Bottle Your Own Jameson

Drinks International's editor Christian Davis on Jameson's bottle your own initiative.

Irish Distillers’ latest initiative to keep the Jameson juggernaut going is ‘Bottle Your Own’ In this case, Jameson Select Reserve Cask Strength (59%) Black Barrel for €100.

For whisky and specifically Irish whiskey fans and buyers, you need to go to the Jameson Distillery visitor centre in Dublin or the Jameson Experience at the Midleton Distillery outside Cork, to fill your own (see news story).

The initiative makes me think of fondue nights on skiing holidays in Austria. You pay your money and the restaurant gives you a saucepan of boiling cooking oil, a bowl of chips and strips of raw meet: That’s it.  You then cook your meal yourself.  It always occurred to me that the restaurant owner and the kitchen staff must be wetting themselves laughing. A DIY night out, they do next to nothing, for which you pay a premium.

Not for one minute though do I believe that Irish Distillers’ chairman & CEO Anna Malmhake, Jameson global brand director Dan Lundberg, let alone master distiller Brian Nation are laughing along similar lines. This isn’t a cost-cutting exercise, part of Pernod Ricard’s ‘Allegro’ project.

There may be a few people in the ID bottling hall who can see the funny side but in these difficult and constrained times, they may see it as work lost rather than a job farmed out to benighted punters. For them, the on-going ‘project’ is to fill bottles to the tune of 4 million 9-litre cases of Jameson Original every year.

So what’s the strategy? If the Jameson brand is going like a train why bother?

Malmhake told Drinks International: “We are giving them something unique. They come here (Dublin) and it is nice we have something to give them that is unique.”

Canadian, Dan Lundberg said: “For us it is about answering a need.  We have 400,000 visitors, 300,000 to Dublin and 100,000 to Midleton and they want to know about the brand. This is a tool to deepen their knowledge and experience.

“Some ask: ‘What does a cask look like?’  With this they get to see what a cask looks like and they get entranced,” said Lundberg.

I asked Malmhake, who is Swedish and transferred from Absolut, what’s next? We have had flavoured vodkas, are we going to see Jameson Honey soon?

She exclaims: “We will never do Jameson Honey! We do not need to. I cannot understand why some [whisk(e)y brands] want to do it. But why would we want to?” The question is left hanging.

Back to why we are here: Jameson Select Reserve Cask Strength Black Barrel. Ever affable master distiller Brian Nation, fills in the what and how. Basically the barrel on display in both locations is a 200 litre former bourbon barrels that will yield between 215-230 x 70cl bottles.

Jameson Select Reserve Cask Strength Black Barrel is a blend of grain whiskey that has been aged in bourbon barrels plus single pot still whiskey that has been in both bourbon and sherry barrels. Both are then put in heavily charred bourbon barrels. The grain gives butterscotch notes and the heavily charred barrels give notes of vanilla.

It has a creamy texture which belies its 59% abv strength.  In the Jameson style, it portrays pronounced vanilla and spicy notes from the various barrels. So, we have high octane, heavy duty Jameson. Not for the faint palated.

As to the ‘Bottle Your Own’ procedure, you step up to the barrel, in front of which is a a glass cylinder which will hold 70cl. Margaret, the friendly effusive ‘barrel minder’ and operator, pulls a special handle and the treasured liquid is quietly pumped into the chamber.

The punter, in this case an increasingly nervous me,  is then encouraged to pull another lever to empty the whiskey in the chamber into the empty bottle which I was told had been ‘washed’ with whiskey. That was easy.

Then comes the difficult part: I’m told to insert the cork stopper and attach the collar and closure strip.  Riven with nerves, I make an awful hash of it.

With near shaking hands I fill in the label: name (yes, I can just remember that), bottle: 5, cask: 61096 and the date. That’s it. Not able to cope with the pressure, I leave it to Margaret’s expert hands to apply the front label to the bottle.  She appears to be as jubilant as I am.

I’m relieved it’s over. Now the easy part: interview the chairman & CEO and the global brand director.

The next most difficult part: When to drink it? Keep it or enjoy it now - soon?  That’s just too difficult to decide right now. Fondues are much easier than this.