I’ve never been much of a whisky drinker, although the occasional drop of single malt is always welcome on a cold day. And I’d always been told that the only type to drink was Scotch, so I was unreasonably prejudiced against the Irish variety. But all of that changed after a visit to the Old Jameson Distillery in the centre of Dublin.
A Warm Irish Welcome
Of course, the famous Irish hospitality helps. This was evident from the moment we walked across the yard into the old building. The building and the welcome may be old-fashioned, but the bar and the restaurant are decidedly trendy, and we were drawn in by the animated buzz of conversation.
From the time we checked in at the ticket desk to the end of the tour we were made to feel like welcome guests. I suspect that this has always been a part of the ethos of Jamesons, if the quirky video-story that started the tour is anything to go by. This showed the story of an American visitor to the Distillery in 1802, and ended by showing John Jameson’s passion for the product he had created, a passion that has been passed down through the generations.
The Distilling Process
Our guide talked us through the process of creating Jameson’s whiskey, from drying the grain to the final casking. Although production no longer takes place in Dublin, the building is still much as it would have been in John Jameson’s time. Even down to the cats – although they are models now, not the real thing! “Cats were very important to the distillery,” said our guide. “They kept the mice away.”
Irish whiskey is not smoky like Scotch, she told us as we passed through the various stages of production. One of Mr Jameson’s innovations was to dry the barley without using peat. Then she showed us the old millstone. “If you touch it three times you will have ten years of good luck.” Everyone duly patted it as they filed past.
But now we came to the real reason why Irish whiskey claims to be superior to any other type. It is distilled three times (as opposed to twice for Scotch and once for American brands). This, we were told, makes it much smoother than other whiskies.
Tasting the Whiskey at the Old Jameson Distillery
So now it was time to try for ourselves. At the beginning of the tour our guide had asked for volunteers for a tasting at the end. Of course my hand had shot up, and now I was seated with nine others with three small glasses in front of me. One Scotch, one American and one Jamesons, said the guide. We all took a sip of each and then she asked the million dollar question: which did we prefer?
“No pressure,” she said. “You can say what you really think!” We might not have been a statistically significant sample, and we might or might not have been influenced by the fact that we were in Jameson’s Distillery, but eight out of ten of us said they preferred the Jameson’s. In my case it was certainly true: I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth rich flavour.
As we had walked towards the bar we had watched a short videoclip on the different ways of enjoying Irish whiskey. Purists would say that nothing should be added beyond a bit of ice, but there are a surprising number of variations across the world. And I was very taken with the complimentary cocktail of Jameson’s with lime and ginger.
When I got home I stirred some of Mr Jameson’s whiskey into my Christmas mincemeat. I hope he would have approved!
I took the tour as a guest of The Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin. Tours take around an hour and are available every day.