Irish people are craftspeople: it’s in our blood and bones to create distinct and timeless pieces of incredible art. And while we may rely on technology for many things today, there are some things that will never replace the skill of an Irish man or woman.
In a collaborative celebration, Jameson Whiskey hosted a once-off event to demonstrate the importance that the past, present and future have a craft that has withstood the test of time.
John Jameson brought his elixir to life in 1780, and the traditions behind each crafted bottle have remained practically the same ever since.
The theme of the day was time, and we began in the AM on a cold Spring morning at Henrietta House; better known as The Irish Writers Museum. However, prior to becoming a museum, this was the home to John Jameson’s great-grandson George Jameson; who was head of the Bow St distillery for 23 years. George came form an era that would see some of the greatest literary geniuses of all time – including James Joyce (who’s favourite drink was rumoured to be Jameson with ginger and lime), Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Bram Stoker, and Jonathan Swift. The events in Dublin in that era are what Inspired the formulation of the legendary brew.
Kildare Street is predominantly known for housing our Irish Parliament, but just a stone’s throw away from the Dáil lies Fitzwilliam underground cellars where Jameson barrels were once handmade, but now return here to be mended. Ger Buckley is a Master Cooper (a Cooper is the name given to the crafts-person who makes barrels) and is a third-generation barrel maker for the Jameson Distillery. Hand-crafted from only one piece of oak, a Cooper must only rely on his hands, eyes and three tools to complete this fundamental task, as it is this barrel made from rich Irish oak that gives Jameson Whiskey it’s distinctive appearance, smell and taste. Ger demonstrated the difficulty and precision needed in building these large barrels from scratch. Each section of wood has a different diameter than the last, making the process tenacious. Why not make each section equal? This would only be applicable If Irish oak was more widely available in large quantities and was cheaper, so the Cooper must skilfully make each piece fit together to securely seal the whiskey inside. Time truly stood still for me here.
In keeping with time, Jameson masterfully embraced the past and future with their latest collaboration. James Earely – designer and influential graff artist from Dublin – was commissioned to create this year’s limited edition bottle. James is perhaps best known for his stained-glass recreations of animals, which are normally magnificent in scale and capture exuberant amounts of colour and imagination. Taking inspiration from his family – who are stained-glass makers – and his love of Dublin, the design explored the technical elements of connectivity within Dublin city; marrying the old Jameson bottle with a new, fresh, and modern lease of life.
Earley got a nice surprise too when he found out that United States President Barack Obama had been gifted his limited addition bottle just in time for St. Patricks Day.
Continuing with the present, the tour concluded in a spectacular secret bar on a popular city centre street. “The Butcher Bar”, located on Georges St, looks every part a butchers until you are guided through a false facade, through a fake freezer and down an old and winding wooden staircase to reveal the beautifully restored secret Jameson bar below. Only used to train Jameson bar staff, the bar will keep with tradition and remain closed to the public. But I can confirm that that this is a place that the Jameson did, in fact, taste better down there.
How have Jameson carried brewing in an age or rapid change? According to an archivist for Irish distilleries , every drop of Jameson that was ever created was recorded, because the Jameson family were committed to innovation:
“One of the things that gives modern Jameson it’s confidence is that we have a strong history of distilling here in Ireland and we’ve learned from it. Every distiller at Jameson has passed on his knowledge to the distiller who succeeded him”.