The Old Jameson Distillery is in the more depressed half of Dublin north of the river and is operational as a museum with restaurant, bars, and gift shop. Out in the courtyard of the old one sits a giant old copper still and a bench made from a first generation barrel. Inside a bar served scores of different lines of Jameson whiskey, some extremely expensive and some exclusive to that very location. I would have been remiss to not sample several.
The clerk who sold tickets for the tour was a rabid Green Bay Packers fan who loved chatting with Americans about American football. A European interested in American football is perhaps even rarer than an American interested in rest-of-the-world football. We watched a film about the founding of Jameson Irish Whiskey by a Scotsman named John Jameson in the late 18th century. Our guide asked for volunteers to participate in a whiskey tasting after the tour, to which I enthusiastically applied. I expected a little more competition for the position of whiskey taster—these were, after all, people who had just paid to tour a distillery—but was happy to be accepted early while others had to be coaxed into the position.
Our guide showed us through the whole works of whiskey production with semi-functional replicas of equipment. There’s plenty of barley lying around if you care to grab a handful. It tastes like you would expect. The one point they make sure you remember is that Irish Whiskey is distilled three times versus two for Scotch or Bourbon, and while there’s no reason that an extra round would make the product objectively better, three is more than two, so, you know. Incidentally, the Irish word is “whiskey” while the Scotch is “whisky”. He periodically paused to ask where someone was from (all Americans in my group) and recite a bit of trivia about their own hometown (“Rockford, Illinois? They have the most stop signs per capita.”) obscure enough that the person couldn’t confirm whether it was true or if the guy was just having a laugh.
At the end was the part I was there for: the tasting. We were each provided a sample of one Bourbon, one Scotch, and one Jameson Irish whiskey, and we were asked to rate them. The Bourbon was good old Jack Daniel’s. The Scotch was Johnnie Walker Black, which is especially important to note because the quality of whisky is far more variable than whiskey. A good Scotch is the king of all potable liquids while a bad one is vile and should only be drunk in the darkest melancholy. Black Label is the second cheapest Johnnie Walker blend and it might be considered unfair to place it against a respectable single malt of any national origin. Most of the jury dutifully selected the Jameson as the best and were approved of by our host. I chose the Jack Daniel’s and was met with the same mostly-kidding ire that you’ll get if you order any beer other than Guinness in an Irish pub. Most of the other tasters seemed to be college kids and weren’t really up to finishing their samples so I waved them over and amassed a healthy pile of empty glasses in front of me.