Local publicans, bartenders and media were given a first-hand insight into the heritage and craft behind Jameson – the world’s number one Irish whiskey – in Belfast this week.
Dillon Bass – owners of the Jameson brand in Northern Ireland – welcomed fifth generation Master Cooper, Ger Buckley to Belfast on Wednesday 10 February, as part of a drinks industry engagement and training programme.
Providing a potted history of his personal experience as a Jameson Barrel Man for 40 years, Ger gave a valuable insight into the unique craftsmanship at the heart of the Jameson Irish Whiskey story, alongside an entertaining barrel-making and charring demonstration and a guided tasting of Jameson Black Barrel and Jameson Caskmates. The event took place at Belfast bar, The Dirty Onion, in the city’s Cathedral Quarter – home to an iconic red Jameson Barrel Man statue, which honours the heritage of the building – a former bonded whiskey warehouse.
Based in Midleton Distillery in Co. Cork, Ger is one of two coopers along with an apprentice cooper responsible for the supply and maintenance of the 1.3 million wood casks used to mature Jameson Irish Whiskey. His daily role includes inspecting close to 800 casks per day, certifying each one before it becomes part of the filling process.
With 50% of a whiskey’s taste coming from the wooden barrels it’s aged in, this process is critical to ensuring consistency of taste in every bottle of Jameson. It is this craft that safeguards the quality, reputation and popularity of Jameson right across the world.
The white oak barrels used to mature Jameson are carefully selected by Ger from suppliers in Northern Spain and America. These rare barrels are chosen due to their history and interesting life span, having homed the finest bourbons, ports and sherries.
Ger’s cooper career started early, when he became an apprentice to his father as a teenager. The methods used by his father have been passed down for hundreds of years, changing only slightly from barrel-making methods used in the Roman Empire. Ger’s craft stems not only from his family’s lineage but also from a fascination with the attributes he finds in woods and the distinct taste of Jameson Irish whiskeys.
A pure craftsman who lives and breathes his passion for all things wood, Ger’s most treasure tool is a 90-year old mallet, with its handle worn thin from years of hard work – at the hands of Ger, his father and grandfather before him.
Commenting during his visit to Belfast, Ger Buckley said: “I suppose you could say that I knew from a very young age that my interest in whiskey and deep understanding of woodwork would lead me to this point. I have always admired Jameson and remember marvelling at my grandfather’s collection. The green bottle and crest always stood out amidst the others.
“50% of a whiskey’s taste profile comes from the wood, with the distillation process having an equal effect on taste. My team and I are proud to care for the wood and safeguard the quality and craft of Jameson Irish Whiskey’’
“When you see a cask being emptied, and watch that beautiful golden amber liquid pour out, almost like honey, you know that this rich colour is down to the casks. That is a fantastic feeling. Joining Dillon Bass to share the history of my craft with bartenders and media in Belfast gives me great satisfaction as there has always been a strong connection to our whiskeys here in Northern Ireland.”
Two of the products in the portfolio that are close to Ger’s heart are Jameson Black Barrel and the recently launched, Jameson Caskmates. Both these brands have a unique cask influence.
Twice charred for good measure, Jameson Black Barrel is a triple distilled blend of rich pot still and grain whiskey that is matured in a mixture of sherry casks and bourbon barrels. However, unlike the rest of the Jameson range, the bourbon barrels undergo an additional charring. It’s a painstaking process, but worth the extra effort. Black Barrel delivers the signature smoothness of Jameson Original, with enhanced spice, nutty notes, vanilla sweetness and sherry fruit.
Emerging from a conversation between Jameson’s head distiller and the head brewer of Cork’s Franciscan Well Brewery, Jameson Caskmates has been finished in stout-seasoned whiskey casks. While Jameson’s triple-distilled smoothness is very much intact, notes of cocoa, coffee and butterscotch confirm the stout influence. Caskmates is a head-turning, modern Irish whiskey.
Greg Hughes, Business Unit Director, Dillon Bass added: “The incredible craftsmanship of Midleton’s Master Coopers, led by Ger Buckley is at the heart of the Jameson success story. We are proud to bring him here to Belfast, to give bartenders and media a unique opportunity to experience this incredible time-honoured tradition.
“As the largest owner of premium Irish whiskey brands in Northern Ireland, Dillon Bass is committed to helping its customers tell the fascinating Irish whiskey story to consumers and initiatives like this are a key part of our immersive training programme with key accounts.”
Jameson Irish Whiskey is available in all good bars, restaurants, hotels and off trade outlets across Northern Ireland.