Triple distilled whiskey like ours isn’t just born smooth and balanced. It takes our 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 we continue his legacy to this day.
No matter where a distiller calls home, your whiskey 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 whiskey needs ingredients to match, and that starts with the water. The word whiskey derives from the Irish “Uisce beatha” which means ‘water of life’ and the Dungourney river, which flows through our distillery, is the life source of our operation and plays a vital role in the production process.
Jameson is also one of a handful of whiskeys in the world produced using a combination of malted and unmalted barley, and most of our suppliers are farmers from within 100 miles of Middleton. Many of the fields they farm have been producing our barley for centuries, so it’s fair to say they know what we’re after. While we try to keep our ingredients as local as possible, maize is a sun-loving crop and no one has ever accused Ireland’s climate of being tropical. After much searching, we found a farmer in the South of France who provides us with non-genetically modified maize that does the trick quite nicely.
Good things come in threes
This is where we take a turn off the main road and talk about our signature triple distillation process. Why do it three times? Not because we want to show off, but because we believe the third time makes Jameson twice as smooth. We’re not big on compromise, and while we know there are faster and easier methods of production, we’ve stayed true to the methods John Jameson built his name on.
Our Head Distiller, Brian Nation, upholds that legacy on behalf of the generations who came before him. Most Scottish distillers call it a day after two distillations, and while we have great respect for their whisk(e)y, the Irish palate demands something smoother (ahem). Jameson is a blend of the iconic Irish pot still and grain whiskeys, and we think it’s only fair that both are given the triple distillation treatment. Critical minds might be reading this and thinking that quadruple distillation would be a step better, but we did some experimenting in our early years and that wasn’t the case. Three is our magic number and we’re sticking with it.
Ever wondered what allows Irish Whiskey to call itself Irish Whiskey? Well, that 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, we’re not interested in the bare minimum, so we hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on our casks and age beyond three years.
Speaking of our 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 pass some of their personality along to our whiskey. Consider this a character-building exercise, only we’re more interested in notes of toasted wood, vanilla and sweet sherry rather than life lessons. Although the length of the maturation process isn’t the same for every cask, 2% of our whiskey is lost to evaporation every year. This is called the Angel’s Share and after more than 230 years, we reckon it’s their round.
Grain to Glass
Although we are defenceless against the inevitable evaporation, as a rule of thumb, outside influences are kept to a minimum. We run a single distillery, which means that from grain to glass, we have full control over the production process. We’re going to confess to a bit of unashamed favouritism at this junction. When it comes time for blending, we only use whiskeys that were reared on the grounds of our distillery.
The new Midleton distillery was designed with flexibility in mind, and our head distillers can produce a wide variety of different whiskeys. What that boils down to, is that we don’t have to knock on any other distillery doors. Many celebrated brands blend whiskey from multiple distilleries, so we’re not suggesting our way is superior, it’s just the way we like to do it.
The Story of Jameson:
Our fearless founder stepped off a ship from his native Scotland to set up the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin in 1780.
Having spent most of his life as a sheriff clerk, John Jameson arrived in Dublin as a middle-aged man. We’re not sure if we can put his decision down to a midlife crisis, but it was a big move for someone who had a well-established job at home.
When he set up shop, Bow Street wasn’t the only distillery in this area. In fact, this part of Dublin was a whiskey making hotspot. The capital was booming at the turn of the 19th century and John Jameson wasn’t the only person trying to stake a claim.
In 1786, Bow Street was producing about 30,000 gallons annually. By the turn of the 19th century, it was the second largest producer in Ireland and one of the largest in the world, producing 1,000,000 gallons annually.
Dublin at the time was the centre of world whiskey production. It was the second most popular spirit in the world after rum and internationally Jameson had by 1805 become the world’s number one whiskey. Today, Jameson is the world’s third largest single-distillery whiskey.
Historical events, for a time, set the company back. The temperance movement in Ireland had an enormous impact domestically but the two key events that affected Jameson were the Irish War of Independence and subsequent trade war with the British which denied Jameson the export markets of the Commonwealth, and shortly thereafter, the introduction of prohibition in the United States. While Scottish brands could easily slip across the Canada–US border, Jameson was excluded from its biggest market for many years.