Aged: No age statement
Product of: Ireland (Eire)
The chaps from Jameson's Midleton Distillery are regulars at the nearby Brew Pub of the Franciscan Well Brewery and it's here that the story of Jameson Caskmates started one Friday evening in August 2013.
Just days earlier, Shane Long, Franciscan Well's founder and head brewer had been chatting to his American distributor about how popular cask aged beers were becoming in the States. So a few days later when Dave Quinn, Head of Whiskey Science at Jameson came into the pub with colleagues from the distillery, Shane asked if he could have some whiskey barrels to experiment aging beer in. In the spirit of Irish conviviality, Dave sent a dozen Jameson barrels over to the brewery but with two stipulations: firstly that the Jameson name could not be used to market the beer and that it could only be sold if the experimental beer turned out to be a superior product, in case people associated it with Jameson.
Stout being synonymous with Ireland, it seemed an obvious choice for the American market and stout's relatively high alcohol content makes it particularly suited to oak aging. While whiskey benefits from some oxidisation during barrel aging, beer does not, so Shane first purged the ex-Jameson casks of oxygen by filling with carbon dioxide. The casks were then immediately filled with the beer and topped with more CO2 before being sealed. Shane left the stout to mature in the barrels for three months before driving to Midleton with a case of unlabelled bottles of the beer for Dave to try.
At Midleton, Dave and the other Jameson 'Masters' (Brian Nation, Master Distiller; Billy Leighton, Master Blender and Ger Buckley, Master Cooper) tried the stout and pronounced it so good that they encouraged Shane to use the Jameson name on the beer's label. Shane immediately rang the bartender back at his Brew Pub, who at the time also doubled as his graphic designer, and within 24 hours the beer was labelled.
Just 2,000 bottles of the stout were produced and these were sold at Shane's own Brew Pub and twelve other independent off-trade outlets across Ireland who he was friendly with. It was the most expensive beer in Ireland at a whopping €15 a bottle but it sold out within days. Shane kept six bottles of the stout back and entered them in the International Beer Challenge where his stout won a gold medal.
So successful was the stout that Shane wanted to make more and so again asked Dave if he could have more Jameson barrels. So another twelve barrels were delivered to the brewery and the used casks picked up and brought back to the distillery. Dave didn't think the stout barrels would be any longer suitable for aging whiskey but they had a batch of Jameson about to go to the bottling plant and curious, he filled the casks with some of the whiskey.
Some five to six months later one of the warehousemen reminded Dave about the casks. He extracted a sample and tried this along with his colleagues, Brian Nation, Billy Leighton and Kevin O'Gorman (Head of Maturation). To their surprise they found the whiskey to have retained the floral fruity and spicy Jameson character but it had also developed elements of coffee, cocoa and toffee with faint hop notes. The mouthfeel had also changed, becoming almost creamy. The stout had rounded the whiskey.
They took the whiskey to Brendan Buckley, Global Innovation & Prestige Whiskeys Director at Irish Distillers who liked the whiskey so much that he instructed his team to develop packaging and a label for the whiskey. The twelve casks yielded 2,000 bottles which were sold in a small scale pilot release across Dublin and Cork. Like the beer, the whiskey sold out almost immediately, generating a huge interest.
More batches of the stout followed, developing a cult following and winning the World Beer Awards. As Shane brewed and aged more stout so the used barrels were returned to Jameson where they were filled with more whiskey, gradually building a stock of Caskmates whiskey until 80,000 cases had amassed, enough for a general release and the launch in September 2015.
It's a perfect collaboration. Shane's Jameson barrel aged stout has sold so well that he has been able to build a new larger brewery so increasing his capacity. Jameson's Caskmates whiskey also looks set to enjoy similar success and is marketed with the tagline "Triple distilled, once stouted", reinforcing the union of whiskey and craft beer.
While Shane's Franciscan Well Stout is supplying all the barrels used in the main Jameson Caskmates release, the Jameson has also collaborated with other craft brewers, such as London's Beavertown Brewery, to produce very limited editions of beer and Caskmates Whiskey.
Review and Tasting
Sampled on 22/09/2015
Clear, mid golden amber.
Toffee, vanilla fudge with underlying freshly baked brown bread, apples, pears and Christmassy spice. Faint aromas of hazelnut, coffee, cacao, lavender and fresh green hops.
Slightly sweet with a creamy mouthfeel. Milk chocolate, vanilla fudge, floral notes, nutty sherry and Christmassy cinnamon and nutmeg spice.
Long chocolaty finish with coffee, butterscotch and gentle spice.
Irish whiskey and stout are often consumed alongside each other. They are a great match. So it's perhaps not surprising that finishing whiskey in stout seasoned casks produces a slightly sweet, wonderfully rounded whiskey with distinctive chocolaty notes.