Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The "Spirit" of Jameson - 3 Days in Midleton & Dublin

Jameson Welcome Pack
Back in 1780, when the original Old Jameson Distillery was founded by John Jameson on Bow Street, Dublin, men and women, working in the distillery, enjoyed the best wages, and working conditions, within Dublin, and on top of this they also enjoyed company with John Jameson himself.

John Jameson believed that sharing his profits, time and spirit with each worker made them loyal and, in turn, made a better whiskey.   

Further to this, if you look closely at a bottle of Jameson you will notice that each bottle has two-barrel men balancing the label as a tribute to the men and women who produce the whiskey. 

A family spirit continued in a truer fashion throughout the 1800's as John Jameson II and, his son, John Jameson III transformed the Jameson Irish Whiskey brand into one of the largest in the world. 

It is this sense of family / community spirit that I want to touch upon throughout this piece. 

I was somewhat taken aback when I received an email back in January inviting me to be part of a Jameson media trip over the St Patrick's Day weekend but without second thought I naturally jumped at the chance and on 14th March I made my way to Belfast City airport for the slightly unnatural journey to Cork via London. 

Upon arrival into Cork we were greeted by the welcome party and promptly transferred to our accommodation for the next two nights - The Castlemartyr Resort.

Consisting of a 17th century manor house, sitting adjacent to the ruins of a 800 year old castle, and surrounded by immaculate gardens and walkways, Castlemartyr is truly decadent.  Walking around the original buildings gives you a sense that you are an extra on the set of Downton Abbey and the whole style of the resort felt far more in keeping with the era in which Jameson was born way back in 1780. 

The mood was tranquil and idyllic and allowed myself, and no doubt the 50 or so others who had been assembled for this trip, time to contemplate what this trip was all about and what Jameson were trying to capture by bringing us all together.  Maybe they were trying to re-create another type of family to spread the word of the "spirit" of Jameson.

As we moved into the first evening whiskey flowed and discussion was everywhere.  The mix of accents, that accompanied the almost never-ending sound of new introductions, created a wonderful soundtrack to what was quickly becoming a enjoyably relaxing atmosphere.

The night wore on into the small hours and as it did I found myself in great conversation with fellow whiskey writers Jake Mountain, of Master of Malt and Tiger and Turbo, from the Edinburgh whisky blog.  We were also accompanied by Midleton's master blender Billy Leighton.

We discussed all things Irish, in terms of whiskey, and sipped some fine examples that are coming out of the Midleton distillery at the moment.  I ended on the Paddy Centenary 7yo Single Pot Still, which I wasn't fussed on when I first sampled it last year but found it to be a lot more agreeable this time around.

We talked about the future of Irish whiskey and the importance for all new distilleries to ensure a quality is maintained to back up the fine reputation Irish whiskey has been gaining in recent times. 

There was also discussion on how Jameson / Midleton are more than happy to lend a helping hand, where they can, to get new distilleries up and running.  Not in a sense of "we're the big boys in this game and you'll listen to us" but more of a "we're all in this together, for the long haul, so let's make sure we do things right".

As I retired for the evening I was on a definite buzz and seriously looking forward to the morning where we'd be whisked away to Midleton for a full day around the distillery.

The trip to Midleton was a whirlwind of a tour.  Unfortunately hampered by the clock the Jameson team did their upmost to get us all round in time.

We began with a quick background to the Irish whiskey making process and a quick look around some of the original buildings that are now nothing more than a museum and a snapshot into a world long gone.  This was then followed with a quick introduction to the Irish Whiskey academy which was ably delivered by David McCabe.

First opened in 2013 the Irish Whiskey Academy is a state of the art training facility that hosts courses that focus on the production and heritage of Irish whiskey produced at Midleton.

From what little I observed it is clear that the delivery is professional and informative with fantastic use of the learning space to maximise interaction.  To take part in the academy properly you may have to fork out a pretty penny but if you have the money, and the interest, then I would sincerely recommend considering this package to further your whiskey knowledge.

Looking back through my notes from the weekend I have noted at this point that everyone at the distillery appears to know each other on first name terms.  For a distillery of such size to retain this community feeling is fantastic and, in my opinion, echoes the original style of John Jameson to make everyone feel a part of the process and, in turn, produce a better quality product. 

Onwards and into the brand new "Garden Stillhouse" where we were greeted by master distiller Brian Nation.  As with all the major figures, Brian Nation spoke with a great sense of pride and honesty about his feelings towards Midleton and the whiskey it produces.  At no time did you ever feel that those involved were simply "going through the motions" to talk to us. 

I've no doubt that they speak to hundreds upon hundreds of people every year, probably about the exact same topics, but each and every one of them speaks with a passion that clearly burns deep inside.

We moved quickly onto one of the 45 warehouses, that are based on site at Midleton, and wound up at warehouse 39B to be precise.  Here we were introduced to master of maturation Kevin O'Gorman and this is where we began to get a few more facts and figures.

