If you wrote a short bio about yourself, what would you include as a hobby?
Recently, I encountered this task at work. When it comes to personal interests, what I really wanted to put down is whisky. But after seeing all the value-ridden hobbies listed by my colleagues, I hesitated. The fear of potential social judgement is real! Although I briefly considered making my whisky-drinking hobby sound more poetic (e.g., Alyssa enjoys the craftsmanship of Uisge Beatha), I decided not to mention it at all.
So, when Malt asked if I would like to do a bit of writing, I was ecstatic! This is the parallel universe where people who are aggressively passionate about whisky meet. You might be judged for drinking whisky with soda, but no one will raise their eyebrows if you publicly declare your love for whisky. So here I am, with my first review on Malt. Let’s start strong (pun intended) with a cask strength whiskey from Ireland.
When I think about Irish whiskeys, two things come to my mind.
First, it is the key ingredient in the best medication to combat jet lag: Irish coffee. According to Joe Sheridan – the chef who created the first Irish coffee for disembarking passengers – the original recipe includes (yes, he described it in limerick):
Cream, rich as an Irish brogue.
Coffee, strong as a friendly hand.
Sugar, sweet as the tongue of a rogue.
Whiskey, smooth as the wit of the land.
Second, a quintessential style of Irish whiskey is single pot still whiskey, which is made from a combination of malted and unmated barley (30% of each, at least) and produced in pot stills at a single distillery. That being said, a blended Irish whiskey could be blends of malt and grain whiskeys (just like blended Scotch whisky), or blends of single pot still and grain whiskeys, or blends of malt and single pot still whiskeys… Well, the combination is too complex for even multiple tweets. Let’s stop right here and not lose our Millennial crowd.
The Irish whiskey we are talking about today – Jameson 18 Year Old Bow Street Cask Strength Whiskey – is a blend of single pot still and grain whiskeys. It is touted as Jameson’s rarest release and is bottled only once per year at cask strength. I think we are all familiar with this type of limited release by now. It assuredly comes with a hefty price tag; in this case, a bottle sets you back €240.
I first sampled this whiskey at an Irish whiskey tasting workshop around St. Patrick’s Day in 2020. It was also the last proper tasting I attended before the Rona Era. The tasting line-up that night was:
West Cork 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 40% ABV.
Tipperary 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 47% ABV.
Teeling Single Malt Irish Whiskey (no age statement), 46% ABV.
Dingle Single Malt Irish Whiskey Batch #4 (no age statement), 46.5% ABV.
Redbreast 21 Year Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, 46% ABV.
Jameson 18 Year Old Bow Street Cask Strength, 55.3%ABV.
For me, Jameson clearly eclipsed the other whiskeys with its complexity and smoothness. So, when it was available for purchase, I bought a bottle. For the elevated price, I got a beautifully engraved wooden box, a sleekly designed bottle of whiskey, and a copper coin. At first, I mistaken that copper coin for a foiled chocolate coin. I thought, “Oh, that’s thoughtful! Jameson gives you some chocolate to pair this whiskey with.” Uh-uh, no! It’s a copper coin that takes you to a website where you get to learn some history about Bow Street and the creation of this whiskey. It’s somewhat informative, but mostly gimmicky. A chocolate coin would have been better… just saying.
The selling point of this whiskey is its connection with Bow Street in Dublin, the original home of Jameson Distillery. It is first matured for 18 years in a combination of American bourbon barrels and Spanish sherry butts at the New Midleton Distillery in Cork. Then, the blend is re-casked in first-fill bourbon barrels for another 6-to-12-month maturation in the Maturation House at the Jameson Distillery Bow Street. The Maturation House can store 84 casks only. In that sense, it is indeed a rare release.
The blend is bottled at cask strength without the use of chill-filtration. The proof varies depending on the year of release. The 2018 batch (also the first release) was bottled at 55.3% ABV; the 2019 batch came to us 55.1% ABV. What disappoints me a little, though, is that there is no information about coloring (according to the Irish Whiskey Technical File, Point 188.8.131.52, E150a can be used in Irish whiskeys for coloring purposes prior to bottling). If Jameson is marketing it as a premium whiskey, I expect the label to contain, what I call, the basic three: age statement, use of filtration, and use of coloring. That’s the bare minimum.
You probably wonder: how is this whiskey different from Jameson 18 Year Old, which is more accessible and comes in a deceivingly similar packaging? The answer lies in the name. The Jameson 18 Year Old does not take that three-hour drive up to its ancestral home. In addition, the standard 18 Year Old is chill-filtered and (God forgive them) watered down to 40% ABV. So, friends, pay attention to detail! Do not let the packaging fool you. Triple check the label.
|Jameson 18 Year Old||Jameson 18 Year Old Bow Street Cask Strength|
|Whiskey Type||Pot still and grain whiskeys||Pot still and grain whiskeys|
|Cask||American bourbon barrels and Spanish sherry butts||American bourbon barrels and Spanish sherry butts|
|Alcohol %||40% ABV||Cask strength|
|Age||18 years||18 years (+ a short stay in Bow St. Dublin)|
Jameson 18 Year Old Bow Street Cask Strength 2019 – Review
Color: Copperish Amber.
On the nose: Intense, with lots of ripe tropical fruits. I get banana walnut bread, rum raisin chocolate, toffee, lemon, honey, pineapple, and overripe melon. After it is exposed to air for a while, a light touch of perfumy notes and earl grey comes through.
In the mouth: A liquid dessert! It has a creamy, oily mouthfeel. That chocolate note carries on to the palate. Caramel, hazelnut chocolate, citrus, macadamia-like milky nuttiness, and dark fruits. I can taste the wood influence – a bit of oakiness and leather – but they are well-integrated. A beautiful long finish, with lingering spiciness accompanied by sweetness. There’s a tad of bitterness near the very end. Overall, it’s full-bodied and well balanced.
At 55.1% ABV, this whiskey is very smooth even without water. Taste-wise, it’s chocolatey and caramel-forward. Actually, I think it’s a brownie in whiskey form. The sweetness comes with depth, perfect as a dessert after a two-course meal and as a nightcap. The price tag is intimidating for an 18 year old whisk(e)y. But, it is comparable to some limited releases these days. Personally, the quality of this whiskey and the joy it brings me justify the price. Every time I have a dram, I feel complete. In fact, it is one of my go-to drams when I can’t decide what to drink.