Bowing out

The new Jameson Bow Street 18-Year-Old sits atop Krass Clement’s Dublin.

I loved Dublin. It’s the city of my birth, where my wife and I fell in love, and where we became parents. I spent four great years there from 1999-2003 and it broke my heart to leave. But I had to face the fact that I am a culchie. Like the salmon swimming back upstream to spawn, once we had a child, we wanted to get home. If I had stayed I could have had a better stab at a career, given that 90% of the national media is based there, but we took our chances and headed south.

In the first few years after the move we went back to Dublin five or six times a year. Now we rarely go back, and when we do we see more and more decay, more addiction, more poverty, more problems. You can say it’s because life in the country has made me soft, that I’m just a nervous bogger, or you can look at the bodies in doorways, the child beggars, the aggressive junkies, the alleys you walk past and see, out of the corner of your eye, a heroin addict with his trousers down, injecting into his inner thigh. Watching the Dublin edition of The Layover last week reminded me of all that I loved about Dublin, but what I see when I go back is a world away from Bourdain’s frenetic, joyous journey through the city and more like Johnny’s nocturnal odyssey through London in Mike Leigh’s Naked. This ailing city was never somewhere I could call home.

My house now overlooks Midleton distillery. It’s the first thing I see when I get up in the morning, and the vapours from the chimney are a good indication of how the weather is outside. There are warehouses around the distillery itself, and more warehousing out past my house in the woods of Dungourney, not far from where the whiskey river rises. At least once a day, either on the way to or from work, I will meet a grain truck, a lorry loaded with casks, or a spirit tanker on the roads, because Midleton distillery is a whiskey super producer. Just as well, as the demand for what they make is rocketing. I’ve no doubt that Midleton, Bushmills, Cooley, West Cork and Dingle could probably sell every single drop in their warehouses right now, but that isn’t going to happen as this is a long game. Besides, it’s Jameson that the world is screaming for, and Midleton is the Klondike of this liquid gold rush. John Teeling’s recent warnings of a whiskey shortage made for a great headline, but when someone who is making and selling whiskey to third parties is telling you that there is a looming shortage – thus encouraging greater demand and prices – you need to engage the critical faculties a little bit more. I’ve been hearing various reports about dwindling mature stocks for years, but it would appear that if you have a good working relationship with one of the big three, then you are good. I digress. 

It irks me that Jameson labels still bear the address of Bow Street, a location that may be home to their biggest tourist attraction, and is a very central to the history of the brand and Irish whiskey itself. But as I pointed out previously, Bow Street is a phantom limb – it has no real bearing on the production of Jameson today. Or, at least, that’s how it was.

The massive refurb of Bow Street by the team behind the Guinness Storehouse cost 11m and saw Bow Street take tours to the next level. However, one of the most interesting additions to the venue was an actual functioning warehouse space – the first in Dublin in decades. And so it was that IDL relaunched their 18-year-old premium blend as Jameson Bow Street 18-year-old – the first Jameson in decades that had the right to put Bow Street on the labels. And if this wasn’t enough, they have lodged plans for new labels for standard Jameson that remove Bow Street from the address.

As a proud Midletonian, this is great news. The question now is – will this matter to America? That is, after all, where it is all happening for Irish whiskey, with those insane growth figures being largely centred on the US and largely centred on Jameson sales therein. So how discerning those drinkers are remains to be seen – Jameson has triumphed as the easy-drinking, beer-and-a-short everyman. Could a slight change to labels get people wondering that is going on? Or is it likely that the loss of the Bow Street address on the labels will make little difference, especially given that they will have Midleton distillery’s address on there? But the change on the standard Jameson labels certainly amplifies the Bow Street address on the 18 year old – it highlights that this is the first whiskey in decades to spend any time in Dublin at all (Teelings et al age their whiskey elsewhere).

Midleton distillery, as seen from my gaf.

