Whisky Advocate

Jameson Whiskey and “The Four Masters”

October 18th, 2007

I’m back on the plane, returning from Ireland on my day and a half excursion to the Midleton Distillery for the launch of Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve. The six hours flight gives me plenty of time to think about the trip–and the brand.

On the surface, it’s easy to just say that Jameson has been coasting for the past several years. After all, there hasn’t been a new expression of Jameson in a long time. From a marketing perspective, this isn’t a fair statement. The brand’s owner, Pernod Ricard, has been working hard at getting the brand into new markets and increasing sales of the flagship Jameson brand.

But there’s more to it than just the marketing. There’s also been four key guys working very hard behind the scenes to improve the quality of the entire Jameson portfolio and develop the framework for Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve. Pernod Ricard refers to them as “The Four Masters”. (I’m not big on marketing speak, but in this case they are 100% accurate.) The Four Masters are Barry Crockett (Master Distiller), Billy Leighton (Master Blender), David Quinn (Master of Science), and Brendan Monks (Master of Maturation). These guys have been making whiskey for decades.

This is my fourth trip to Midleton over the past 15 years, and I can honestly say that I don’t know another distillery that currently has the depth and diversity of experience that these four guys have.  As I spent time with them the past two days–touring the distillery with Barry, knocking about in the warehouses with Brendan, discussing and tasting the blends with Billy and Dave–I was impressed by their knowledge, passion and dedication.

In many ways, this is almost a necessity, because the the dizzying array of whiskeys they have to produce. Plus, it takes time to create a new whiskey from scratch, and these guys have obviously put in their time. The Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve isn’t just another new “wood finished” whiskey that was conceived and created within a year or two. A portion of the pot still whiskey in this blend spent its entire life–somewhere around fifteen years–in port casks. That’s how old my daughter is!! And the grain whiskeys in this blend are older than that. So, as you can see, the groundwork for this new whiskey (and the framework for future Vintage Reserve releases) began years ago.

Looking back at the Jameson brands over the past decade or so, it is clear to me that both the variety and quality of the brand has improved. Both are a tribute to these four guys.

(On a final note, Brendan Monks, who just turned 65, told me at dinner last night that he will be retiring from full-time work as of November. He’s not just a warehouse wiz or maturation marvel; he’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet in this business. I wish him well, but will miss him during my next visit to Midleton.)

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