Food & Drink

Whiskey Busts Stereotypes

Fighting Irish make preternaturally calm and beautiful drink.

BY editors | Jun 29, 2017 | Opinion

There’s the default setting: the things we hold true, without needing to think too hard about them. The default setting is like Waze for navigating daily life. Great if you know where you want to go, but oh, the things you miss along the way. Whisk(e)y is a bit like that.

“Drinking Scotch is the done thing. People don't realise Ireland produces whiskey,” says Kieran Crowe, Jameson’s amiable roving ambassador. With Japan and Taiwan seriously fallen off the wagon and making their own, single malts have been getting lots of love on social media. It’s easier than ever to drink by label.

Ireland doesn’t usually do trending newsfeeds, apart from bank bailouts and being Apple’s tax sanctuary. But the times, they are a-changing. There’s a new Taoiseach – prime minister – who, by golly, is gay! And half-Indian!! Leo Varadkar came out on radio as Catholic Ireland prepared to vote on legalising same-sex marriage in 2015, making it the first country to do so by popular vote. At 38, he’s its youngest leader so far. Meanwhile, over the border, more news of (Northern) Irish influence: the Democratic Unionist Party has exacted a 1.5 billion-pound undertaking from the minority Tory UK government as the price for keeping it in power.  

Thank God for Irish whiskey.

Jameson is a beautiful drink. Its basic product fulfils its role as the DNA of the brand’s more complex offerings by being ineffably poised and well-balanced. If your nose, heart and soul are in sync, you might pick up on the subtle quality of its transparency to its origins; the quality of its ingredients and technique of its making. This, the French call terroir, and the Irish Whiskey Association, GI: geographical indication.

To explain, Kieran says Jameson is unpeated; the germinating barley was not dried and malted by the use of smoke fuelled by peat. It’s then triple-distilled, which adds an extra process to the double-distillation usually used in the making of Scotch, and two that of single-distilled Bourbon.

All of the above of course mean nothing if not experienced directly. Kieran travels with an instructive tasting kit that includes bits of ex-sherry and bourbon casks (they sound different!), barley, corn and samples of first, second and third distillations. As he needs them more half-full than empty on his tours of duty, you’re not allowed to swig any.

But you can sniff the stuff that’s been matured in bourbon and sherry casks. The former was very pleasant, with hints of vanilla and light cream on its top notes, before settling down to something more homogenous. The sherry, however, was near-transcendent for its perfume, so I can no longer reliably describe it from memory.

Kieran’s coup de grâce is a comparative tasting between Jameson and two of the world’s best-selling Scotch and bourbon brands. They’ve both been made to strongly appeal to their fanbase, like characters you could pick out blindfolded from a line-up of suspects. But it’s likely you wouldn’t realise this until you compared them. Let’s just say my glass of Jameson (50:50 whiskey to water) was pure enough to pick up on the aroma of the lime wedge from the Jameson Ginger and Lime cocktail just next to it. And we haven’t even begun to trace the cultural origins of the elixir.