John Jameson’s Dublin distillery was founded in 1780, guided by the family motto “Sine Metu”, meaning without fear. To this day, those words appear on every bottle of Irish whisky. At the original distillery, located next to Smithfield Market, Jameson used well water, searched for superior strains of barley, sought out high quality casks and believed the whisky should be matured in cool, damp cellars. Eventually, he built larger warehouses that captured rainwater to recreate such conditions, and by 1890 Irish whiskey had become one of the most popular whiskeys in the world.
Later, because of Prohibition in the U.S. and the consequentially insurmountable tariff barriers in England, there was decline in the market which led to the demise of many Irish whiskey companies and, eventually, to the formation of the Irish Distillers Group. In 1971, Jameson’s Bow Street distillery stopped operations and all production was moved to the Midleton Distillery in Cork.
Back in Dublin, tours of the Bow Street Distillery in Smithfield Village continue today, recounting the legacy and proud heritage of Irish whiskey. Visitors can watch a short documentary film, take the tour and enjoy the tasting room and restaurant. The distillery building is also the setting for special events including the Jameson Global Party on St. Patrick’s Day.
We went behind the scenes of the public tasting tours at the Jameson Experience in Cork to meet the core team. The steps behind the sourcing and repairing of casks was presented inside the coopers’ workshop, revealing a process of connecting flawless pieces of oak cut precisely according to the wood’s rings, that has remained relatively unchanged throughout the years.
We met the current master distiller Barry Crockett, who apprenticed under his father, master distiller Max Crockett, to learn the age-old trade. During lunch with the junior Crockett in his childhood home, we learned about the triple distillation process Jameson has perfected since 1790, and the five-year aging period for the single-pot still and grain whiskey blends.
Since the beginning, “Jameson has been made using same type of equipment and methods, but the product made today is cleaner more refined and sweeter that would have been possible with the old equipment in the late 1700s,” says Crockett. “With the higher level of control with the modern equipment and controls we can achieve a finer quality of spirit.”
“Irish whiskey has always been different to Scottish and American whiskeys,” says Crockett. “The fact that makes it different is the production technique, which is part of what we do. The use of high proportions of barley, harvested locally which gives it a very unique flavor and taste to the whiskey. The barley in my view offers a type of apple, pear or peach type aroma. You will find that very much in all of the Irish whiskies. It also gives a smooth even mouthy effect that lends to a more soft and sweet aftertaste.”
There’s a section of the cottage being transformed to better showcase the history of the brand. “Jameson has a strong story in term of its heritage, imagery, and we are advancing that imagery by getting our archives together to display,” says Crockett. “We know when people are coming here. The principal thing is to understand why it is a popular whiskey in the first place.”
While the company focuses primarily on filling orders, Crockett’s main responsibility lies in developing single-origin pot still expressions. “These certainly show the consumer public that Irish whiskey is not just Jameson, but is also able to present a range of different flavor characteristics,” he explains. “We believe the single-origin pot still range will do for Irish whiskey what the concept of single malt did for Scotland.” Crockett says that their goal is to launch one to two new single pot still whiskeys each year.
Our tour concluded at the Jameson warehouses, where up to 36,000 barrels are stored upright on rows of palettes. When asked what he’d want to drink if he were stranded on a desert island, Crockett answered, “Jameson 18-year-old, or the Legacy.”