During 2015 Midleton expect to receive around 150,000 casks from America alone.  On top of this Kevin put to bed the rumour of oak shortage by saying that this was simply not true.  He acknowledged that there were issues with loggers and poor weather but that these have been resolved.

Further insight was given into the type of casks used at Midleton: Madeira, Marsala, Irish oak, Port, Bourbon and Sherry and, with regards barrel management, we were also informed that Midleton do not rotate casks in their warehouses and would use a bourbon barrel 3 times before forwarding it on to the rum industry.

Then, from a whiskey drinking point of view, came the highlight of the trip...tasting straight from the cask(s).

First up was a 24yo pot still which was distilled in 1991 and had been resting in a second fill bourbon cask until 2005 before being moved into a first fill cask.  While we didn't have time to sit down and truly get into the whiskey I can say that this was extravagant in ways I've rarely tasted before.  Naturally huge on pot still spice but smooth, thick and oily.  Delicious stuff.

Second was a 17yo pot still, distilled in 1998 and matured wholly in a first fill Oloroso cask.  This was, quite simply, like nothing I've ever tried before.  To call this a "sherry bomb" would be an understatement as we went clean past dark fruit and straight into dark deep meaty notes.  Unbelievable!!!  Can I have a bottle please??

Jameson Family Tasting
Floating on the crest of a whiskey dream we stopped for a quick bite of lunch before moving onto our second tasting of whiskey for the day.  This time it was a Jameson Family Tasting with Billy Leighton.  On show we had the Original, Black Barrel and Gold Reserve.  All excellent in their own right when you take into consideration the area of the whiskey market they're aimed at.

As BIlly Leighton spoke he echoed terms I've heard before in the importance of forecasting and managing stock to ensure quality is maintained for years to come.  We also got a little insider knowledge with conformation that Jameson original contains, amongst other styles, some 8yo sherry matured pot still whiskey.

Last stop on the tour was the cooperage and a display from someone who I consider to be a living legend in the whiskey world.

Ger Buckley is a 5th generation master cooper and still uses instruments and tools that were passed down to him through the ages.  When you watch his brief display you can't help but marvel at the true skill he possesses.  His work is an art form and one which is not learned quickly.  Even though the work is tough and contained within, arguably, the coldest building at the distillery, you can tell that Ger is completely at one with the work he carries out. 

Cooperage Display with Ger Buckley

Again, you get snippets of information that Ger is only too happy to pass on what knowledge he can to any other distilleries wishing to train a cooper to keep an eye on their precious casks and again it come across as an Irish Whiskey community looking out for each other rather than an unwanted task bestowed upon him from above.  

With people such as Brian, Billy, Ger and Kevin at the helm of Ireland's largest distillery surely nothing can go wrong.  I certainly do not think so and if the Irish whiskey community can come together, and fight towards a common purpose to get Irish whiskey back to where it belongs, then Irish whiskey has a long and very bright future ahead of it. 

On that positive note we moved back to our hotel to prepare for our final night in Midleton and for our last Midleton meal we were taken to a local restaurant Sage.

Sage restaurant is unique in their 12mile ethos.  As obvious as it sounds they pride themselves in sourcing the vast majority of their produce within 12 miles of the restaurant.  It is this sort of provenance and terroir that resonates hugely within the whiskey industry and maybe the very reason this restaurant was selected by Jameson??

After a fine traditional Irish music session in a local pub we returned to the hotel bar and again spoke at length with Billy Leighton and also Ger Buckley.

It was while speaking with Ger that he talked briefly about the original IDL alliance with Bushmills and the friendships that were built over time and even agreed to the notion of being part of a Irish whiskey family.

As this second evening came to a close I wondered how the Dublin side of the trip would contrast with what we had experienced over the past two days.  One thing was for sure...I was ready to find out.

As we travelled the somewhat tedious, but necessary, journey from Midleton to Dublin I further contemplated the aforementioned contrast.  Undoubtedly we were heading back to "where it all began" for Jameson but a modern day Dublin is a far cry from a 1780 Dublin.

As we moved closer to the traditional, spiritual home, of Jameson there was an obvious upward change in pace.  The tranquil surroundings of Midleton were long gone and we were now deep into the heart of one of the most vibrant cities in Europe.

How times have changed, if you had no knowledge of Irish whiskey, and no knowledge of the Old Jameson Distillery tourist centre, you'd be certain that Midleton was the traditional, spiritual, home of Jameson and we had been moved up to Dublin for the sole purpose of the St Patrick's Day party.

We were further thrust into modern day Dublin with a fantastic walking tour hosted by Le Cool Dublin.  Le Cool Dublin's focus is on the modern day, lesser known, workings of this wonderful city and just before the tour, where they took us around the back streets to take in street art, pop up shops and even a secret supper club, we were treated to a short acoustic session from local musician Richie Egan and a short talk from artist Steve Simpson, the award winning illustrator behind the St Patrick's Day limited edition Jameson bottle design.

Now into it's 5th year the 2015 Jameson St Patrick's Day bottle set out to capture the soul and warmth of the city that first welcomed John Jameson in 1780. 

