From Grain To Glass

Arts & Culture

A clever recreation of Jameson's early days taking you on a journey back in time.

Established in 1780 in Bow Street, The Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin’s Smithfield was founded on John Jameson’s philosophy that quality was paramount. A bit of a pernickety sort, JJ demanded the best of everything - from the finest raw ingredients to the most innovative production methods. This quest for perfection led to the crafting of a superior whiskey, which Jameson proudly proclaimed as the world’s greatest. Ever since, millions of aficionados in Ireland - and around the world - have enthusiastically agreed.

After nearly 200 years, 1971 saw the end of an era when production was moved from the Bow Lane site to Midleton in County Cork. There, Jameson continued making what is now the world’s fastest growing whiskey - slowly and patiently, as always. So rather than a working factory, The Old Distillery in Dublin represents a clever recreation of Jameson’s early days, taking you on a journey back in time.

We made our pilgrimage on a chilly January afternoon, when the prospect of a warming glass of whiskey at the tour’s end was even more welcome than usual. From cobbled Bow Street, visitors approach through a short alleyway to emerge in a courtyard, with the entrance to the ‘spirit’-ual home of Jameson on the left. Upon crossing the threshold, we were in the attractive modern lobby featuring JJ’s Bar (off to the right); a ticket sales counter and the tour entrance (straight ahead); and a well-stocked gift store (to the left).

Tours last about an hour, and run approximately every 20 minutes. Walk-ins are welcome - as we’d popped in on a whim ourselves, we were lucky to arrive just before the next tour departed. If you’re planning ahead however, there’s a 10% discount on admission fees when booking online.

The Old Jameson Distillery - EntranceThe Old Jameson Distillery - Lobby (JJThe Old Jameson Distillery - a distinctive chandelier...

We were seated comfortably in the auditorium when proceedings kicked off with a 10-minute video entitled ‘The Story of Jameson Whiskey’. Ever-so-slightly hokey but informative, the film gives a glimpse into the earliest days of the distillery when it was a bustling ‘city within a city’ (and speculates that Dublin taxi drivers were occasionally ripping off tourists even as far back as the 1780s).

From there, the walking tour began, and we were taken through the eight stages of the distilling process...

The first stop is the Grainstore (Stage 1). After all, Jameson only has three main ingredients - malted and unmalted barley are two of them (water is the third). So to secure this essential element, Mr J purchased enough barley for a full year’s whiskey production at harvest time, storing it in vast grainstores which took up half of the distillery’s total area. The next visit is to Malting (Stage 2), where the malted barley is dried in a closed kiln (fired with anthracite coal then - natural gas now). Peat has never been used in the kilns, keeping the finished product smooth and un-smoky tasting as compared to Scotch whisky.

Onward to Milling (Stage 3), when the malted and unmalted barley is ground into coarse flour (or grist). In Mashing (Stage 4), the grist is mixed with hot water in a ‘Mash Tun’ then given a damn good stirring. After four hours, the resulting liquid (called ‘wort’) is drawn out. The wort then goes to the ‘washback’ for Fermentation (Stage 5), where liquid yeast is added. After 80 hours of bubbling away, when the sugar has been converted into alcohol, the liquid is then called - wait for it - 'wash’. The wash contains a paltry 8% alcohol by volume (abv).

The Old Jameson Distillery Tour - Stage 1, GrainstoreThe Old Jameson Distillery Tour - Stage 2, MaltingThe Old Jameson Distillery Tour - Stage 3, MillingThe Old Jameson Distillery Tour - Stage 4, MashingThe Old Jameson Distillery Tour - Stage 5, Fermentation

The wash is sent to the Still House for Distillation (Stage 6), and this is where a lot of the magic happens. Through heating and cooling, the alcohol is separated from the water - this was done traditionally in copper pot stills. Jameson is obtained only after three separate distillations take place, with each distillation promoting greater and greater smoothness (American bourbon is normally distilled only once - most Scotch whisky, twice). The result after the three distillations is crystal clear and seriously potent (83% abv). Deionized water is added to reduce the strength to a more manageable 63.4%.

And then, the slow part of the process - Maturation (Stage 7). Though Jameson has been quick to embrace change and innovate from the earliest days, this stage has remained unchanged since the very beginning. Oak casks previously used to mature sherry (from Spain), port (from Portugal) and bourbon (from America) are imported and filled with the spirit. These seasoned casks create the honey, fruit and vanilla flavours and rich golden colour of the whiskey. By law, an Irish whiskey must mature for a minimum of three years before it can be sold. But that’s not good enough for Jameson - their ‘youngest’ whiskey is a five-year-old. As the whiskey matures, a small amount evaporates into the air - this is the ‘angels’ share’. And though it’s only a tiny percentage, it adds up - those greedy angels take many thousands of bottles every year.

In the last step, Marrying and Vatting (Stage 8), before the mature whiskey is bottled it’s emptied into a huge vat and allowed to marry for a few days, for consistency of flavour. The cask strength is reduced to 40% abv (80 proof), then it goes into bottles and out into the world to be enjoyed.

The tour culminated in the moment everyone was waiting for, with a visit to the Jameson Discovery Bar. Here we collected our complimentary glass of Jameson with Ginger and Lime, whilst eight lucky volunteers (selected at the beginning of the tour) were given the chance to become ‘Qualified Irish Whiskey Tasters’.

The Old Jameson Distillery Tour - Stage 6, DistillationThe Old Jameson Distillery Tour - Stage 7, MaturationThe Old Jameson Distillery Tour - Stage 8, Marrying & VattingThe Old Jameson Distillery Tour - Complimentary Jameson with Ginger and Lime

In addition to the tour itself, there's plenty of eating, drinking and shopping to do before you hit the tourist trail again. If you have time before or after the tour, you can try the delicious Jameson cocktails in JJ's Bar. In the Jameson Reserve Bar you’ll have the opportunity to sample some of the finest Premium Reserve Range whiskeys that Jameson offer. Located upstairs on the mezzanine beside the Jameson Reserve Bar, the 3rd Still Restaurant provides a chance to relax and watch the goings-on downstairs, whilst you tuck into a delicious lunch or their late afternoon menu.

Chock-full of Jameson Whiskey-abilia galore, The Jameson Gift Store and Whiskey Shop is not only for tour-takers, but is also open to the general public. This is the place to get genuine Jameson-branded merchandise unavailable in any other gift shop in Dublin. If it's more convenient, you could always do your buying online...

It’s easy to see why this is a popular ‘thing to do’ with tourists from around the globe. Jameson really make an effort to engage and entertain visitors, and the facilities are first rate. On every bottle of Jameson, you’ll find the family motto - ‘Sine Metu’ (Latin for ‘without fear’) - and never fear, we reckon you’ll have an enjoyable experience at The Old Jameson Distillery.

The Old Jameson Distillery Tour - Whiskey Tasting