The original Jameson distillery in Midleton is exactly what you would expect an Irish whiskey distillery to look like.
Originally built as soldiers’ barracks near the southern Cork harbour, John Jameson and Son retrofitted the grey stone buildings in the 1800s into a distillery that functioned until 1975.
The buildings still stand today, as does the original water wheel, a massive copper pot still and a scattering of wooden barrels around the property. It’s a mecca for lovers of Irish whiskey, and for bus loads of tourists simply looking for a touch of Irish magic.
The small town of Midleton is typical — a series of colourful little homes huddled together for warmth. It’s just another small Irish town off one of the highways built since the Celtic Tiger brought some prosperity to this long-economically cursed island.
But new economies haven’t really touched this edge of Ireland. The towering new, updated Jameson distillery (just over the wall from the old one) indicates whiskey is still the lifeblood of the people who live here.
Jameson plays up its legendary whiskey well.
A short film that starts the tour of the old grounds goes heavy on it. John J. is portrayed as a patron saint of spirit-makers. Then a very enthusiastic tour guide takes over, offering a detailed walk through the grounds and explaining the whiskey-making process — from barley storage to mashing to fermentation, distillation and barrel warehousing.
By the end, you’re not only in awe of Jameson and his workers, you have a pretty good idea of how to make your own moonshine.
You’re also thirsty for a taste of the good stuff, which is — as luck would have it — included in the ticket price.
The tour ends back at the bar, a beautiful room in one of the original buildings where they serve up Jameson’s finest — straight, with ice or mixed with something called “ginger ale.”
It’s also next to the gift shop (yes, I am now the owner of a green Jameson leather belt. At least I didn’t buy a bumper sticker).
Hint: When they ask for volunteers near the end of the tour, get your hand up. (Spoiler: It’s a taste test between bourbon, scotch and Irish whiskey.)
The amateurs actually struggle with this, so if you know your stuff, it’s bragging time. And you get a certificate as a certified Irish Whiskey Taster.
TIPS AND SIPS
— Irish toast: Slainte! (pronounced SLAHN-che), translates to “health.”
— The Jameson gift shop offers a series of reserve and premium whiskeys you can’t get in Canada. Don’t be tempted here. If you’re flying home from Ireland, the airport duty free shop is stuffed full of the same bottles but at duty-free prices and without the hassle of carrying them around with you and packing them in your checked luggage.
— If you miss out on the free taste test at the bar, there are ample opportunities all over Ireland for an even better sampler. Several restaurants in and around Cork in particular offer Jameson taste tests, featuring some excellent boozes for between 10 and 12 euros ($15-$18). Check out the Cornerstore, 40A Cornmarket St., Cork.
The Jameson Experience, Midleton, tour is 12.60 euros (about $19) for adults, 10.60 euros ($16) students, and 9.60 ($14.50) seniors. The distillery is open seven days per week. Winter tours run daily from November through March at 11:30 a.m., 1:15 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Summer tours (April-October) are offered daily between 10a.m. and 4:30 p.m. There is also a tour of a recreated Jameson distillery in Dublin. See jamesonwhiskey.com for details.
Tourism Ireland has lots of suggestions on travelling the island at tourismireland.com.