St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin is like St. Patrick’s Day in the United States. A bunch of college kids don fake beards and tiny green hats while attempting to get drunk off pints of Guinness. The streets are rowdy, the pubs are packed, and occasionally you see someone being arrested. It’s the heart of Irish whiskey land, but for our Irish whiskey excursion, we needed to leave the spilled beer-glazed streets for a bit.
About 140 miles from Dublin is Cork. An area steeped in history and home to the Midleton Distillery and, since his birth, home to Barry Crockett. Barry is Jameson’s Master Distiller like his father was before him. He’s the man responsible for making sure that bottle of Midleton Very Rare you dropped a pretty penny on is up to the highest standards, and he’s probably tasted enough whiskey in his lifetime to fill a large swimming pool.
Jameson invited us on this trip to taste whiskey with Barry on his very last day on the job before retiring. The dude is an industry icon, and we were there to pluck as many nuggets of knowledge as we could from his whiskey-marinated brain.
Barry looks exactly like a Master Distiller. What does that mean? We don’t know . . . but he does. He’s well-spoken, sharply dressed, and speaks with an ear-pleasing Irish accent. We met Barry in the brand new Irish Whiskey Academy at the Midleton Distillery to sample a few glasses of the good stuff. Sprawled out before us were bottles of Jameson, Jameson Black Barrel, Jameson Gold, Redbreast, Midleton Very Rare, and some ridiculous Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy. You know, standard Irish lunch.
Here’s the thing about Barry: He waits. We sit with a glass of whiskey in our hands and just talk. And we talk. For a long time. Like a really long time.We talk about the whiskey, we talk about life, we talk about lots of things for what seems like ages before ever raising a glass to our lips. In a way it’s delightful torture.
Barry explains how over many decades he’s been able to help refine the flavor of all the whiskeys produced. This is the difference between Midleton and a lot of those craft distilleries. Sure some may produce fine spirits, but the Jameson family has this vast pool of knowledge that has grown over time and leads to what we’d describe as “smart whiskey.”
We begin with your standard Jameson. Barry describes flavors with such pinpoint accuracy that you often find yourself mumbling, “He’s right, that is green apple.” You taste the fruits he describes, that little bit of honey, and the flavors added from using just the right type of barrel. You feel the roof of your mouth stay smooth long after you’ve finished a sip. Jameson morphs from the whiskey you reach for when you want a quick buzz into an entirely different animal. A more sophisticated animal. A chimp in a tux. It also laid the foundation for understanding some of the more complex beverages we were about to have.
Black Barrel was explosive with rich toffee flavors; an older brother to standard Jameson. Barry noted that the Redbreast was like “Christmas pudding,” and, while we had no idea what Christmas pudding was, we knew he was spot on. Jameson Gold tastes like drinking velvet and the RVR has a taste that seemingly changes from the time it hits your lips until a few minutes after you’ve finished and are walking from the table. Midleton Very Rare makes you want to lounge in your study while reading a tattered copy of Walden and watching the day melt away.
Then you get to the Barry Crockett Legacy. A bottle that’s somehow a steal at $250. It smells of melons, bananas, and vanilla, and the finish lingers with you for what seems like the rest of the day. It’s an interesting experience drinking whiskey with the dude who’s name is on the bottle. Imagine describing a pint of Boston Lager to Sam Adams. Luckily, we weren’t drinking John Doe’s Prune Juice Whiskey, and the stuff happened to be insanely tasty so no sugarcoating was necessary.
After parting with Barry, we spent time with Ger Buckley – a 5th generation cooper – who schools us in everything involved in barrel making. His office is basically your dad’s garage only bigger and with a delicious whiskey aroma.
We stop by one of the warehouses (there are 39 of them; 42 by the end of the year) after our time with Ger. Each stores 33,600 casks of booze (in case you were looking for the perfect place to rob) and is normally not open to the public. We sample some whiskey straight from the barrel to understand how the different kinds (port, sherry, bourbon, etc) impart flavors on the liquor.
We leave the warehouse and it’s cold and rainy. The weather is often like that in Ireland. Somehow, it never seemed to dampen our spirits during the trip, but perhaps that was just because we’d consumed a solid amount of alcohol.