When Jameson said they were going to premiere a highly-limited IPA they’d produced in partnership with Brooklyn-based craft brewer KelSo at last weekend’s Northside Festival, we got our mugs ready and set our expectations high. The IPA — aged in 10 Jameson whiskey barrels over the course of two months — had no trouble living up to them. A heady, floral brew with the distinctive, smoky undertones of Jameson whiskey, it was rich, complex, and (ahhh!) super refreshing. But after imbibing in more than a few samples from Jameson’s Craft Brewers panel, part of their weekend-long Block Party, we realized how much we still didn’t know about what it means to age a quality drink. (Beyond, you know, “wait” and “make it taste good.”) Luckily, Jameson’s master of whiskey science, the enigmatic Dave Quinn, and Ger Buckley, a 5th generation Jameson cooper, were both on hand to demystify some of the process before us. After the jump, some of the cooler stuff we learned about the centuries old craft of whiskey-aging.
It’s all in the oak. Buckley emphasized the importance of using Spanish vs American oak — Spanish oak is less hard and has a more distinctive flavor, meaning the whiskey can mature more quickly and, once de-barreled, has a unique, slightly prune-like taste. The most common oak used in whiskey cooperage is American, which is where Jameson ships theirs over from.
Calling all angels. When a whiskey is aging, a portion evaporates out of the wood and into the air. This is known as the “angel’s share.”
Barrel science. Whiskey barrels are not built using wood or nails. Instead, coopers rely on the moisture from the alcohol to expand the wood and keep things sealed tight. Once a barrel has been used, you can see a clearly observed line where the spirit expanded into the wood itself. Hence, the delicious woody undertones in a finely-aged whiskey!
Sustainability matters. Halfway through the panel, Quinn delivered an impromptu, impassioned speech about needing to ensure that the oak used to make their barrels is sustainably harvested to ensure the enduring future of their whiskeys (and our planet). Three cheers for that!
Keep it local. Jameson’s malt and the barley are all sourced from local farms around the distillery in Ireland, and the water used is taken from the river that runs through the town. Hyperlocal!
Set it on fire. Charring the inside of whiskey barrels is a common practice — roasting the wood caramelizes its natural sugars, and can be instrumental in giving whiskey a unique flavor profile.