A couple weeks ago Jameson funded a pre-St. Patrick's Day party for us, and then last week they sent us (Awl publisher John Shankman and me) to Ireland, for actual St. Patrick's Day. It was great: just a magical experience; so otherworldly, neat. (Get it? Ayyy.)
Anyway, they sent us there to tour the distillery, visit the Jameson whiskey academy, and generally experience what it's like to hang out in Ireland, on and around St. Patrick's Day, with locals. We went to a dozen or so pubs and restaurants, first near the distillery in County Cork, and then in Dublin. And this is the true story of what happens when people continue being polite and talk a lot about whiskey.
Haha, I just tried to remember anything that happened and my mind briefly went completely silent. But no, a highlight and starting point was the distillery tour with our international whiskey ambassador Dave, who was surprisingly young but seemed to know everything about Jameson, to the point where it was almost scary to imagine what kinds of tests he might have had to pass to get where he is now. He was also funny and kind (and cute). That's him pouring some whiskey samples from a freshly opened barrel in the Jameson warehouse.
At lunch I asked Dave whether he thought that if there was ever a 28 Days Later-type situation and he was solely responsible for making whiskey for a group of survivors, start to finish, he'd be able to do it. He said he thought he probably could, but that it would end up being not Jameson but at least a serviceable alcohol, eventually. Later, during the Whiskey Academy he held, he explained in detail how it all gets made, and my favorite part was that he casually (unintentionally?) anthropomorphized so many parts of the process. Like when he was explaining that you have to trick the barley into thinking it's spring so that it sprouts — [paraphrasing] "the barley seed starts to turn his own hard starch core into softer sugars, thinking that he's going to grow tall, so that when we cook him we can then use his sugars." It was the first time that the starch-into-sugar part of alcohol-creation had made sense to me, but it was also a little unexpectedly sad.
Dave also passed around a pot of brewer's yeast, which smelled incredible. I'd love to learn more about yeast.
We also visited the old cooperage and learned a bunch of surprisingly riveting stuff about barrels (they are … the perfect vessel???), from Jameson master cooper Ger Buckley. Here's Ger about to smear Jameson rep/barrel demonstration assistant Mary Anne's face with inner-barrel charcoal. Later that night he also came out to the club with us, which was great.
A few days later on the sidewalk, apropos of nothing, John said, "I want a barrel." And I was like, "Me too!"
Hmm, what else. It was cool to hear that whiskey is the result of Irish monks encountering Arabic alembics (which, for booze, eventually became pot stills). Here's Dave again in a composite pic, with the old Jameson pot still (which remains the largest in the world).
Basically, alcohol boils up out of beer, condenses, and slides out the side into a separate container. (Also, the word "whiskey" comes from the Gaelic phrase "water of life" — "uisce beatha" — which becamse "iska," then "isky," and now "whiskey.")
We ate everything. We made friends. We watched Ireland win the Six Nations rugby tournament, which was spectacular and changed the way I feel about sports. We were sometimes late for the bus. We slept on trains. Here's a terrible picture from my phone of our awesome photographer Daniel (hi, Daniel) en route from Cork to Dublin:
We went to a Jameson-sponsored acoustic concert at the Dublin distillery-museum/event space, where I befriended a guy who I subsequently learned was a barley farmer and was at the event for a friend of a friend. I gave him my contact info but he did not get in touch.
Then we went to another concert the next day, featuring the same headliners (White Lies) but open to the public and non-acoustic, in another part of Dublin. Some more pics:
We also went to a whiskey tasting on St. Patrick's Day, during which the differences among Jameson 12 Year Special Reserve, Jameson Black Barrel, and Jameson Gold were described to us. It seems accurate that they did all taste balanced and smooth – John added that he still enjoyed the mid-palate smoothness of Black Barrel (see our first post). This tasting also came shortly after John took a breather in the distillery gift shop dressing room:
Overall, I think we had a great time (John? John says: "Honestly, it was an incredible trip and I feel lucky to have been able to go. I'm also impressed that the company behind Jameson — Irish Distillers Limited — only has 120 full time employees. A wise man once told me TIME + PRESSURE = DIAMONDS, but perhaps we should change that to TIME + PRESSURE = GREAT WHISKEY??"). It was fun and strange to spend a week with a bunch of new people, eating and drinking around Ireland on a whiskey brand's dime, until it wasn't strange anymore, and it was just fun and hilarious, and when we got on the plane to go home I surprised myself by genuinely missing people I hadn't even known a week earlier. Aw. Is that too cheesy? John, help! Anyway, Jameson: making strangers friends, among other things, since 1780.
Also, at one point John and I were walking to the bus from some event, and I was babbling and giggling, because everything seemed kind of funny, and it was great to feel that way, and to remember that I used to feel that way more often, so I told John this, and thanked him for being awesome. It seemed like we were kind of having a moment, but then he said something along the lines of, "Word! That's awesome, you should put that in the post." And so here we are! Drink responsibly!
Next up (haha IT NEVER ENDS): The Wrap-Up.