Encapsulating a heart, the label artwork is a mix of landmarks, local slang and a map of roads to represent the lifeblood of the city: the people and their passion for Dublin.  
The bottle pays tribute to the special relationship between Jameson and Dublin with Jameson stating that "Ireland’s capital is our spiritual home; something Steve has captured perfectly by including the phrase: "Wherever I roam, it's Dublin my heart calls home""

To end the tour we arrived at a seemingly closed butcher's shop.  Set on a busy Dublin street the butcher's shop appeared desolate and uninviting.  Completely missing the reference to John Jameson & Sons, on the frosted front door, we entered the empty store and wondered what exactly was going on.  All was then revealed by one of the "butchers". 

The building we were in was, in fact, one of Jameson's private venues for hosting clients and as the "butcher" opened the freezer door we were invited inside to discover a rickety wooden staircase leading down to a perfect recreation of a speakeasy.

This was marketing done to the nth degree and no stone was left unturned with regards to detail.

In the cosy confines of the speakeasy we were introduced to Jameson's consultant mixologist Oisin Davis.  He was here to take us through some classic Irish cocktails and the two we were served up were completely delicious.

Oisin Davis taking us through a classic cocktail

One was a complete Irish cocktail made up of Jameson whiskey, wild elderflower cordial, rhubarb sherbet and dry Irish cider.  The second was named "The Tipperary" and consisted of equal measures of Jameson, Chartreuse and Vermouth which were served with a garnish of rosemary and a green olive.  Who knew Irish cocktails could be so good?

As the tour came to an end all that was left was the live concert being held that evening.  This was a chance to slightly let the hair down, and have a good time, but it was still clear that there was a focus on the local with the line up being the very finest of up and coming Irish bands.

St Patrick's Day Live Event

The experience of Dublin was a far cry from Midleton but what was clear is that while Jameson are aware of who they are, where they come from and the traditions and values they hold dear, they are also fully aware of the need to embrace the future.

By endorsing great local music, new exciting art, modern day mixology and the living culture of modern day Dublin they are reaching out to a consumer that used to think of whiskey as old men, sitting by a fire, smoking on a pipe and expecting their wives to have their dinner ready for them.

Now while the sexism is hopefully no longer present I've no doubt that there is still a strong amount of consumers that will see their whiskey as having to be traditional and unwavering in the face of modern day demands.

The skill that Jameson, and other companies, have to find is how to blend the modern with the traditional. 

Some companies have struggled recently and this has been noted in failed advertising campaigns, and failed marketing strategies, but having spent 3 days with Jameson I'm openly confident in that Jameson can make the transition and bring a new whiskey drinker to the party without alienating the fans they've already amassed.

Who knows exactly what the future may hold for Irish whiskey but with Jameson leading the way I'm happy with where it's going.

A huge thanks must be given to the following:

Everyone at Jameson / Midleton including the PR teams and staff for organising everything to perfection, including food, accommodation, tours and transfers
Chris, Jason, Jake, Lucy and Louise for the awesome craic and lastly to James for looking after us all so well throughout the weekend.

I would also like to highlight that the trip was paid for in full by Jameson.

Until next time,




  1. Great write up. Did the academy in Midleton (a five-minute walk from where I live!) late last year and absolutely loved it - esp. the warehouse tasting, whiskey straight from the barrel, as God intended!
    This is my write up - http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/travel/bigread/lift-a-glass-to-the-joy-and-history-of-whiskey-303548.html - and keep up the great work on the blog!

  2. Thanks so much for the comments Bill, means a lot coming from a professional like yourself. That's an awesome article of yours, sounds like you had the same amount of fun as I did only in more detail. Did you ever get round to opening your own blend? That was a tour stop we were meant to experience, according to our schedules, but ultimately did not, probably due to time constraints. Hopefully will be back down soon though to give it a go.

    1. Bottle is still unopened, not sure what occasion would deserve it. Will probably end up knocking it off a shelf and smashing it like an idiot if I leave it much longer. The blend bit was good fun, the guys I was working with were all total pros, Chris from Edinburgh Whisky Blog, Joe from Whisky Lounge and The Drinks Enthusiast chap, so I let them at it. Getting to do the academy was amazing though, had wanted to since I first heard about it - but no way could I afford it.
      As for my status as a professional, I'm not sure about that! But you should definitely submit some work to the papers - you have the skills and you know your stuff, and with whiskey getting more and more popular there will be more clued-in coverage needed. Worth a shot anyway!

    2. A couple of the Edinburgh lads were over for that trip of mine, great craic out of them.
      Cheers again for the comments regarding submitting work to papers, any recommendations on which papers would be good to try?

    3. I know The Times (UK one) were looking for freelancers recently - they would be a good place to start, then maybe Belfast Telegraph, the Independent News and Media group in general; just email some samples of your work to the features editors of a few titles - worth a shot. It gets you great access and could be a handy sideline. Papers are always looking for fresh voices.

    4. Thanks again for the tips, much appreciated, will definitely give it a go later in the year,