For better or worse Ireland’s history, art, music, literature and culture has strong links with drink and we are not talking about a nice glass of orange squash or apple juice. In fact alcohol is probably one of the first things people think of when Ireland is brought up. Whiskey is one of the more influential drinks, alongside Guiness and Poitín and you can visit the breweries and sample their wares.
To my shame, I have to admit this was my first visit to the Jameson factory. I have lived in Dublin for six years and tens of bottles of Jameson have passed through my kitchen, courtesy of my trusty companion who quite enjoys a tipple. So when our friend Padpad came to visit we decided that it was a high time that we went and did the tour. At this point I should say that we have not done the Guiness tour either but we have a proper excuse for that one, Guiness is not vegetarian!
The boys and I walked to the brewery which is conveniently located in Smithfield, Dublin 7. If you are feeling a bit lazy you can get the red line Luas but I prefer not to as it can be a bit rough. The reception area of the visitors centre was quite impressive. It opened into a large cavernous room, which was warm and buzzing with fellow tourists. It was decorated in whitewash, with original beams and brass used to accent the chandeliers and portraits on the walls. The boys were quite fond of a chandelier that was made out of Jameson bottles, which may become our next make and do project.
Access to the brewery is by guided tour only so we paid for our tickets and had a 30 minute wait. There is plenty to do in that time however, joyously whiskey related. You can sit in the bar and have a hot drink, cocktail or sample the taster menu which boasted a range of whiskeys to sample. The restaurant was also close by and the gift shop was only across the room.
When our tour was called we made our way into a small movie theatre. Here our tour guide Rob asked for volunteers to do some whiskey tasting at the end. I of course volunteered and was rewarded with a special green stick to carry around (it was dubbed the magical whiskey stick). We then were shown a short movie which followed a fictional journalist visiting the brewery when it was still in operation back in old Dublin town.
After this we entered the old brewery for the tour. It was laid out in the sequence of the brewing process so we could follow the journey of the grain from delivery to bottle. Here are some of the highlights:
- The historical displays: To give us an idea of what life was like in the brewery in times of old there were small historical displays along the tour. Some of them had mannequins set up showing how people worked and I felt particularly sorry for the guy carrying the sacks of grain up the wooden ladders. One even had stuffed cats as they were an important part of the anti-pest strategy of the brewery.
- The brewing instruments: They were huge and shiny. All the way through our guide showed us and explained what these instruments were for and how they were used. He also explained how they influence the flavours of the drink to make it what is it today.
- The Vats: These were also quite large but what was really impressive (and scary) was the way that they cleaned their vats. They would lower the unfortunate worker down into the vat with a candle. If the candle went out the oxygen was gone and they had to get out of there quickly or else they would suffocate. Lovely.
- The see-through barrels: I usually zone out when I hear people going on about the colour and fragrance of alcohol. This is a remnant of my teen years when booze was there to be drunk in large quantities, not to be admired. Not that we could see anything in the dark, soggy field anyway. So when the guide showed us some whiskey maturing in barrels I was surprised as there actually was a difference! The older the whiskey got, the darker the colour it became and the liquid levels were depleting with age due to evaporation (the angel’s share as it is called). I could even smell the fragrant notes of the whiskey which was quite nice. This must be a sign that I am getting old.
- The whiskey at the end: Well there is no point going to a brewery (even if it is a museum) without sampling the goods. At the end you can have a glass of Jameson neat or with water, lemonade, ginger ale or cranberry juice. I went for the cranberry and it was delicious. I have drank it since and it is really nice still, so I wasn’t just buzzing from the fumes in the barrel room.
- Expensive bottles: They had one for sale for €50,000. You can now buy a house for that in Ireland. It is two years of my wages before tax. That is all.
But the best part of the tour, for me, was the whiskey tasting! There was a little tray all laid out in front with three shots of whiskey, one Jameson, one scotch and one American whiskey. Our tour guide explained how each one was made and invited us to sample it. Initially I thought that the Jameson was a bit yuck, probably because I am not a whiskey drinker. Then I tasted the others. The scotch tasted like what our next door neighbours house smelt like after the big fire, charred and smoky. This is because they heat the grain with peat and I did not like it one bit. The next was the American whiskey which tasted like university nights of regret and watered down Jameson. The guide explained that this was because it is only double distilled rather than triple, like Jameson. So I voted for Jameson as my favourite. Afterwards they give you a certificate saying that you are a certified whiskey taster and I am still delighted with myself.
But where there any negatives you ask? My main criticism of the tour was that it was too full. I couldn’t really hear what the guide was saying unless I was up close to the guide and if you stopped to have a look at things it was difficult to get into the next room. I did go on a Saturday so maybe try midweek to avoid the crowds. Also the regular old pleb whiskey was expensive. I think that they should knock a few euro off as you are buying it in the Jameson museum so there should be no off-licence cut.
If you are interested in visiting you can visit their website here and happy tasting!