So the Bow Street address is back, not just as a nod to history but as a live maturation site. As for the whiskey itself, here is a breakdown:

Jameson Irish whiskey, which is produced by Irish Distillers in Midleton Distillery, has today announced the launch of Jameson Bow Street 18 Years Cask Strength; the first cask strength Jameson to be available globally, which finishes its maturation in Dublin’s only live Maturation House in the Jameson Distillery Bow Street. A reinterpretation of the revered Jameson 18 Years, the new expression celebrates Jameson’s Dublin heritage by returning part of the production process to the brand’s original home in Smithfield for the first time since 1975.

Distilled and matured at the Midleton Distillery, Co. Cork, Jameson Bow Street 18 Years Cask Strength is the new head of the Jameson family. After spending 18 years in a collection of bourbon and sherry casks, the blend of pot still and grain Irish whiskeys has been married together and re-casked in first-fill ex-bourbon American oak barrels for a final six to 12 months in the Maturation House at the Jameson Distillery Bow Street.

‘Marrying’ is a traditional method of re-casking batches of vatted whiskey and re-warehousing it to ensure infusion before bottling. The first batch is presented at 55.3% ABV without the use of chill filtration and will be available in 20 markets from July 2018 at the RRP of €240.

Billy Leighton, Master Blender at Midleton Distillery, commented: “I’ve long had the unique luxury of being able to taste Jameson straight from the barrel at cask strength. With this first ever global launch of a cask strength Jameson, I’m thrilled that Irish whiskey fans around the world can now experience the full intensity of our whiskey or add a few drops of water to enjoy it at their own preferred strength.

“As a tribute to John Jameson’s distilling legacy in Smithfield, we’ve introduced some methods that would have been employed in days past. The final maturation period in Bow Street is our nod to the traditional “marrying” method. We’ve put our own Jameson stamp on it by using first-fill bourbon barrels, whereas the traditional approach would be to use casks multiple times. I like to think of the whiskey getting engaged in Midleton and then “married” in Dublin!”

Clearly, no one is going to think that the period spent in Dublin has anything to do with how it tastes. I have a shit Dub accent, but that’s because I spent four years living there and wanted desperately to fit in, before realising I preferred agricultural shows to teenage riots, wide open spaces to packed Luases, and the rolling hills of Midleton to the Liffey at low tide. Besides, it is unlikely that anyone would want to detect notes of Dublin city centre – packed DART on a rainy day, methdone on the top deck of the 29A, spicebags at dawn, sticky paving on Grafton Street in summer, and an urban sprawl that needs to appoint Ra’s Al Gul as Lord Mayor. When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart, but every time I go back I am more and more convinced that I did the right thing by leaving. My time spent there, much like the time the Bow Street 18 spent in the city, was an enjoyable interlude, but we are both from Cork, and better for it.

The big news item in the press release was not that this was the first cask-strength Jameson, nor was it the Bow Street maturation period, but rather the price. Jameson 18 used to be about €130, although when they cleared it out in Tesco a year or two ago before the relaunch, it went for €85. Salutations to anyone who got it then.

Obviously, this being cask strength makes it worth more – let’s say €180. The remaining €60 is presumably for those who like the Dublin finish, and also the premium packaging. The presentation is a lot more like its updated cousin, Midleton Very Rare, as these blurry photos show – basically, there is a lot more wood and copper than the old 18:

But wait – there’s more:

Jameson Bow Street 18 Years Cask Strength is presented in a premium bottle design that truly reflects the quality and rarity of the liquid within. The bottle features 18 facets, one for each year of maturation, and the wooden presentation box celebrates the traditional pot stills used during the production process. In addition, a unique copper coin located underneath Jameson Bow Street 18 Years Cask Strength bottles provides Jameson fans with access to an exclusive online portal where they can delve deeper into the story of the whiskey which bears the Bow Street name.

