was established in 1780 by the Stein family. They started producing their version of a distilled whiskey and were cranking out about 30,000 gallons a year when Scottish businessman John Jameson came around and became the manager of the business in 1786. Within fifteen years the distillery would be the second largest producer of distilled spirits in Ireland cranking out one million barrels per year.
A few years later in 1805 John Jameson bought out the Stein family and became the sole proprietor of the distillery, starting an ambitious expansion of the facility that would eventually extend to a full five acres of land by 1886 and included all the necessary facilities to produce whiskey including an on-site barrel manufacturer.
Following some hard times with the American prohibition and a couple world wars reducing the demand for their product Jameson merged with their long time rivals to create the Irish Distiller’s Group conglomerate in an attempt to reduce production costs by combining their efforts. Jameson closed their original distillery in 1976 and moved to a combined facility in Middleton. French company Pernod Ricard later purchased the Irish Distiller’s Group in 1988 who own it to this day and continue to produce Jameson Irish whiskey at the Middleton distillery.
The original Bow Street distillery was renovated in 2016 and now serves as a tourist attraction designed to increase interest in Irish whiskey tastings.
The Jameson Irish Whiskey starts with a blend of malted and un-malted Irish barley that is sourced from within fifty miles of the distillery. The grains are dried using natural gas kilns (unlike the peat fired kilns used in Scotland), fermented, and then distilled three times in batches within their small pot stills.
From there the spirit is combined with some generic mass produced neutral grain spirits (hence the “blended whiskey” title) that may or may not be produced by the same company. The combination is then added to American produced oak barrels (no longer their own locally manufactured variety) and aged for a minimum of three years as per Irish law.
Jameson sends their Irish whiskey out in rather standard shaped glass bottles, with the minor change of being green tinted instead of clear or brown (perhaps a nod to the Emerald Isle). The bottle is wrapped in a yellowed label that bears the name and arms of Jameson, and capped with a red metal screw top.
I appreciate that there isn’t a plastic screw top, but it might as well have been. The bottle is about on the same level as Jack Daniel’s in terms of quality and construction.
When you’re tasting a scotch whiskey there’s almost always a bitter smokey peat flavor that accompanies the liquid. While some of the same flavors seem to be present here that peat flavor is noticeably missing, a good differentiation for the two cultures separated by a narrow sea and the result of using natural gas kilns instead of peat in the production process. In the case of this whiskey what I’m getting is a sweetness like that from honey or fruit added in with a bit of citrus.
The liquid feels a bit on the lighter side as one would expect from a 40% ABV spirit. The flavor that comes through the most is vanilla, which seems tempered with some citrus and a bit of caramel.
What I appreciate is that thanks to the filtration process there’s no bitterness or bite to the spirit, just a smooth flavor that finishes cleanly.
Just like with some of the other more mild spirits the worst thing you can do is add some ice. All you’re doing is eliminating the flavors you want to taste and diluting the remainder.
In this case there’s really nothing left. I get a hint of vanilla but there’s no depth. It’s pretty much like tasting straight alcohol. I could have made this same drink by pouring a glass of vodka and waving an oak stick somewhere in the drink’s vicinity.
This is an okay whiskey. There’s really nothing here to write home about — it delivers an acceptable flavor profile when neat and is a good alcohol source when mixed or with ice.
But that’s the problem. This is almost $10 more expensive than Jack Daniel’s with a less interesting flavor. I appreciate the novelty of an Irish whiskey but the added grain alcohol really removes a lot of that appeal for me.
Jameson Blended Irish Whiskey
Owner: Pernod Ricard
Production: Cork, Ireland
Classification: Blended Irish Whiskey
Grain bill: Malted Irish Barley, and other undisclosed grains
Aging: 3 years in oak barrels
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $25.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
It’s fine, but I’d rather drink something else.