When people in the U.S. have their first shot of Irish whiskey, there’s a very good chance it’s Jameson. It’s no secret that it’s the best-selling Irish whiskey in the world. But how much do you really know about the legendary spirit? We were out at the Midleton Distillery and spoke to Irish Distillers’ Archivist Carol Quinn about some of the lesser known things about our beloved Jame-O. Here are 6 facts you probably didn’t know about Jameson Irish Whiskey.
Early on, Jameson sold its whiskey in bulk, rather than in bottles
… And then relied on bartenders to go back to their bars and fill up into their own bottles. As it happens, the bottling process in the early days was very expensive. Rather than suck up limited resources on bottling, John Jameson & co. would distill the stuff, ship it in casks, and then rely on bar owners to fill bottles—which they also provided labels for—with the proper liquid. And even though Jameson would require each bar owner to sign an annual agreement, the system was very easy to beat. Believe it or not, this happened all the way up until the late 1960s, when Jameson decided to take definitive control of the quality of their spirit and bottle their booze in-house.
The Jameson Distillery on Bow Street Was Occupied by Rebels During the Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an armed insurrection by Irish Republicans in April 1916 in order to liberate Ireland and its people from British rule. While the uprising was taking place, the Republican rebels “captured” Jameson’s distillery on Bow Street (that still stands, today) for strategic reasons. Unfortunately, because of the brutal fighting that occurred, many of the rebel-owned “bases” were destroyed or heavily damaged. Nevertheless, the Bow Street distillery still hosts tens of thousands of visitors every single year, to this very day.
Jameson was one of the only companies to pay their employees in full during the rebellion
Jameson was really thorough with its records. While going through the company’s incredibly detailed payroll accounts, Quinn stumbled upon the company’s statement for the week of the rebellion from April 24 through 29, and it read: “All Employees Paid in Full.” Again, that might not sound like a big deal until you consider the context. At that point in history, in Ireland (and elsewhere), if an employee didn’t show up for work for whatever reason, they weren’t paid. Rather than leave their employees high and dry during the rebellion, Jameson paid their workers everything they were owed, even for the downtime, which mean their families stayed fed, warm, and safe.
Prohibition created a false impression of what Irish whiskey was
One of the biggest issues Irish whiskey faced during American Prohibition wasn’t necessarily that the stuff was banned, believe it or not. By that time, the brand had gone global, and had a dedicated following in countries all over the world. What Jameson did have a hard time dealing with was the aftermath. During prohibition, so many people tried to bootleg their bathtub imitations of Jameson (with label and all), that when Prohibition was finally over and people were allowed to buy the real stuff, they shied away from Jameson because they equated it to the swill to which they were accustomed.
90% of Jameson’s whiskey is exported
From an American’s perspective (especially when first stepping foot in Ireland), you fall under the impression that Jameson might actually be the number one export of the island. In every bar into which you walk, there seems to be a few empty shot glasses with the telltale remnants of a Jameson pour inside. But, believe it or not, exports account for over 90% of the company’s sales.
All of Jameson’s barley is locally sourced
The brand uses a healthy mix of malted and un-malted barley (which you probably know), but what you might not be aware of is just how serious they are about using local resources when possible. Their barley, for instance, is all sourced from Southern Ireland, within 50 miles of the Midleton Distillery. The brand partners with over 200 local farmers to produce the barley. While their plots can be as large as 700 acres, they also work with farmers with barley plots as small as 15 acres. Yes, one-five.