The last time I wrote about St Patrick’s Day was almost seven years ago, and having recently revisited that article, I realised that a lot has changed in the Irish beverage industry since 2012, most notably in the Irish whiskey category.
Back in 2012, I wrote: “Ireland currently has only three major distilleries producing its 30 brands or so of different whiskies – Bushmills, Cooley and Midleton (which produces one of the country’s best-selling brands, Jameson)”.
Today, Irish whiskey is one of the fastest growing spirit categories in the world. A 2018 article by online food website The Taste puts the number of Irish whiskey distilleries at 18 now, and “potentially 37”.
In Malaysia, the Irish whiskey market is still relatively small, with just a handful of brands like Jameson, Teeling, Bushmills and Tullamore Dew available here.
Still, the category is growing here, and Jameson, in particular, has been making decent progress into Malaysia of late.
Jameson has always been a brand that has intrigued me, ever since I paid a visit to its Bow Street visitor’s centre in Dublin a few years ago.
Jameson’s history began in 1780 when John Jameson and his son (also called John Jameson) took ownership of the Bow Street Distillery. It later became one of the biggest spirit producers in the world, and by 1805, was the world’s number one whiskey.
Unfortunately, historical events such as the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Prohibition in the United States (1920-1933) drastically affected the Irish whiskey industry, enabling Scotch to overtake it instead.
After decades of languishing in Scotch’s shadows, the Irish whiskey category is now entering another golden age, with Jameson its biggest and most recognisable brand. Nevertheless, it was only a couple of years ago that the brand began a more aggressive push into the Malaysian market, with increased activation and more events such as the recent Jameson Block Party in Kuala Lumpur.
However, most of the attention has been on its signature green bottled Jameson Irish Whiskey expression. Yes, it’s a decent session whiskey, but I was curious to see what else Jameson had to offer in terms of styles, so I reached out to Malaysian brand ambassador Ann Eng for a tasting of some of Jameson’s lesser known expressions. I was genuinely surprised at how many there were; we eventually had 11 different expressions of Jameson, some of which were limited or distillery editions. Here are some of my favourites:
Jameson Black Barrel
A small batch whiskey that contains a high proportion of Irish pot still whiskey as well as small batch grain whiskey, the name “Black Barrel” comes from the double charred first fill bourbon casks the whiskey is aged in.
The result is a creamier Jameson whiskey with loads of toffee and butterscotch, caramel on the nose, and creamy on the palate, coating your mouth with a succulent candy sweetness.
The Jameson Caskmates series combines both of my favourite things – whiskey and beer.
The result of a collaboration between Jameson’s Head of Whiskey Science and the Head Brewer of a local craft beer brewery – who swapped whiskey and beer barrels to mature their respective products in – the Jameson Caskmates is a series that involves Jameson whiskey matured in craft beer-seasoned barrels. The first one was the Stout Edition, released in 2013, while an IPA Edition was released soon after that.
The IPA had the signature Irish whiskey fruitiness, with mere hints of hoppy grassiness that could be from the influence of the IPA beer. The Stour Edition, however, was the standout – creamy and flavourful with lovely rounded fruity flavours, and also malty notes from the cask. We actually paired this with a Beavertown Geronimo Imperial Stout aged in Jameson barrels I brought along especially for the tasting, and it paired perfectly with the beer.
Part of the three expression Whiskey Makers Series celebrating Jameson’s head distiller, head cooper and head blender, Blender’s Dog doesn’t refer to head blender Billy Leighton’s pet canine, but rather the tool he uses to sample whiskey straight from the cask.
Surprisingly, I found this one to be a very atypical Jameson, with lots of tropical fruit notes on the nose and palate, including pineapple, mango, honey, which culminate in a fruity yet creamy finish.
A lovely dram I wouldn’t mind getting a bottle of, though unfortunately it’s not available in Malaysia right now.
Jameson Bow Street 18 Year Old
A special blend of rare pot still and grain Irish whiskeys produced at the Midleton distillery before being married together and undergoing a final finishing period at Jameson’s original home at the Jameson Distillery Bow Street in Dublin.
Before having this, we got to try the pretty good core 18 Year Old bottling, but this was just another level above it. The Bow Street 18YO is bottled at cask strength (55.3% ABV compared to the core 18YO’s 40%), and the difference between the two is a more intense fruity, caramel flavour, and a much, much longer finish.