A pot still greets you at the entrance of the distillery,
Notice the hardcore whiskey drinkers below the sign, they'll come back to bite us in the ass later.
Per the Guinness cicerone's suggestion, get there early and make sure you're a volunteer!
The distillery kept cats in the granary to keep the rodents at bay. A Jameson tradition was to stuff them when they died and keep them around.
Distilling whiskey follows much of the same process as brewing beer (although some of the nomenclature is different). In the case of Guinness and Jameson's it's almost exactly the same. Both start with malted and unmalted barley.
The malting process simulates germination to convert complex carbohydrates in the kernel to simple carbs and sugars that the yeast can then consume and convert into alcohol.
The barley would be soaked in water for two days and then spread across the heated tile floor of a malting room to dry. Tradesmen would turn the grain frequently to aide in drying and to prevent molding or full germination.
One of the fundamental differences between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky happens here. Scotch whisky malt is dried using peat fires under the tiles imparting the smokey or peaty character. Irish whisky was dried using anthracite coal which was relatively clean burning. Modernly they both use natural gas, although the Scots still smoke the malt.
Mashing in and sparging the grains to produce wort.
Fermentation only takes 4-5 days. At this point you've got a 7% alcohol, un-hopped beer.
The distillation process boils off the alcohol at 96 degrees (celsius) which is condensed into spirits. The second difference between Irish and Scottish whiskey is the number of distillations, 3 vs. 2. Modernly this makes little difference as column stills "distill" the spirit hundreds of times in the column.
Maturation in barrels. The finished spirit at 64.5% alcohol is put into sherry or bourbon casks and allowed to age. The whiskey is never topped up or the ageing would have to start all over again. Bottom left to top right, Fresh, 1 year, 5 year, 10 year, 18 year.
The Scotch's that I picked up are all single cask. Because of the blending there's no real point to picking up a bottle at the distillery, I might as well get one from duty free (their suggestion!).
Fuckin' hell! Give me an ax, or a hand dolly, or something! Don't make me leave them here!
The best part of the trip, the tasting! Right to left; neat, with ginger ale, with cranberry and out of the picture with Coke.
Want to guess who did, and did not get picked to do the tasting of several different whiskeys (including a 25 y/o Jameson, Johnnie Black, and Jack)?
Who did? All four Mediterranean women from the second pic and 4 guys that all took a Jameson and Coke or Ginger Ale from the sample trays.
You know who didn't? Me and several retired Marines from New Jersey that all grabbed our neat. Needless to say, we weren't thrilled with the guide.
If you're wondering why I've never tried distillation since I already make beer? It's because there's a lot of art that goes into it, more so than beer. When you're talking about a product that doesn't come into it's own until years later, it's a lot of time and effort to play around with.
Better yet, stop by the house some time and I'll let you try some "corn squeezins" and you'll have a whole new appreciation for whiskey.