This is a fun one. The story begins with a pub conversation somewhere in Cork between Midleton's Master of Science, David Quinn, and Franciscan Well's founder, Shane Long. Shane asked if he might lay his hands on a few spare whiskey casks to age his beer in. He wasn't holding out much hope but it turns out that sometimes all you gotta do is ask. Franciscan Well released its first Jameson cask-aged stout in time for Christmas 2012.
When the most recent batch of twelve casks came back to Midleton, the distillery figured they might as well try their own experimental maturation. The casks had only been used once to age pot still spirit before their stout "seasoning" so there was plenty of oomph left in the wood. They refilled the casks with blended Jameson (at around the normal cask strength of 60% rather than bottling strength of 40%).
After six months, according to David Quinn, they were "shocked" by the transformation. The cask wasn't simply overlaying a beery character on the whiskey. There was something interesting going on, something they wanted to share with the rest of us. Hence Jameson Caskmates, 3,500 bottles of it, at the very generous price of €35.
If you can find it, that is. It all disappeared from the Jameson shop in Smithfield before I could get there. But there are still a few, I understand, to be distributed to various off licences. I'll be trying to bag one of those.
The marketing people took the theme of collaboration and ran with it, inviting artists in various media down to Midleton to absorb the atmosphere and spark off each other. Some of the results are viewable on YouTube: photography / illustration & stained glass / graphic art.
There was a PR launch event last Thursday in Dublin that featured the art work plus live music and a spoken word piece besides. The original collaborators, David Quinn and Shane Long were there to lead us all in raising a glass but there was a sizeable Irish Distillers contingent mingling with the crowd too. They all seem genuinely delighted with Caskmates which must bode well for more small, quick experiments and affordable releases. Midleton never chased the fashion for finished whiskeys but having pulled this one off successfully I hope they are inspired to do more.
David Quinn told me they refilled those same casks with more Jameson, just to see what happens. That was only two months ago so it's too early to know how that might turn out.
The partnership with Franciscan Well continues too with a Jameson cask-matured Pale Ale. This one is intended for consumption alongside Jameson whiskey.
It neither smells nor tastes like a regular Irish whiskey. It took me a few goes to get past the unfamiliar notes but I'm rather enjoying it now. The official tasting notes:
The initial aroma of freshly mown hay is complimented by a crisp orchard fruit character, green apples and pears along with a twist of lime zest. Mild pot still spices appear, deepening from green tea to hazel nut and milk chocolate. The lingering hop influence combines effortlessly with toasted oak and barley grains to form a solid base.
As expected, there is the initial sweet mouth coating typical of the Irish pot still whiskey inclusion. Then the effect of the beer cask finish becomes apparent with the subtle touch of hops and cocoa beans. Some marzipan and charred oak add to the complexity.
Long and sweet with milk chocolate and butterscotch.