Monday, 15 May 2017

Jameson Distillery Bow Street - A jewel in Dublin's tourism crown

Back in 1780, when the Jameson Distillery Bow Street was first established, I'm sure John Jameson himself would never have believed how the building would look now.

Throughout it's 200 plus years history the Jameson Distillery has been through many ups and downs and eventually it came to pass that the distillery would close in 1971.  It then lay in it's dormant state before opening in 1997 as the Jameson "brand home".

Since then the distillery has served as a Dublin tourist attraction, attracting over 4 million visitors in that time, while providing much needed employment to the area.

As with any attraction it's only a matter of time before serious investment is needed and that is what I am writing about today, as on 6th March 2017 Jameson celebrated the re-opening of Jameson Distillery Bow Street after the completion of a massive renovation as part of an €11 million investment.

At the end of March I made the short journey down to Dublin to see for myself how the distillery was looking and to take part in the tours and experiences they have on offer, while also getting the rare chance to chat to some people who are rather important when it comes to all things Jameson.

Upon arriving outside Jameson Distillery Bow Street not much appears different but when you walk through the doors you instantly start to see where a lot of the investment money went towards.

The main bar / front hall is huge compared to the way it looked before and given that there would have been no room to expand the building itself, you wonder exactly where they found all the space. 

It is bright, airy, welcoming and relaxed, and from talking with some of the staff this is backed up by stories of the general public just simply coming in to have a look and enjoy a drink under one of the impressive Jameson bottle chandeliers.

This allows people to come in and see what the building is all about without feeling too intimidated, or pressured into having to buy any tickets straight away. 

The renovation has also allowed the distillery to accommodate a much larger volume of tourists and upon speaking with Ray Dempsey, general manager of Jameson Distillery Bow Street, he confirms that previously, at busy times of the year, they could have had a 2 hour delay for people waiting to take a tour around the distillery but now they are able to accommodate 30 people every 6 minutes.

This all ties in with the Irish Whiskey Tourism strategy aim of attracting 1.9 million whiskey tourists to Ireland annually by 2025.

As we continue to chat with Ray Dempsey we get a sense of what to expect on the new "Bow Street Experience" tour.  He describes how more and more people are keen to learn the story of Jameson whiskey and how they are only too eager to tell that story.

He explains how he feels the tour to be truly interactive, calling it a "total sensory experience".

He also gives us a little insight into the fact that they now have two extra experiences to compliment the signature "Bow Street Experience". 

Jameson have gone all out to give tourists a true insight into the spirit of Jameson with their "Whiskey Makers Experience" and "Whiskey Shakers Experience", where for a very reasonable price you can either look at an in depth deconstruction of the "Whiskey Makers" series of whiskeys or see what it takes to become a top notch mixologist by hand crafting 5 of you very own cocktails.

He also highlights one last aspect that is also included in either of the aforementioned "Experiences" where you will get the chance to visit Bow Street's own 88 cask maturation warehouse, where they have brought back some of the whiskey making process to Bow Street.

Suitably impressed with the information provided so far we then got started onto the "Bow Street Experience" tour where we would look at not only the history of Jameson but also the whiskey making process as a whole.

For this special occasion we were lucky enough to have Carol Quinn, archivist at Midleton Distillery, take us through the rich history of Jameson.  Previously there was nothing of note to really explain the history of Jameson so it was great to see a beautiful gallery / timeline showing us exactly how Jameson came to be the brand it is today.

From here we are then led into a story room where the story of Jameson is further told through the use of fantastic visual and audio displays.  The whole experience is both striking and engaging.

We then move into the next room to look at the whiskey making process.

Now, I have been on many tours and I can honestly say that this is the most complete and interactive explanation of the whiskey making process I have ever seen.

As you enter the room you are immediately struck by the sight of numerous interactive stations where you have everything from malted barley to hold and taste, to atomisers containing different new make spirits to compare their smells, to mock barrels that allow you the chance to nose the difference between bourbon and sherry, to visual aids to show you the different colour through the maturation process.

This is all done while an enormous video wall takes you through the whiskey making process in crystal clear fashion that even a 2 year old could understand.

All very impressive and it is quite clear that no expense has been spared in bringing tourists that "total sensory experience" that we heard of upon our arrival.