This, I presume, is aimed at the travel retail and tourist market. Nobody else really gives a fuck about portals, unless they lead to another realm populated with Lovecraftian abominations and free booze. It reminds me of Irish Distillers’ tourism project, The Cork Whiskey Way. It is/was a series of classic Cork pubs – and (ugh) SoHo – with four premium Midleton whiskeys in each of them, and the pubs were linked by QR codes. I can’t even remember how it was meant to work (here is an explanation), and doubt very much that it did, but this was four years ago when whiskey didn’t just sell itself and elaborate gimmicks were sometimes required. As an aside, if you want to do a trip around Cork that is whiskey based, Eric Ryan – a distiller, whiskey collector and history buff – does a brilliant whiskey walk around the important sites of Cork distilling. I did it last year and it is a great way to spend an afternoon, with great whiskeys, good food, interesting chat and a lot of craic.

Back to the Bow Street 18, and on to some typically incoherent tasting notes.

On the nose – expecting serious blowback from the strength, but this really is rather mellow. A lot of toasted pine nuts, vanilla, maybe a little smokey bacon lurking in there somewhere. I need to work on the nose with this one – nothing jumps out at me here, all very nuanced, very mellow. Not sure I enjoy that, as I’m really more of a sturm und drang kind of guy. Furniture polish, and, oh fuck it, the inside of a grand piano. Please, kill me now.

On the palate – it’s clobberin’ time. So bizarre having any Jameson at cask strength – if only Midleton Very Rare came in a CS edition. But in the meantime, this will do – smooth, with a wallop. Banana, those toffee notes I always look for, loads of vanilla, that slight acetone element carried over from the furniture polish detected on the nose. I like this. The finish is long and lingering, but that is the least you would expect from an 18 year old cask-strength whiskey. I should probably add some water, but life is short so you need to take large bites out of it. I’ll dilute when I’m dead.

From Brian Townsend's Lost Distilleries Of Ireland.From Brian Townsend's Lost Distilleries Of Ireland.

It comes down to this – is the Jameson Bow Street cask-strength whiskey worth €240? Yes and no. For whiskey nerds, I would tend towards a no. You could buy a Redbreast 21 and a Redbreast 12 for that money, or three Redbreast CSs, or a load of John’s Lanes, or any number of absolutely beautiful, diverse whiskeys from Midleton, because this isn’t just one distillery, it is really four distilleries that happen to be placed on one site. A Scottish friend was staying at my house some time back and when I pointed out the distillery to him, he said it was a pity it was so unsightly. I felt quite insulted. It’s as simple as this – without Midleton, Irish whiskey would be fucked. They consolidated the old firms and created a glistening machine that creates multiple expressions and helped keep a category alive. I bristled slightly when I heard him tell me that the distillery isn’t pretty enough – it was, for a long time, Irish whiskey’s last hope, a distilling Noah’s Ark, keeping the category going through those cruel years in the Seventies and Eighties when nobody, and I mean nobody, wanted anything to do with Irish whiskey. Midleton distillery may not have the aesthetics of a UNESCO world heritage site, but it is a working distillery, one that has been thumping out the whiskey for four decades and shows no sign of slowing.

The new Bow Street 18 has a little bit of added value in packaging and narrative, and would make an ideal gift for the returning tourist, eager to bring a little piece of Dublin back home with them. But this isn’t one for the hardcore whiskey fan, or the guy who earns sod-all PA. If this is the jumping off point for premiumisation, so be it – the oligarchs are welcome to whatever else Midleton can rattle out. For my money MVR is a better value dram, despite its uninspiring 40% bottling strength, while the Dair Ghaelach, at €260, continues to be vastly superior to both MVR and BS18.  

Finally, I hate to be the ignoramus who keeps saying a drink is ‘just a blend’, but that is, in the end, what this is. However, perhaps it is just too subtle for a culchie like me, that if I was a fey flaneur wracked with galloping consumption and urbane ennui I might be able to dig its subtlety, but for me there are many, many other superior, better value whiskeys from Midleton that the world needs to drink before they start throwing down €240 on a history lesson.

