It was also at the Temple Bar where I was drinking with some dude from Cleveland, Ohio and was told about becoming an "Irish Whiskey Taster" at the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery. I was told when you take the distillery tour they ask for volunteers who are given shots of various Irish, Scotch and American whiskies and asked to choose which ones they like the best. Obviously, this is something a souse like me couldn't dream of passing up! However, between bouncing around Dublin's pub scene and soaking up some of the various tourist highlights (including a tour of Newgrange in Co. Meath), I left the Jameson tour to my last day there. Now thorougly hung over from the "There's No Bus!" incident the night before, the last thing I could stomach would be shots of whiskey. However, I still had not visited Ireland's oldest pub, The Brazen Head, and knew I still had at least one more mission to accomplish.
The Brazen Head pub is Ireland's oldest, and sits on a site that has held a liquor license since 1198. Even feeling close to death from drinking like a crazy fool the night before, I knew I had to get there to soak up some history (as well as a few pints). I wandered along the Liffey River until I found the pub in the westernmost part of the tourist district. I went inside and ordered a Guinness. After some initial trouble getting the first few mouthfuls down, the black gold worked its Irish magic, and my hangover slowly started to recede. I checked the time and saw it was only 3:00 and I still had time to make the Jameson Distillery. Feeling much better, I left the Brazen Head, crossed the Liffey and made my way to the home of one of the largest whiskey distillers in Ireland.
I managed to get a ticket for the second-last tour of the day. While the Guinness had helped ease the pain of the adventure the previous night, I still felt horrible and the last thing I needed was multiple shots of whiskey. However, even in my deteriorated state, I knew when they asked for volunteers I would never be able to resist the siren's call of free liquor and the distinction of being a certified Irish Whiskey Taster. Sure enough, when the tour began and we were ushered into a theatre to watch a short presentation on uisce beatha ("The Water of Life"), the request for 3 male and 3 female volunteers was made, and my hand shot up faster than anyone in the room. And as the tour guide pointed at me to be one of the chosen, I smiled even as I knew this was probably going to be a very bad idea.
Whiskey was invented in Ireland, who then taught the art to the Scots. Initially, both Scotch and Irish whiskey starts off the same way. Barley is soaked in water until it germinates, which changes the starch it contains into fermentable sugar. Once germination has taken place, the barley is roasted to carmelize the sugars and prepare it to be mashed into malt. Up to this point, the process is identical in both Ireland and Scotland. However, it is the fuel used to dry the barley that differs from the two regions. The Irish used coal to dry the barley while the Scots used peat. The use of peat is what gives Scotch its distictive smokey flavour. After the the barley is dried, it is placed in a mash tun, boiled into malt, and finally fermented. This entire process is no different than what is done when making beer. However, after the "beer" has finished fermenting, it is distilled three times, which accounts for Jameson's legendary smoothness in the finished product.
Another interesting fact about aged whiskey is what is known as the "Angel's Share". When whiskey is aged in oak barrels for long periods of time, some of the whiskey evaporates through the wood. The longer a whiskey is aged, the more disappears from the barrel. This missing whiskey is called the "Angel's Share" in Ireland, and was historically attributed to being taken by God's angels, who apparently love really old Irish whiskey. A barrel aged 12 years may lose a fifth of it's contents, while a very old barrel may lose up to half. This accounts for the vast price difference between 10, 12, 18 and 25 year old whiskey. The older the whiskey, the longer it sits and the less finished product the distillery has to sell.
Now came the part we all had been anticipating, the tasting. Myself, along with 5 other lucky volunteers, were given a shot each of Paddy's Irish Whiskey, Power's Irish Whiskey and Jameson Irish Whiskey. We were then told to taste each and pick the one we liked the most. 5 of us chose Jameson, while one girl chose Paddy's (silly fool). However, no offence was taken as these were all Jameson products. After choosing our favourite Irish whiskey, we were given a shot of Johnny Walker Red (Scotland's best selling wiskey) and Jack Daniel's (America's best selling whiskey). As soon as I heard the name Jack Daniel's an involuntary shiver ran down my spine. In my opinion, Jack Daniel's is one of the most horrible concoctions ever conceived by mankind. And after chugging 2/3 of a 40 ouncer in Grade 9 along with Mad Dog Johnny, I knew full well this was not going to be a pleasant experience. However, I reasoned after drinking Cisco and Thunderbird, Jack Daniel's should be a breeze, and I wanted my certification, dammit! "In for a penny, in for a pound" I remembered my grandmother saying as I managed to put down the Jack along with the Johnny Walker, and easily chose Jameson as my favourite of the lot. As I was presented with my certificate, I was named a certified Irish Whiskey Taster and was given another glassful of Jameson's finest to savour while reflecting on this awesome experience.