We then made our way into a gorgeous tasting room to try Jameson whiskey alongside a standard Scotch and standard American style whiskey.  Now while this part of the tour has not differed from what had gone before it's new surroundings have elevated the tasting to be more inclusive and allowing everyone the chance to sit around a table together and enjoy some top class whiskey.

That brought us to the end of the main "Bow Street Experience" tour and now it was time to take part in one of the other experiences.

For this, I was selected to go onto the "Whiskey Makers Experience" and it's fair to say that probably suited me best.  As much as I love a good whiskey cocktail, I wanted to see how much further Jameson could take the experience of learning about whiskey itself.

For this, we were led into a tasting room where each participant had an array of whiskeys and other items laid out in front of them.

Our host for this experience was Christopher and he explained how he would take the next 90 minutes to really showcase the "Whiskey Makers Series" and explain how they came about.

Throughout this whole experience there was a lot of emphasis put on the word "craft" and how the "Whiskey Makers Series" really displays the craft of Jameson as a whole.

We go through every aspect you could think of from how to taste whiskey, to the whiskey making process and even more history of the Jameson brand.

As I'm sure you may have noticed, I recently attended the Irish Whiskey Academy in Midleton and I have to say, this masterclass is taking that experience and making it accessible to all through this "Whiskey Makers Experience".

Every aspect is covered and it's just as interactive as everything else we had seen with nosing bottles, food pairings and even a blending exercise to be enjoyed by all while the host asks many questions to both test your knowledge and seek to improve it immeasurably.

The whole tasting was perfect from start to finish and the chance to blend your own whiskey is something that is sure to be a huge hit amongst the tourists who come through these doors.

Just to quickly touch on this aspect we were given 3 samples each and encouraged to play around in whichever way we wished to create that perfect blend.

The samples available were a 4yo grain whiskey matured in a second fill bourbon cask, a 8yo pot still whiskey matured in a first fill sherry cask and a 6yo pot still matured in a first fill bourbon cask.

This finishes the "Whiskey Makers Experience" off and of course you can take your finished blend away with you.

Following this we then met back up with the group taking part in the "Whiskey Shakers Experience" and we headed downstairs to go into the maturation room.

Being the first maturation warehouse to be in Dublin for 42 years, this is an experience you wouldn't want to miss and if that wasn't enough there is also the chance to taste some whiskey straight from a cask.

For this we were all allowed to try some 14yo pot still whiskey that had been distilled in 2003 and has since been maturing away in a second fill bourbon cask.  As with any cask tasting, this was just simply delicious.

That concluded the tours for the day and after a spot of lunch we were able to get a quick chat with Carol Quinn and Brian Nation, master distiller for Midleton.

Speaking with Carol it was evident that she found it so important that the old distillery be maintained and open for all to see, as this allows Jameson to showcase the great history of Irish whiskey and the people who have guided it through good times and bad.

She was also able to touch upon the fact that when the building was stripped back, to allow for the work to commence, she was able to work alongside architects to gain immense knowledge of how the distillery was first set up and structurally why it was laid out the way it was.

She went on to also highlight that through her time at the archives in Midleton she has uncovered countless stories regarding the history of Jameson, and the people behind it, and it was great that these stories could now be passed on in even more detail to the general public.

While speaking with Brian Nation I was able to ask him what it meant to him, as master distiller, to be able to come to the spiritual home of Jameson and he was truly honest when he said that, for him, it was an emotional experience. 

He went on to give credit as to how all the rich heritage of Jameson and the traditional whiskey making process had been displayed in such a modern way.

I also got the chance to ask him what it meant to him to see the "Whiskey Makers Series" being highlighted in such an intense manner and he was quick to point out that the "Whiskey Makers Series" is about showcasing the craft of the process and the people behind it.

What is clear is that Brian, like myself, was extremely impressed with the "Whiskey Makers Experience" and he pointed out how educational it was to anyone, regardless of their whiskey knowledge.  He fully agreed that this was just like taking the Irish Whiskey Academy and making that experience available to all.

As I made my way home that evening I could not stop thinking about how impressed I was with everything I had experienced that day.  From the moment you walk into Jameson Distillery Bow Street to the moment you leave you are bombarded with history, knowledge, flavours and experiences.

Before the renovation this distillery was without doubt a must see attraction when you were in Dublin and what Jameson have done is taken that experience and enhanced it 100 fold. 

If you are in Ireland and you want to learn about Irish Whiskey then you need look no further than Jameson Distillery Bow Street.

Until next time,



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