Cork, gift shop, great tour, Ireland, Irish Whiskey, Irish Whiskey Academy, Jameson Experience, Micro Distillery, Midleton, Old Midleton Distillery, pot still, taste test, Things to Do in Cork, Triple Distillation
If you are a fan of Jameson ( I am) and their family of whiskies, then a visit to their distillery in Midleton is a must see if you are visiting Ireland. I have visited both their old Dublin distillery and the one in Midleton. I like both distilleries but the one in Midleton has their new working distillery within sight of their old distillery. So if you are traveling near Midleton, then do stop by and visit the Jameson Experience at the Old Midleton Distillery.
History of the Distillery
There are a few points to be made about the John Jameson and Son distillery in Dublin and the Old Midleton distillery in Midleton At one time, these two distilleries were separate companies. It can be a bit confusing about the relationship of these two distilleries, so here is their history. John Jameson was the general manager for the Bow Street Distillery (established in 1780) that became the John Jameson & Son Bow Street Distillery in 1810. Jameson’s Irish Whiskey was distilled there until 1971.
The Old Midleton Distillery was started in 1825 by the three Murphy brothers. In 1966, three different distilleries, John Jameson & Sons, John Powers & Sons, and Cork Distilleries (owner of The Old Midleton Distillery) came together to form Irish Distillers. This Old Midleton distillery operated until 1975. In 1975, the New Midleton Distillery was completed and all operations of the old distillery were moved to the new facility. The Old Midleton Distillery was reopened as a visitor center for the Jameson Experience in 1992.
The Approach to the Old Midleton Distillery
We found a parking space a short walk from the entrance to the distillery. As you approach the distillery you see an old fashioned train with a car of Jameson barrels on the second flat bed car. Addtionally, one cannot help but notice the huge copper pot still adjacent to the distillery entrance. The lovely grey color stone building is stately and is highlighted by welcoming, twin, red barn doors. A clock is adjacent near the top of part of the building.
Visitor Center and Gift Shop
As soon as you enter you will see the cashier for buying your tickets. In this room, look up, and you will see a Jameson green bottle chandelier. Display cases have artifacts from the history of the distillery as well. Additionally, there is a small bar in this room. This is the waiting room where you start the tour.
After paying for your ticket, the gift shop is straight ahead and has many different bottles of the various whiskies they produce in Midleton, including some hard to find limited whiskies. I was lucky that the day I visited they were introducing Midleton Very Rare 2017, a limited produced whiskey. I purchased my bottle in the gift shop. They have a wide variety of barware with logos of the different brands., too.
Start of the Tour
The tour starts in the room near the ticket desk and you enter another room with a movie screen where you see a short film on the history of John Jameson & Son. The film details that they triple distill their whiskey that is different than most Scotch and American whiskeys. That produces a very smooth whiskey. In fact, at one time, Irish Whiskey, which John Jameson & Son was a major player, was the most popular spirit in the world.
You learn that the company had many ups and downs over the years with many hardships beyond their control. The Irish Potato Famine, the Irish Civil War, the British trade war, Prohibition in the US and shipping lanes disrupted by WWII all contributed to the decline of the company. In addition, during Prohibition in the US, many of the illegal, inferior produced whiskey was sold as “Irish” whiskey, because at that time, Irish whiskey had a great reputation. This hurt the real Irish whiskey business in the US for years afterwards.
But after a long decline, Jameson’s started to rebound and with the purchase of Irish Distillers by Pernod Ricard, more marketing dollars were available for overseas. This proved to be a winning formula as Jameson’s has been growing rapidly for the last few decades. It is the best selling Irish whiskey in the US. After the film was completed, our guide, Mike walked us outside to our next stop.
From Woolen Mill and Army Barracks to Distillery
The Old Midleton Distillery was originally built as a woolen mill. Later, it became military barracks. It was in 1825 it became a distillery. The tour guide discusses how the barley and other grains are sourced primarily from local farms located nearby the distillery. The tour shows the giant steel water wheel that is outside and was used to run many of the distillery’s operations. The distillery uses the water from the nearby Dungourney River.
Milling of the Barley
Jameson’s uses a mix of malted and unmalted barley. The first stop we were shown how the barley is steeped in water for a number of hours so it will germinate. Next, the barley is placed on mats at high temperature which causes the barley to sprout. Next, the barley will be kiln dried to prepare it for conversion to sugars for fermentation. The mats become very not and the workers needed to wear boots, similar to fireman boots. Interestingly, our guide said it is rumored that David Bowe’s platform boots were designed similar to the boots worn at the distillery.
The next stop of the tour was where the grist from the barley is sent forward for mashing. Hot water is added to the grist, (now mash) is mixed for about 2 hours in a tub that has a large metal stirring rod. This allows the starches to convert to sugars. The mash is drained and the liquid, now called wort, now goes to the fermentation stage. It is pumped into a washback where yeast is added. This produced alcohol is called wash. It is now a form of beer with an alcohol content of about 10%.
The tour’s next stop was to view the largest pot still ever built. This pot still would hold 32,000 gallons. Even I can’t drink that much! It was said that before this still went into production, the largest pot still in Ireland was about 500 gallons. I can’t drink that much either, but my friend Andy might. Our guide then discussed the triple distillation process.
The first distilling occurs in the wash still. The wash is boiled and the vapor goes up into the column of the still. The vapors convert back into a liquid, at about 40% alcohol. It then goes into the second still for further distillation and the alcohol through this second distillation turns the alcohol volume to 70%. It then goes into what separates Irish whiskey production from many others. It now goes to a third still where it is distilled once more. After this third distillation, the proof is now about 85%, The liquid then goes into oak barrels for aging.
The next step of our tour was the micro distillery. This is a functioning operation within the Old Midleton property. Our guide explained how this allows the company to experiment with various taste profiles. They cannot easily do this in their large distillery. It is very important for the company as it allows their personnel to have hands on experience, just like their peers from the past.
From there we went to the barrel maturation area. The guide explained how as the whiskey ages in the barrels, each year the whiskey evaporates and loses part of the whiskey. This is called the Angel’s Share. He then showed us the two types of barrels Jameson uses. One is a used American charred oak barrel. The other is a used Spanish sherry cask made from European oak. The sherry barrels are far larger than the American oak barrel and the cost is far more as well.
Irish Whiskey Academy
We then went outside and viewed the building that houses the Irish Whiskey Academy. It is a training facility for hosting courses that instruct on the production and heritage of Irish whiskey. They invite other smaller Irish micro distillers to visit and conduct seminars for them. Why would they invite potential competitors to their academy? It goes back to the Prohibition days in the US. It has taken Jameson a long time to rebuild their reputation. They want these micro distillers to produce an excellent product for export to maintain the quality profile of Irish whiskey.
Next, we went into a tasting room where I was one of eight on our tour that was selected to taste three different whiskies. These were Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker Red, and, of course, Jameson’s. No surprise, Jameson’s won the vote as to which whiskey was the best!
We then proceeded to the bar at the end of the tour where we got to order a Jameson drink of our choice. I ordered a Jameson and ginger ale with lime. It was delicious and refreshing. It was a perfect way to end our time at the Jameson Experience.
Until next time, have fun at your favorite bar!
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