Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rainy Day in Dublin

Yesterday: Bank Holiday in Dublin

Rain and wind all day today. The first order of business is the Jameson's Old Distillery Tour. (Getting there also allowed me to gauge how much time I'll need to catch the train to Galway tomorrow: about 75 minutes.)

Jameson's Old Distillery, Dublin

Model of an Irish pot still distillery

The cat, "Smitty", is reportedly an employee from some 70 years ago who did such a fine job as a mouser that he's been immortalized for the tour. Christopher the tour guide worries that the same fate may await him when he retires.

As it happens, John Jameson was a Scotsman from Alloa. The distillery opened on Bow Street in Dublin in 1780 and operated continuously there until 1971. The company merged with another distiller and moved all production to Cork, and the original property was abandoned. The current "Old Distillery" is a re-creation of the original plant, although some of the equipment displayed is at 1/10th scale.

Jameson's barley is sourced from within 50km of the distillery. It is dried using smokeless heat, which is the main thing that sets it apart from the whiskies of Jameson's homeland. The barley was floor malted back in the day (and may still be) and the grist is a blend of malt and raw barley, the proportions of which are a trade secret. The mash is conducted much like a beer mash, but it lasts four hours. Fermentation is quick by beer standards, just 80 hours, and it results in a "wash" containing 8% alcohol.

Jameson's mash paraphernalia

Jameson's fermentation schedule

Jameson's notes that most whiskeys are distilled twice, and most American whiskey is distilled only once, and they're adamant that the smoothness of their whiskey comes from their triple distillation process. The wash is distilled first in the wash still, then the feints still, and finally the spirit still, resulting in a spirit of 82% alcohol. This is cut to about 60% before maturation.

Jameson's three stills

The whiskey matures in oak barrels that have previously contained alcohol, claiming that the flavor imparted by new oak is too strong. Every year, they use more than 110,000 barrels from Kentucky distillers. Barrels from Port producers are also used for some of their higher-end brands.

A typical small barrel at Jameson's

Irish law says it's not whiskey until it's been in the barrel for three years. Jameson's main product is a blend of four- to seven-year-old whiskies which they call "Five Year". Some is kept for ten, twelve, and eighteen years before bottling. Some 2% evaporates through the wood every year. This "angel's share" amounts to 6,000 bottles per day at the modern distillery in Cork.

Visualization of the "angel's share". Bottom row, left to right: T=0, 3 years, 7 years. Top row, left to right: 10 years, 15 years.

Finally, a taste of Jameson's 5 Year Irish Whiskey, straight. I am definitely not a whiskey drinker and no expert in its nuances, but here are my notes anyway:

  • Appearance: Rich golden amber. Strong legs.

  • Aroma: Warm. Vanilla. Honey. Oak.

  • Mouthfeel: Smooth and a little sweet. Nice honey flavor. Lip-numbing alcohol. Wood notes in the background. Lingering honey flavor, with some grassy oak.

Half of my glass of Jameson's Whiskey

The volunteer panel charged with identifying the differences among Jameson's, a Scotch whisky, and an American whiskey. Two of the eight preferred the Scotch.

Overall, I found it surprisingly smooth and flavorful and not overwhelmingly alcoholic. I don't know that I'd buy a bottle, but I might enjoy a glass once in a great while.

The Jameson's Old Distillery Tour is located very near the Smithfield stop on the Luas Red Line. It's open 363 days a year, 10:00am-5:30pm. Like the Guinness tour, you don't learn anything about the way it's done now, but it's interesting nonetheless.

I walked through the light rain looking for an ATM. Past the Bull & Castle, the Porterhouse, and down the length of Temple Bar, where I reached my goal. That accomplished, I continued to Messrs Maguire to see what new beers they had since my visit in October. Oddly, the new beer is an Oktoberfest called "Munich".

My sources indicate that Bowes Lounge on Fleet Street has beers from the Hilden and Whitewater breweries in Northern Ireland, so that would have been the next stop. Only it wasn't open.

Bowes Lounge, Dublin

Porterhouse Central is also right along the way back to the Luas, just off Grafton Street. I stopped in there to see what's new since six months ago, and for an afternoon snack. The snack was a plate of delicious corned beef and potatoes in a white sauce. The what's new included Whitewater Copperhead, Carlow O'Hara's Irish Pale Ale, and Porterhouse Chocolate Truffle Stout. While I was there, an older gent came to the bar and asked for a pint of Heineken. The bartender responded, "We don't do pints of Heineken. You're in a brewery. Let me pour you one of our own." Good on her.

Back at the hotel, I tucked into some Guinness until Paris was done with the day's work.

Tomorrow: Nice Day in Galway

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