On that note, I’d like to thank my neighbours in Irish Distillers Limited for giving me this bottle for free. Awwwwwwwkward.

Any port in a storm

We got to Heuston Station as the last train pulled out. It was only going as far as Portlaoise, so even if we had made it, we would still have had quite a walk back to Cork.

My daughter and I were in Dublin for a hospital appointment, one that only got cancelled at 10pm the night before, when we were already in the city. This meant we were trapped in the big smoke, with the worst storm in four decades bearing down on us. So we decided to go shopping.

Back in Dublin city centre it soon became clear that this was not going to be an option – almost everywhere was pulling down the shutters as we walked around, first across O’Connell Street and then up to Grafton Street. Despite the warnings that Ireland was about to get hit with a bone fide hurricane (bear in mind that the last tropical occurrence here were those really racist Lilt ads in the early Nineties), the weather was pleasantly mild, if a little breezy. But hell or high water wouldn’t keep me from the one place I always visit when in Dublin – the Celtic Whiskey Shop. I had assumed they wouldn’t be open, but, as their owner is a canny Scot who is used to actual storms, he opened. This was a godsend, as whiskey does technically fall under the remit of ‘provisions’ in any major Irish emergency.

So despite the weary groans from my teenage daughter, we ambled in to soak up the ambiance, and by ambience I naturally mean booze.

I tend to complain about the price of Irish whiskey. This is largely due to the fact that I don’t have a huge amount of disposable income, so the prices of Irish whiskey sometimes make me despair. As a result, I usually shop online and mostly buy Scotch. This is partly because of the value you get, and also the sheer variety. But what you don’t get is the enjoyment of talking to a salesperson, especially ones as expert as the staff in the Celtic Whiskey Shop. It’s little wonder that many of their staff go on to work as brand ambassadors, as they know their stuff, they know how to treat customers well, and they are a genial bunch.

As soon as we started chatting, a sample was offered, to warm the blood after braving the unseasonably mild weather outside. But this wasn’t going to be a drop of whatever was on special – they went straight for a Midleton single cask. After that – and an hour long conversation about Irish whiskey, Jim Murray, transparency, online vs offline shopping, and beef – I basically had to buy something. I asked for something interesting, so they gave me a drop of the new Teeling Brabazon port cask.

John Teeling. Picture; Gerry Mooney

The Teeling story is a remarkable one. John Teeling was a teetotaller and serial entrepreneur who had the barmy idea of buying an old, state-owned industrial distillery and using it to make whiskey for third party sales. Looking back now, more than two decades on, it seems visionary, but I would imagine that at the time it seemed quite batshit. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, he played it hard and fast, ending up at loggerheads with Irish Distillers on at least one occasion, but in the end he created an empire, one that he sold to Beam Suntory for €71m in 2011.

John Teeling’s boundless energy meant he was never going to stay still – he bought the old Harp brewery in Dundalk and turned it into a distilling powerhouse, again using the third party model that had brought him so much success in Cooley. But his sons went for a riskier, bolder model.

**** NO REPRO FEE **** 13/02/2013 : DUBLIN : Independent Irish whiskey maker the Teeling Whiskey Company has launched Teeling Irish whiskey to celebrate 231 years of whiskey distilling tradition within the Teeling Family. The Teeling family’s whiskey heritage dates back to Walter Teeling who set up a distillery in 1782 in Marrowbone Lane in the Liberties, Dublin. The Teeling Whiskey Company also announced that it is carrying out a feasibility study on setting up a distillery in Dublin. Pictured launching Teeling Irish Whiskey is Jack Teeling, founder of the Teeling Whiskey Company. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.
Media contact : David Ó Síocháin Mobile 087 936 2440 email : media@teelingwhiskey.com

Jack and Stephen Teeling may be the dauphins of Irish whiskey, but they also came burdened with their father’s impressive legacy. However, there are few people in Ireland today with their insight or expertise in building a successful whiskey business. A sign of this confidence was where they opted to site their new distillery – in Dublin city’s Newmarket Square. 

