Passport: Jameson Through Irish Eyes
The relationship between Jameson Irish Whiskey and its homeland of Ireland is a uniquely special one, historically rich and woven into the fabric of national pride. Established by John Jameson in 1780, Jameson is triple distilled, doubly smooth Irish Whiskey that does more than set a new standard of whiskey appreciation – it’s built considerably upon the pride of the nation of Ireland herself.
“Jameson’s presence in Ireland is equivalent to the baseball, NASCAR and apple pie ethos of America,” said Frankie Pezzella, Senior Brand Manager for Jameson. “It’s part of the fabric of the culture and a source of great pride for locals.”
As any semi-sane adventurous soul would, I leapt at the chance to cover the annual Jameson Global Broadcast on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland and take part in a week-long adventure in the land of clover. I’d be joining more than 40 DJs from around the globe and a fantastic team from Jameson as we embarked on the “Jameson Experience,” before bringing the world to Dublin over the radio waves on the most Irish day of the year.
The pace was relentless and exhilarating from the moment we touched down in Dublin. Following a windblown toast on a lovely hilltop high above Sally Gap just hours after landing, we toured the Eastern coastline, stopping for a random laugh with a tractor-driving local and photo-opps of hillside waterfalls. We passed houses owned by Enya and U2’s Bono, which our driver supplemented with stories about the artists’ connection to the area and a full, impromptu a capella rendition of “Running to Stand Still”. It wasn’t requested, and it wasn’t anywhere near on-key, but it fit the moment beautifully. The chill of the late-winter air stood little chance against the Jameson warmth in our bellies as old acquaintances caught up, new introductions were made and we clumsily sang old traditional Irish songs.
After a gorgeous two-hour train ride down through the Eastern countryside we arrived at Midleton in County Cork, where we embarked on a detailed and truly fascinating tour of the Jameson Single Distillery, following the fine art of whiskey-making step by step. We were walked through the grain store and shown the process of taking three simple ingredients – water, barley and yeast – and crafting them into the smooth, golden elixir that is Jameson’s signature spirit.
We were led through the malting, milling, and mashing processes and followed the path of fermentation, distillation, maturation and vatting. We then learned the time-tested tradition of cask-making firsthand from the master cooper, a man full of humble charisma who described his ritualistic craft with all the passion and conviction of one deserving to be among the only in the world of his kind.
The Jameson Reserves tasting with the Master Distiller that followed was an unexpectedly humbling, inspirational lesson in the intense difference the blending & aging process makes, as well as the flavor potential when approached under the care of a master. Unexpectedly, the taste of Jameson bursts open when mixed with the slightest amount water, suddenly with far more potent flavor and definition.
After exploring the honey-toasted sweetness of the Jameson Gold Reserve, the sherry wood-aged 12 year-old Special Reserve and more, we arrived at the pinnacle of taste and craftsmanship; the Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve.
This final offering possessed an incredibly rich collage of flavors, imparted from the time spent in the wooden casks and a meticulous blending process. It’s far too powerful and complex for the casual drinker, but a refined connoisseur will relish the fruited blend of older grain whiskeys brought together with rare pot still whiskeys, matured in hand-picked second fill-bourbon casks and carefully married with a rare pot still whiskey that had been aged to a fantastic mellow sweetness in specially commissioned port pipes.
To call the process intricate is an understatement; the ritual is as sacred as the whiskey itself, resulting in reliably consistent flavor and quality. A cheerful tour-concluding cask-opening in the Old Warehouse sent us back to Dublin with a warmth in the belly and the heart.
Waking each morning of the trip, grogginess and headaches were thankfully nonexistent; despite liberal consumption of various whiskeys in the Jameson family and their concoctions throughout the day, the triple-distilled purity of the world’s finest whiskey left clear heads and easy moods in the morning, ready for the day’s adventure.
As I made my way through the million-strong crowd of the most authentic, festive St. Patrick’s Day celebration on Earth, DJs from more than 30 radio stations around the world were taking over the Old Jameson Distillery for the annual Jameson Global Broadcast, bringing listeners from around the world to the Dublin action via the airwaves for a St. Patty’s celebration of the truest Irish way.
Each day concluded with a group dinner at one of the city’s many fine restaurants, recounting the day’s adventures, inevitably leading to drinks and socially-lubricated immersion into the local scene in downtown Dublin. Following a beautiful farewell dinner at Odessa, I gleefully lost myself in the various avenues and alleyways of the city, making cheerful acquaintance with everyone I encountered at various pubs.
After buying – and receiving – more than my share of pints from friendly strangers, I found myself standing at the gates to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a stunning monument steeped in history. It dawned on me then that I was a lost foreigner in a strange city almost literally overflowing with alcohol. Oddly, I felt like I was safe among friends as I walked through the windy night, singing along as I passed a busker singing a song I’d never heard, feeling the glow of positive energy as I passed each bar.
It could’ve been the alcohol, it could’ve been the city. Maybe both. But it was magical. If you ever get the chance to spend St. Patrick’s Day in the place where it all began, seize it.
Arriving at the airport for the long return flight home the next morning, we were met with several duty-free shop employees holding trays of little plastic shot glasses containing some odd-looking purple elixir. “Hair of the dog,” offered one particularly pulchritudinous female employee, holding out a cupful of free liquor with a smile. I passed on the mystery drink and made my way to the gate; after such an enlightening, inspiring experience with Jameson, it’s difficult to imagine settling for a lesser spirit ever again.