Triple distilled whiskey like Jameson’s isn’t just born smooth and balanced. It takes a carefully crafted process used over hundreds of years to get it just right. This tradition began in 1780 with the great Master Distiller John Jameson who discovered that three distillations was best for his Jameson Irish Whiskey and his legacy is continued till date.
No matter where a distiller calls home, one’s whisky is only as good as the ingredients that go into the still. The three key elements of Jameson Irish Whiskey are barley, water, and maize, and with a list that simple, there is nowhere to hide. Great whisky needs great ingredients, and for Jameson Irish Whiskey, the greatness starts with water. The word ‘whisky’ derives from the Irish expression ‘uisce beathal’ which means ‘water of life’. The Dungourney River, which flows through the Jameson distillery is the life source of the operation and plays a vital role in the production process. Jameson constitutes about a handful of whiskies in the world, produced using a combination of malted and unmalted barley, and most of their suppliers are farmers from within 100 miles of Midleton. Many farming fields have been producing Jameson’s barley for centuries. While Jamesons try to keep their ingredients as local as possible but maize is a sun-loving crop and Ireland sees a mild climate throughout the year.
Good things come in threes
The signature triple distillation process makes the Jameson whiskey smooth and rich. Why three times? Because third time is a charm that makes Jameson twice as smooth. While there are faster and easier methods of production, the Jamesons stay true to their traditional methods; the legacy John Jameson built his name on. The Head Distiller, Brian Nation, upholds the bequest on behalf of the generations that came before him. Most Scottish distillers call it a day after two distillations, and while there is great respect for their whisky, the Irish palate demands something smoother. Jameson is a blend of the iconic Irish pot still and grain whiskies, and it’s only fair that both are given the triple distillation treatment. One might think that why not go for a quadruple distillation for and even smoother taste, but as they say, excess of anything is bad. Three is their magic number and hence the institution is abiding by it.
Ever wondered what allows Irish Whiskey to call itself Irish Whiskey? The honour isn’t handed out as liberally as Irish Ancestry certificates. Instead, there’s a stringent law that states that a spirit must spend a minimum of three years maturing on the island of Ireland to wear that badge. At Jameson, one is not interested in the bare minimum, so they hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on their casks to age them beyond three years.
Speaking of their casks, they are largely imported from the United States and Spain, where their previous employment included the ageing of bourbon and fortified wine. This leaves them seasoned and ready to infuse some of their flavours into their whisky. This character-building exercise blends in notes of toasted wood, vanilla and sweet sherry. The length of the maturation isn’t the same for every cask and 2% of the whisky is lost to evaporation every year. This is called the Angel’s Share since the 230 years.
Grain to Glass
Although the spirit industry is defenceless against the inevitable evaporation, outside influences are kept to a minimum as a rule of thumb. Jameson runs a single distillery, which means that from grain to glass, there is a full control over the production process. They often confess a bit of unashamed favouritism at this junction. When it comes time for blending, the master blenders only use whiskies that were reared on the grounds of their Jameson distillery. The new Midleton distillery was designed with flexibility in mind, and the head distillers can produce a wide variety of different whiskies.
Jameson’s story is nothing without the people who, since 1780, have dedicated their working lives to producing a whisky the institution is all proud of. The presence of two barrel men embossed on the green bottle is the humble nod to them, and serves as a reminder that Jameson is a whiskey for hardworking people, made by hardworking people.