After this brave move, there was the pressure to source quality stock – and this is where I am going to engage in some wild speculation. I would suggest that, contrary to popular belief, they didn’t hang on to a load of Cooley stock. Beam Suntory didn’t pay seventy million clams just for Cooley, Ireland’s ugliest distillery (they also got one of Ireland’s prettiest distilleries, Kilbeggan) and zero stock. When you pay that much for a distillery, you are not just looking for infrastructure, you are looking for booze – and lots of it.

*** NO REPRODUCTION FEE *** 29/01/2014 : Reviving the Spirit of Dublin - €10m Investment to create over 30 new jobs in Dublin’s Liberties. Teeling Whiskey Company announces plans for new Dublin whiskey distillery. Visitor Centre to attract 100,000 visitors per annum. Pictured at the new Teeling Whiskey Company (TWC) whiskey distillery announcement was model Sarah Morrissey with Stephen Teeling, Sales and Marketing Director and Jack Teeling Managing Director of the Teeling Whiskey Company. The Teeling Whiskey Company (TWC) has announced plans for a new whiskey distillery to be located in Dublin’s Newmarket Square in The Liberties, Dublin 8. This will be the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years and brings the Teelings home to their ancestral roots. The Teeling Whiskey Distillery will start production in the fourth quarter of 2014 with the visitor centre opening its doors in early 2015, investing €10million into The Liberties based location and creating at least 30 full time jobs. The distillery will also see 50 jobs created in the construction phase. The Teeling Whiskey brand is already on sale in Ireland and over 18 export markets. The construction of the new distillery will guarantee future supply for the Teeling Whiskey brands and allow the creation of a range of innovative and authentic Irish whiskeys based on the traditional and unique Dublin style of distillation. The proposed new Pot Still distillery will have the capacity to produce 500,000 litres of whiskey on an annual basis and will consist of three traditional copper Pot Stills reviving the traditional style of the old Dublin distilleries. Plans for the Teeling Whiskey Distillery and visitors centre were welcomed by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, TD. The centre expects to welcome 40,000-50,000 through the doors in year one, increasing to 100,000 thereafter. Picture Conor McCabe Photographgy. For more information, please contact: Padraic Cribben 08*** NO REPRODUCTION FEE *** 29/01/2014 : Reviving the Spirit of Dublin - €10m Investment to create over 30 new jobs in Dublin’s Liberties. Teeling Whiskey Company announces plans for new Dublin whiskey distillery. Visitor Centre to attract 100,000 visitors per annum. Pictured at the new Teeling Whiskey Company (TWC) whiskey distillery announcement was model Sarah Morrissey. The Teeling Whiskey Company (TWC) has announced plans for a new whiskey distillery to be located in Dublin’s Newmarket Square in The Liberties, Dublin 8. This will be the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years and brings the Teelings home to their ancestral roots. The Teeling Whiskey Distillery will start production in the fourth quarter of 2014 with the visitor centre opening its doors in early 2015, investing €10million into The Liberties based location and creating at least 30 full time jobs. The distillery will also see 50 jobs created in the construction phase. The Teeling Whiskey brand is already on sale in Ireland and over 18 export markets. The construction of the new distillery will guarantee future supply for the Teeling Whiskey brands and allow the creation of a range of innovative and authentic Irish whiskeys based on the traditional and unique Dublin style of distillation. The proposed new Pot Still distillery will have the capacity to produce 500,000 litres of whiskey on an annual basis and will consist of three traditional copper Pot Stills reviving the traditional style of the old Dublin distilleries. Plans for the Teeling Whiskey Distillery and visitors centre were welcomed by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, TD. The centre expects to welcome 40,000-50,000 through the doors in year one, increasing to 100,000 thereafter. Picture Conor McCabe Photographgy.

Similarly, if you are selling a distillery and tons of stock, you are selling it at a good price, so you are not going to get some sort of budget buy-back deal. So while there is a theory out there that all three Teelings walked away from that deal with a cartload of premium casks, it is highly unlikely. As one pundit put it to me, that would be like selling someone a car with no engine.

