Wednesday 25 May 2011

Jameson Select Reserve

A new Irish whiskey surfaced in South Africa last October. Called Jameson Select Reserve, it's a curiosity, quite distinct from its siblings in the Jameson family. Most obvious is the prominent sherry nose. Sherry-matured whiskey is a component of all the Jemmies but it is nowhere so obvious as here. That carries through on the taste but it's not overwhelming. We just have a beautiful spicy vanilla sweetness followed up by a delicate pencil-shaving wood finish. Very pleasant.

The box says:
A high proportion of single Irish pot still whiskey complements a rare, sweet small-batch grain whiskey to produce a luxuriously rich taste experience. 
Extensive use of first fill bourbon and sherry casks in the maturation adds character and depth, and contributes to the overall smoothness. 
Traditional notes of toasted wood, spice and vanilla are enhanced by creamy, luscious touches of dried apricots, nectarines and papaya.

Looking under the hood, what we have is a blend including about 75% 12-year old pot still whiskey. 20% of that has been matured in sherry casks.

The rest of the blend is 5-year old grain whiskey. But it's not your everyday grain. It is distilled in the same column still in Midleton that produces all the grain but the knobs have been set differently here. This particular grain is made only for a few days every year and it has never, until now, been used in a released whiskey. That's why the bottle's label declares this a "Small Batch" release.

We have yet to get a sniff of Jameson Select in the Northern Hemisphere. It will get here eventually, so I'm told. The packaging anticipates a far wider distribution too:

For now, the geographical limitation is a reminder that South Africa is a key market for whiskey. It may be an awkward one because of the legal requirement to bottle at 43% ABV instead of 40% but such naked protectionism is not discouraging the whiskey producers. Perhaps they see South Africa as a foothold in an untapped continent. A recent article in African Business Review considered Diageo's prospects there:
Nick Blazquez, President of Diageo Africa, also identified whisky as a key area for growth, with the company currently shifting around 2.5 million cases of whisky a year.
"South Africa is very significant for us, but actually growth in West Africa - Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana - is even faster," said Blazquez. 
"More consumers have got disposable income and we see this rapidly evolving middle class. I expect Scotch sales to accelerate in Africa."