Jameson whiskey and craft beer: they go together like cats and the Internet, or pie and fireworks. Up until recently, though, we hadn’t really thought about the potential joy of combining these two drinking staples, other than in a super-fancy shot-and-a-brew special. But Jameson has taken it a step further with its Drinking Buddies program, an initiative to combine the passions and inspiration of Irish whiskey and American craft beer.
Jameson invited a handful of craft brewers from all over the United States to visit the Jameson distillery in Ireland, then sent the brewmasters home with their very own Jameson-soaked whiskey barrels–empty, but still redolent of sweet, smooth, delicious Jameson. The brewers were then assigned one of the most mouthwatering tasks we could imagine: to craft a beer that would be a perfect match for Jameson, and take on a new dimension from aging inside a Jameson barrel.
“Jameson and beer have been enjoyed together for a long time and have a very similar production process up until the distillation stage,” Jameson’s Patrick Caulfield tells us. “At Jameson we have a lot of pride in how Jameson has been made for the last 235 years and counting, and we wanted to embark on a journey with craft breweries that share the same passion for craft … to create a unique beer for the local neighborhood that people would be excited to try and learn the story to how this beer was inspired and created.
“With these collaborations we wanted to celebrate local craft brewers in their and our neighborhoods throughout the U.S and give back to our local communities,” he says. “We know our fans love Jameson and craft beer so we were sure they would be excited with these collaborations.”
Because America, each brewery took a unique approach to the task of concocting their brew, and they all gained a different perspective from the experience. “Each brewer took something away from their trip to our distillery and used it as inspiration,” says Caufield. “I’m interested in how these craft breweries combined our heritage with their own style.”
Last year’s Drinking Buddies program was a definite example of each brewer’s vision. Master brewer Kelly Taylor of the Brooklyn brewery KelSo, chose to combine the Old World flavors of Jameson with his distinctly American approach. “We found the fruit character of the Jameson perfectly complemented the tropical notes of our IPA,” Kelly says. “The two flavors melded together and pushed the underlying texture of the beer to a higher level.” The barrel-aged IPA is (sadly) no longer available, but he recommends sipping his Imperial IPA along with a glass of the whiskey. “It’s fruity and not too bitter–a great combination with Jameson,” he says.
This year, each of the five breweries shared their own Irish whiskey twist on their classics. Take Dallas’ Deep Ellum Brewing Co.: head brewer Jeremy Hunt chose to make a classic stout, which feels like the most quintessentially Irish option–until they gave it a decidedly Texan twist. “Just like Jameson’s Pot Still Mash, we used a portion of unmalted barley to add a silky mouthfeel to the beer,” Hunt explains. “We added some milk sugar to intensify that effect, then we wanted to bring a little Texas to the party. So the brewers brought home 60 pounds of Texas pecans and dry-roasted them. The flavors of roasted malts, and a velvety smooth mouthfeel play very well with the spiciness, alcohol, and vanilla flavors gained from the Jameson barrels.”
Seattle’s Hilliard’s Beer took another route, a cocktail-based approach. The brewers aged a sour beer in the Jameson barrels to create a play on the whiskey sour, which they’re tasting this week. “The hardest part of barrel aging beer is being patient,” Hilliard’s head brewer, Todd Garrett, explains. “So after two and a half months, we are excited to see what we’ve got.”
For Scott Vaccaro, owner and brewer of Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Elmsford, N.Y., visiting the distillery in Ireland was a big deal for everyone involved. “The biggest lesson I took away from the Jameson experience was the importance of looking back on tradition to guide you as you move forward,” Vaccaro says. “I can only hope that we are around long enough to create such a rich tradition–when we looked at what we wanted to brew for this project we wanted it to be a beer that would be worthy of that tradition.”
So how did they decide to honor the Jameson legacy? Scott mixed up an Imperial Red for this project, and according to Vaccaro, it turned out even better than expected. “We really think that the beer and the barrel married up particularly well,” he says. “The flavors seem to meld into a rich, malty, smoky liquid.” (So a visit to Westchester is apparently in order.)
Jon Carpenter, the master brewer of Angel City Brewery in Los Angeles, explains that for his team, the project was intensely collaborative– not just with Jameson, but with each other. “Our whole small team of brewers was involved,” says Carpenter. “We sat around the table and talked about the raw materials used to craft Jameson, and how we might use similar ingredients in our beer.
“We also reviewed the different barrel treatments, extensive blending, and taste panels used to select the Jameson expressions, and of course tried a few of them ourselves–so it wasn’t really until after much lubrication that we hit upon the right idea,” Carpenter admits.
Shannon Berner, marketing manager of Denver’s Great Divide Brewing Company, says the brewery’s trip to Ireland inspired them as a company. “The entire Jameson team really acts like a family. Our company is small, but we are in the middle of an expansion and we’re growing quickly. I think it’s so important to hold onto our foundations the way Jameson has,” she says.
“It’s been a great journey so far, from Ireland to some awesome neighborhoods and seeing the craft brewers and our distillers get together and see an immediate camaraderie and bond form from the collaboration was really exciting,” Caufield adds in.“Seeing how inspired the brewers got from their experience and how it allowed them to create a truly unique beer based on their neighborhood and Ireland was really exciting.”
The breweries will host launch parties throughout the month of August, but only New Yorkers will be able to taste all five together at an event in October–unless you want to take a Jameson-inspired U.S. road trip this month (not a bad idea, really). Stay tuned for more details, and watch the videos to see how each of these Jameson barrel-aged beers came to be.