Sometimes, it’s hard to believe I’m of Irish descent because, in addition to not being a fan of Guinness, I’m also not much of a whiskey drinker1. I did, however, develop a taste for Irish coffees while on my holidays.
Irish coffee, for the uninitiated, is coffee with Irish whiskey in it, and cream on top:
And really, how can you go wrong with coffee and cream on top?
By the time the last day of our tour of Ireland came around, I’d had my fair share of Irish coffees. Which was a good thing, because on that day we visited the Old Jameson Distillery and I somehow ended up being one of the whiskey tasters in our group!
Aunt Eileen sitting in front of a big whiskey still outside the distillery:
Chandelier made of Jameson bottles:
There are still some foundational stones from the original distillery, which dates back to 1780, and which you can see through this glass floor in the current building:
The don’t actually make the whiskey in Dublin anymore – it’s made at their distillery in Cork – but the Dublin site is set up as a tour with replicas of the different steps to making an Irish whiskey.
Jameson is made with a mix of malted and unmalted barley, which is grown in the local area around Cork. They cook it using natural gas fire (as opposed to Scotch whiskey which is cooked with peat fire, which gives Scotch its peaty (and in my opinion, horrible) flavour).
The mix it up with water and heat it up in this contraption, known as a “mash tun”:
And it gets distilled in, not surprisingly, a still:
Importantly, it gets distilled three times (as opposed to Scotch whiskey, which is twice distilled, and American whiskey, which is distilled once), making it very smooth, and also highly concentrated, so water has to be added to bring it back to an alcohol concentration that won’t kill you.
It’s then put into seasoned white oak barrels, where “seasoned” means that the barrel has previously been used to make other alcohols: port, sherry, or bourbon. By law in Ireland, whiskey must be aged for at least three years, but it is usually aged longer than that.
While the it ages, some of the sherry, port, or bourbon flavour from the barrel gets into the whiskey. Also while it ages, some of the whiskey evaporates – the whiskey lost due to evaporation is known as the “angels’ share.” The longer the whiskey ages, the bigger the angels’ share, which you can see in these barrels of whiskeys of different ages:
A 25 year whiskey will lose about 30% to the angels’ share, which is why a 25 year whiskey is so expensive – not only did they have to hang onto that barrel for 25 years2, but also there’s only 70% of the whiskey that you started with!
One the aging process is done, the whiskeys from the different types of barrels are mixed together (or “married”) and viola! – you have Jameson Irish Whiskey.
Now, while we were taking the tour, the tour guide informed us that he needed 8 volunteers to be whiskey tasters – 4 ladies and 4 gents. My Aunt Eileen was the first to volunteer and I told her that I’d take pictures of her while she did the tasting. To which the tour guide replied, “How are you going to take pictures when you are drinking whiskey?” And thus I was forced – forced, I say! – to be a whiskey taster.
The whiskey tasting involved comparing an American whiskey (Jack Daniels), a Scotch whiskey (Johnny Walker), and an Irish whiskey (Jameson, obviously).
Now, I have to say that despite whiskey not being my favourite beverage, I’m really glad I got a chance to do the tasting. There’s nothing quite like a side-by-side comparison to really appreciate the differences. The Johnny Walker was peaty for sure, and the Jameson really was smooth. And the JD – that stuff was harsh! We also got to have a glass of either straight whiskey or whiskey in ginger ale – I chose the latter and I have to say it was freaking delicious.
Here we are doing the tasting:
After completing our tasting, we each got a certificate of our qualification as whiskey tasters!
I’m going to frame mine and put it up next to my PhD:
Also, did I mention that all of this took place before 10 am? Hooray for Ireland!