My grandfather drank Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. He is buried with a bottle of it. Shush, maybe I wasn’t supposed to tell you that. At his wake, my cousin and I, both in our early twenties, were confined to the scullery and charged with making sandwiches and endless pots of tea. There was only room for the pair of us in the tiny kitchen so we had to work hard to keep the mourners fed and watered but we found strength and comfort in the bottle of Jameson that my uncle slipped to us. We laughed a lot and maybe cried a bit but, overall, it is one of my warmest memories. I think that’s how a good wake should go.
We live twenty minutes from the Jameson Distillery where ALL the Jameson is made but we had never done the distillery tour. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Are we mad? Last weekend, in celebration of Husband’s birthday, we set out to remedy this appalling situation.
I warn you, whether it’s down to the fumes in the air or my growing sense of anticipation about the whiskey-tasting finale, the photos get blurrier as we go along.
Neither a spaceship, as the Small Girl thought, nor a gigantic Christmas bauble, as Teenage Son suggested, this is the top of a copper pot-still. Every garden should have one.
The tour is held in the old distillery building where Jameson was made until 1975 when a new facility was built in the next field.
Have you the slightest interest in the technicalities? The tour guide was a fascinating man who made the whole process of whiskey-making seem wildly exciting. Again, that might have been the fumes getting to me.
Did you know that American Bourbon is made with corn (maize) making it sweeter than Irish whiskey which is made with barley? I didn’t. The barley is soaked and laid out on the malting room floors where it is encouraged to germinate. After a couple of days, germination is stopped by lighting huge fires at the bottom of the malting house. Irish whiskey makers traditionally burned anthracite in closed furnaces. Scotch whiskey makers, by contrast, burned peat in open pits so that the smoke imparted a peaty, smoky flavour to the finished drink.
These are the fabulous shoes worn by the workers who had to walk around the scorching hot malting rooms:
And here, my friends, is the biggest pot-still in the world:
For scale, notice the man’s head on the left.
The big still has been retired but here, just two weeks old, is a wee baby micro-distillery. This is where the master distiller plans to test new recipes. Jameson is triple-distilled, meaning the original yeasty ‘beer’ goes through each of these stills, each time becoming purer and more alcoholic.
Onwards to the cooperage. The regulations on Bourbon production stipulate that it be aged in virgin oak casks for a minimum of one year. That leaves bourbon producers with a whole stack of used casks.Irish whiskey must, by law, be aged for a minimum of three years. Second-hand casks are not just a bonus, but a requirement. Jameson purchase 260,000 empty bourbon casks every year and re-fill them with whiskey. This imparts Jameson with a touch of the sweetness of bourbon.They also use casks which have previously been used to age Oloroso sherry and Bordeaux wine which bring distinctive fruity notes. The resulting whiskeys are blended to make the various Jameson varieties like Green Spot and Redbreast.
No photographs are allowed in the magnificent cathedral of aging casks because the air is loaded with sufficient alcohol fumes to make explosion a real risk. The volume lost is known as The Angel’s Share and the fuzziness of this next photo is testament to its potency. Woah, man, that was good.
Jameson estimate that the first 70 barrels filled every morning just replenish what was lost to the angels the previous day. Lucky angels.
Here is a sneaky peek, through glass, into the room of privately owned casks. These are valued at somewhere in the region of 75,000 euros each.
Shall we retire to the bar? How’s this for a welcome?
Want a closer look?
Here we have whiskey by Johnny Walker, John Jameson and Jack Daniels. Woops, Are those empty? What a negligent blogger am I?
The scotch was noticeably peaty and the bourbon was noticeably sweeter. The Jameson was the best. They paid me to say that. In whiskey. (no they didn’t…)
There are plenty more to taste another day… any volunteers?
We wandered around, slightly tipsy, just admiring the place. This was the Master Distiller’s cottage. Completely perfect.
This is the Irish Distiller’s Academy. Downstairs holds teaching laboratories with table-top distillation columns and the like. Upstairs, we were told (not shown) is more like an exclusive club with a private bar and dining-room.
The building in the background houses the huge distillation columns of the new distillery.
Fancy a drink? You can pour your own personalised bottle of cask strength (60.2 %!) distiller’s reserve for 100 euros.
If you like it, you could buy enough bottles to make this chandelier.
Or, if you have a care for your liver, you could buy just one bottle of 40-something-year-old whiskey for 4000 euros. This would have been made in the old distillery in that record-breaking copper still.
Heck, go mad, buy a truck load.
We didn’t go that mad. We came home with just one bottle of 12-year-old Redbreast.
You can kind of tell we are not quite sober in this photo:
I admit, I was fairly sozzled. But happy. And happy to have someone to lean against.
Happy Birthday, my love. Can we have the same again next year?