Interview with Brian Nation: Jameson Whiskey Distiller and Ambassador
Brian Nation, Jameson Whiskey Distiller and Ambassador, led a Jameson whiskey tasting event during BarShow Week which Gourmantic attended. Five whiskeys paired with food were on taste, including the coveted Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve.
I had the opportunity to interview Brian, who holds a Worshipful Company of Distillers Award for achieving the highest results in the world in 2006, making him the first Irish Distiller to receive this award.
As Jameson Ambassador, Brian spends most of his time travelling the globe and educating people about the taste of Jameson and the heritage that surrounds it.
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Corinne: Tell me a little about background, where you grew up and how you became a whiskey distiller.
Brian: I was born in July 1975 (around the same time that the Jameson Distillery in Midleton started producing). I grew up in Cork City which is only a 25min drive from the distillery. I was always interested in science particularly chemistry and biology so I ended up doing a degree in Chemical & Process Engineering.
C: Did you always want a career in whiskey?
BN: While I was at college and immediately after I left I felt that my career would be in Pharmaceuticals or bulk chemicals. I was always aware of the existence of the distillery but was also very aware that jobs in the distillery were very hard to come by as anyone that joined the distillery stayed until retirement so new roles in the distillery were not very frequent. My priority when I left college was to gain experience so I sent out CVs to all industries including the distillery. I got a job at a local oil refinery (short-term contract) and then moved onto a local pharmaceutical plant. I got great experience in these industries but at this stage my feelings of where my career would lie was changing and I knew that pharmaceuticals would not be the industry I would be staying in. Then over a year after sending my CV to the distillery I got a call asking me to attend an interview for a one year contract in December 1997 and the rest is history. By January 1998 I knew that I wanted a career not just in Whiskey but in Jameson Irish Whiskey.
C: As Whiskey Ambassador for Jameson, what does an average day entail?
BN: My main role is Jameson Distiller and the Whiskey Ambassador work really only accounts for about 10% of my time. So an average day for the other 90% would involve working very closely with Barry Crockett our Master Distiller to ensure that the production process runs smoothly i.e. the brewing, fermentation and distillation. This involves the day to day monitoring of the brewing / fermentation progress ensuring that the fermented wash & beer that we produce for distillation is to the correct specification. Then it’s onto the distillation where the quality of new make distillate from pot stills and grain columns is checked from a sensory point of view to ensure that we produce a consistent quality and flavour before it is sent off for maturation. Also all mature whiskey is tasted daily before it goes for bottling to ensure that the quality and flavours are correct too.
C: What is the most satisfying part of your job?
BN: The most satisfying and proudest part of my job is going into a bar anywhere around the world seeing Jameson bottles on show behind the bar and seeing people gathered together enjoying a Jameson.
Jameson Whiskey at Low 302 Bar
C: In your travels, what’s been the most surprising reaction to whiskey that you’ve encountered?
BN: For me the most surprising and exciting reaction that I have encountered over the past few years is how bartenders / mixologists from all over the world have embraced Jameson as their own drink of choice but also as the drink that they experiment and play with most in their development of different long drinks, cocktails etc. It really underpins the versatility and mixability of Jameson.
C: Can you tell me about Jameson’s whiskey making philosophy?
BN: Jameson is a single distillery whiskey – it is a blend of a pot still whiskey and grain whiskey both produced at the Jameson distillery in Midleton, Cork Ireland. This allows us to control the quality from grain to glass.
Pot still whiskey is the traditional method of making Irish Whiskey it uses a mixture of malted barley and unmalted barley.
The malted barley that we use is dried in clean air so there is no smoky taste off any of our whiskies.
The unmalted barley imparts a creamy mouthfeel on all of our whiskies.
All our whiskies are triple distilled. This gives a more fragrant whiskey with characteristic fruity, spicy and floral aromas. It is also responsible for Jameson’s famous smoothness on the palate……so a great combination of taste and mellowness.
All the grain whiskey and a portion of the pot still whiskey is matured in American Oak Bourbon Barrels while the rest of the pot still whiskey is matured in sherry Butts (Casks). Once maturation is complete the master blender then samples the barrels and blends the components together to produce the consistent flavours and taste associated with Jameson.