While the grain the Teelings use may be from Cooley (as with all things supply related, a lot of this is guesswork) it would appear their other source is Bushmills, a distillery that seems to be able to supply vast quantities of excellent whiskey to just about anyone but themselves. The Teelings’ Vintage Reserve releases would certainly suggest Bushmills, as some of those bottlings are older than Cooley Distillery itself.

But back to their sourced releases, which rarely disappoint – their first being a blend that was, and still is, one of the great bang-for-your-buck whiskeys out there. My first bottle of it came with a ringing endorsement from the Celtic Whiskey Shop a few years ago, and it is still one I would rank up there with Writers Tears as a great introduction to the ever expanding world of Irish whiskey.

So the Teelings have it all – the supply, the distillery, the know-how, a partnership with Bacardi that opens new channels across the globe; and they even had their own TV show, which I think makes them the Kardashians of Irish whiskey. 

Their sourced releases were varying degrees of excellent – here are some of the mainstream releases, not including the single casks and obscure releases:

Core Trinity Range:

Small Batch

Single Grain

Single Malt

Vintage Reserve Collection:

21 YO

26 YO

30 YO

24 YO

33 YO

Revival Series:

Vol. I

Vol. II

Vol. III

Vol. IV

Vol V (pending released 2018)

Brabazon Bottlings:

Brabazon 1

Brabazon 2

Collaborations/exclusives:

Stout Cask

Airport Exclusives  x c.10

Poitín (from their own distillery in Dublin):

Teeling Poitín

Teeling Spirit of Dublin

The Teeling brothers are looking at an Autumn 2018 date for their own stock, which will be the first new whiskey out of Dublin in quite some time, so the furore then will possibly be even more annoying than when the Dubs win the All-Ireland.

But back to Brabazon II: I asked Gabriel Corcoran from Teeling to shed a little light on the components: “There is a significant portion of white port, of a similar profile to the Carcavelos single cask release, but balanced out with a ruby port backbone and some added depth from a tawny port-finished element.”

The complete breakdown is as follows:


So on to some confusing and wildly inaccurate tasting notes:

Nose: Going to set a high bar for pretentiousness early on by saying ‘a forest in winter’ – vegetal notes, pine, an outdoorsy freshness, although that may just be the alcohol vapors freezing my face. Red liquorice, slight acetone, camphor. Less of the heavy fruit notes I expected to get from so much port cask, but then I haven’t a clue what port tastes like as I am not a feudal lord.

Palate: Fucking hell that 49.5% hits you in the goddam throat – in a good way. Lots of aniseed, ouzo, real heavy warming sensations, Benylin, the stewed fruits coming through. Hierbas, the Mallorcan liqueur,

Finish:  Dark chocolate, coffee, going to say tannic dryness even though I’m not entirely certain what that means. Cornflakes, for some bizarre reason. Hints of peppermint in the aftermath, pink peppercorns, metallic notes, and those juicy, sweet notes of the fruit.

Brabazon II in a grappa glass for some reason.

Overall, a solid release. Could it be a little better priced? Yes, it could. At close to €80, this is more expensive than the Tyrconnell 12 Madeira cask, which they used to make in Cooley, and which is one of the greats of Irish whiskey. But as with anything, this is completely subjective – bear in mind that after tax, I get paid about €80 a day, and as I work hard, it needs to be a pretty decent whiskey to justify that spend. Still, as a memento of an odd day wandering a deserted Dublin waiting for the hurricane, it was a worthwhile buy. My thanks to the guys in the Celtic Whiskey Shop for just being open, but especially to Dave Cummins, who was fantastic company, even managing to get my daughter chatting about whiskey, a topic she hates as it is ‘boring’. I mean yeah, it is totally boring, until you’re old enough to drink the stuff. But for her, that day is a long way off…he said hopefully.