Updated December 4, 2017
By Richard Thomas
“Small batch” is an ill-defined category in whiskey, and the best way to think of the definition is to apply it literally: said whiskey is made in small batches. Heretofore, the term was used exclusively in America and applied to bourbon and rye, but now Ireland’s Jameson Distillery is getting in on the act. Or at least it had until a name change came along. You see, Jameson Black Barrel used to be known as Jameson Small Batch.
Introduced in 2010 as Jameson Select Reserve Small Batch, Black Barrel is a blend (remember “small batch” isn’t “single barrel”). About 3/4s is 12 year old, pot still Irish whiskey, and the remainder is 5 year old grain whiskey. The latter whiskey is made for only a few days of the year and not used in any other Jameson label, giving the blend its small batch and select reserve designations. The contributing whiskeys are matured either in toasted sherry casks or charred bourbon barrels.
Jameson Black Barrel comes in a fairly typical Jameson green glass bottle, with the company label design done up in dark charcoal gray. That bottle comes with a plastic and cork stopper and a metal foil wrapper. The whiskey is bottled at 40% alcohol, unless you live in South Africa, where it is 43% alcohol.
The whiskey has a solid, straw-gold coloring, and a nose like a breakfast fruit bowl. A dense citrus scent is front and center, with touches of coconut, apricot and guava, and just a hint of graininess in the background. It’s a creamy, full-bodied whiskey on the palate, tasting of vanilla and coconut with woody notes. The Jameson style is very much there at the core, but with so much extra. The finish is cool, crisp, slightly woody and with a bit of bite to it.
I must say I liked the Jameson Black Barrel at least as much as I liked the distillery’s 18 Year Old, and the latter is a damn sight more expensive. That makes this whiskey a solid choice for bargain hunting Irish whiskey lovers.
The official pricing for this whiskey has risen to €47 since it was rebranded as Jameson Black Barrel (see below). That is some €15 higher than it was when it was released as Jameson Small Batch. Do yourself a favor and grab a bottle at the lower price while you still can.