What is it about Irish whiskey? In all my 16 years of judging in the whisky competition at the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival (SBWF), Irish whiskeys have won shovelfuls of medals. There’s no doubt there’s some fine whisky, from the Emerald Isle, but I don’t often buy it. Why?At this year’s SBWF I met Fintan Collier, Jameson brand ambassador for Scandinavia, and mentioned this “phenomenon” and suggested I wasn’t alone in my divided attitude. I also suggested he hold a whisky tasting on Twitter (Twasting, in the parlance). Apart from giving a chance to taste a range of whiskies in the range, a Twasting is a live discussion across the Internet – it gets the word out.
The mystery “dram” at the heart of the Jameson Twasting
With samples sent out to a disparate collection of enthusiasts from Sweden, Netherlands and Germany, as well as at least one in the UK, we gathered together around our separate computers to see what the deal was. So, five Jameson whiskies, right? Well, not exactly: certainly three different Jamesons, but what’s this Mystery Dram? And what’s this Midleton whiskey doing here?More of the Mystery Dram soon, but a Midleton whiskey in a Jameson tasting, that’s a bit odd, isn’t it? Well actually, no; they are from the same distillery. Jameson whiskies are made at the Midleton distillery in Cork, and for me, herein lies some of my problem: Irish whiskies often don’t fit neatly into the distillery-equals-brand, unlike single malt whisky in Scotland. I find it harder to get involved in a brand than a distillery. But once you taste the whiskey, it’s very easy to get involved. We start with the “ordinary” Jameson. I say “start”, but Fintan makes us wait with some pertinent information about Jamesons and Irish whiskey in general. Rather like I’ve made you wait to find out what I thought about his whiskies. This “ordinary” Jameson is the world’s biggest selling Irish whiskey. It goes under the slogan “Triple distilled, Twice as smooth, One great taste.” People like “smooth” apparently. Even Royal Mile Whiskies say the Jameson is very smooth. I think “smooth” sounds like a back-handed compliment. Boring, even. But the Jameson is not boring. It is a blend, though. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with blends among the cognoscenti, these days. Last year, the received wisdom about whisky, that single malt = quality, and blend = inferior was blown out of the water when Jim Murray named a blended whisky (not Jameson) as the best whisky of 2010. The Jameson is a blend of grain whiskies with some single pot still whiskey, as Fintann puts it – pure pot still, if you like. This is a traditional Irish, but more expensive way of making whiskey.
Enough talk: on with the Twasting!
The “Jameson” has no age statement but a very pleasant aroma and taste of apple crumble, with some restrained floral notes that typify many Irish whiskeis. But there’s pepper – not known for its “smoothness”. Somebody mentions egg nog and baking spices.
On the palate it is honeyed malty spicy. A tweet comes across: layers of charred wood, dark chocolate and treacle toffee. I think it is herbal and deep, or rather, more rounded. None of us has any real clue to its identity, so Fintan lets on that it is the Power’s John Lane, which is a pure pot still version of the Powers Gold label. Released in Sweden in 2012.See what I mean? Praise all round for these Irish gems – even the “ordinary”. Two of the whiskies here: the 18 yo and the Barry Crockett, I love. They are a bit pricier, coming in at around £75/895SEK and €160/1300SEK (when released), but I wonder if there is still a way to go to overcome the “blend” image for malt whisky regulars. The Jameson motto is Sine Metu “without fear”. Perhaps it’s time for some of us to show a bit of boldness. And for Jameson to drop this “smooth” thing… Thanks to Fintan Collier @Jameson_Grad_SE and also to Colin Campbell @TheScotsdreamer for organisation and inviting me.