C: How do the Jameson whiskeys differ from other Irish whiskeys?
BN: Jameson is a blend of a specific type of Pot Still Whiskey and also a specific type of Grain Whiskey. In addition these whiskeys have been matured in a particular mix of oak casks and for a particular length of time. Other Irish Whiskeys, for example Powers and Paddy, will use different Pot Still Whiskeys and a different Cask profile. This gives these whiskeys a different flavour character.
C: Do you have any favourite whiskey and food pairing combinations?
BN: When it comes to food pairings with whiskies I generally leave that to the expertise of the chefs. Over the last week during my trip to Sydney and Melbourne different foods were expertly paired with the Jameson Reserve range by very well renowned chefs and the types of foods paired with each whiskey varied each time. To me this again highlighted the versatility and mixability of Jameson whiskies.
If I am out for a meal I usually start the night with a Jameson, Dry and Ice with Lime or a Jameson, Soda and Ice with Lime then a Jameson 12 year old or Jameson Gold with Ice before the meal followed by a neat Jameson 18 year old after the meal.
C: During your visit to Sydney, did you find any great whiskey bars?
BN: The last time I was in Australia was in 2008 and it’s remarkable to see how much the industry and bar selection has developed in this short space of time. There’s a vast arrange of small boutique bars that are popping up everywhere and I was fortunate enough this week to be able to enjoy a Jameson in one or two of them. A few that definitely stand out in my mind are actually Sydney based bars, Shady Pines which is cool and edgy with an amazing selection of whiskeys from around the world and excellent bartenders to match and also Sticky Bar whose bartenders were just as impressive and who also created the soon to be famous Jameson Chilli Back which is a shot of Jameson followed by a shot of cloudy apple juice and Tabasco.
C: Do you think the image of whiskey in general is evolving?
BN: Most certainly the old image of whiskey only being a drink for the (very) mature male sitting by the fireplace is long gone. Whiskey is now very much appreciated for its quality and complex taste and aroma. It is now seen as a sophisticated drink that can be consumed in many different ways, but still staying true to its long tradition and heritage.
C: Are there any new trends in whiskeys that have impressed you of late?
BN: The newly launched range of Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey is creating quite a stir. In addition to Redbreast 12 Year Old and Green Spot we now have Redbreast 15 Year Old, Powers Johns Lane, and Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy. These whiskeys are all Single Pot Stills from Midleton and have received huge plaudits from key commentators in the world of Whiskey.
As discussed earlier the use of whiskey as a mainstay in cocktails and the level of creativity and skill from bartenders / mixologists that I personally experienced in Sydney and Melbourne this week has been phenomenal.
C: There’s been a fair bit of interest of late in marketing whiskey for younger drinkers. What do you envisage for the new whiskey generation?
BN: While we still see whiskey for consumers in their mid-20’s onwards it is important that we have a range of whiskeys that meet the demands and taste preferences of all whiskey drinkers. For those drinkers that are moving into the whiskey arena then triple distilled Irish Whiskey with its smooth and fragrant style is great place to start. Irish Whiskey is also very versatile because of its balanced flavour and is very suitable in a mixed drink or in cocktails.
C: Where is the Jameson brand heading over the next 3-5 years?
BN: Onwards and upwards. Jameson is the hottest Whiskey in bars all over the world. Jameson Whiskey, currently selling just over 3 million cases is the fastest growing international spirit brand and will double its sales to 6 million cases in the next 5 years. The pace of growth on Jameson is unprecedented and with a firm positioning around sociability, an easygoing attitude to life and such endorsement from celebrities and bartenders alike, it’s destined for the top.
C: If you’re only allowed to have one more whiskey, which will it be?
BN: As unlikely as that sounds, if I was told that it would be last ever whiskey it would definitely be a neat Jameson 18yr Old.
With thanks to Brian Nation for his generous time. Gourmantic attended the Jameson Irish Whiskey Tasting with Brian Nation as media guests.
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