By Richard Thomas
When Cork County craft brewer Franciscan Well released their Jameson Stout in Ireland a couple of years back, it set off quite a stir in local circles. That beer began when New Midleton’s Master of Whiskey Science David Quinn made a friendly loan of some used, first-fill bourbon barrels to Franciscan Well’s Shane Long, and after Long had used them to make what was intended as a limited edition stout, he returned them to New Midleton.
Quinn has said he was initially at a loss as to what to do with those barrels, but knowing the wood still had plenty of life left, decided to try using them to finish some regular Jameson whiskey. The result was the first batch of Jameson Caskmates, which like the beer that preceded it, was available only in Ireland for the most part and set of quite a stir there.
Both Franciscan Well and New Midleton have built on that warm reception. Franciscan Well made more stout and began experimenting with using Jameson whiskey wood to age other beers, while Midleton put the barrels Franciscan Well kept sending back to make a new, larger batch of Caskmates.
Bottled at 40% abv, Jameson Caksmates has a rich, deep gold appearance, tinged with just a little drop of copper. The nose promises something quite removed from the typical Jameson, which is already saying something as the brand is one of the better mass market whiskeys out there. Caramel and vanilla combine with grassy green tea and mild pot still spices, the latter giving the whiskey a crisp character without losing any of its heft.
The flavor reveals that Jameson base of malty, honeyed sweetness seasoned with citrus zest and other spices, but the texture is far creamier, larger helpings of the spices have been added, and some cocoa and marzipan thrown in for good measure. The finish is light on the warmth, but tingles with a chocolate dip.
This is definitely more than just a whiskey with an overlay of beer, but I yet to find an instance of a beer barrel-finished whiskey that was merely that. The interplay between the stouted, second-fill bourbon wood and the whiskey has put as interesting a spin on Jameson as just about any finish I’ve tasted, and definitely ups the Jameson game by a full step.
The first batch of Caskmates went for €35, and went quickly. My information is that this second batch will be priced at the same level and is definitely slated for international distribution, and will probably also go fast. The good news is that Midleton is already cranking out more Caskmates for future releases.