Jameson Irish Whiskey: The Ultimate Bottle Guide

There is no Irish whiskey more recognizable, more prevalent, or more fundamental than Jameson. Not only is it the world's best-selling Irish whiskey, selling 8 million cases worldwide in 2019 alone, but it has also been a leader of its category for centuries.

The world of Irish whiskey is currently undergoing something of a great awakening. For years, the industry was on hard times but is currently recementing itself as a global powerhouse. At one point in time, Irish whiskey was the world's favorite spirit, accounting for over 60% of alcohol sales in the United States in the 18th century. However, Irish producers failed to modernize and keep up with growing worldwide demand, and that dominance fell to 2%.

Over the past decade, Irish whiskey has waged an immense comeback, growing from just 10 distilleries in 2010 to a total of 42 today. In the U.S., Irish whiskey sales recorded an all-time high of $1.3 billion in 2021, a 16% growth from the year before.

Amongst this revitalized industry spawning new distilleries year after year, it is Jameson that continues to lead all others as the world's favorite Irish whiskey. It may not be the rarest or most luxurious, but a bottle of Jameson will fulfill any function you need from a whiskey. It's classic, it's straightforward, and it won't be going away anytime soon. Here is everything you need to know about one of the most iconic spirits in the world.

History of Jameson

Although Jameson is the world's most popular Irish whiskey, the brand was actually founded by a Scotsman, John Jameson. Upon traveling to Dublin in the 1770s, Jameson began distilling whiskey and in 1780, he opened the Bow Street distillery. Despite doing during a time of extensive competition surrounding him, Jameson's new distillery survived, thrived, and surpassed the others.

Perhaps the most impactful developments of Jameson whiskey occurred in 1785 when the British government imposed a tax on malt. In order to continue making large amounts of whiskey, Jameson experimented with recipes including both malt and unmalted barley. This came to be the style of most Irish whiskeys today — lighter, softer, and not as robust as Scotch whisky.

The Bow Street Distillery grew and grew, and by 1880, with John Jameson III now at the helm, it employed hundreds of workers and had expanded to take up nearly all of Bow Street itself. As the years rolled on, however, obstacles began popping up left and right. The First World War, the Easter Rising, American Prohibition, and World War II all hindered Jameson's operation. Despite these setbacks, the brand sustained, made as much whiskey as it could, when it could, and continued on regardless.

The distillery at Bow Street remained all the way up until 1975 when a merger with other distillers required greater production. So, Jameson moved its operation to Midleton, in County Cork, where it continues to make all of its whiskey to this day.

What does Sine Metu mean?

On every bottle of Jameson, in tiny text, the phrase "Sine Metu" is written. This is the official motto of the Jameson family, and it dates back to the brand's origins and remains a testament to its longevity and perseverance. "Sine Metu" translates to "without fear" in Gaelic, the ancestral language of Ireland. 

The reason for displaying this motto on every bottle of Jameson is that it serves as a reminder of the troubles the brand has had to endure throughout its history. As mentioned earlier, Jameson whiskey had sustained through two world wars, the Irish civil war, Prohibition overseas, and the entire industry basically falling flat. Regardless, Jameson kept on making whiskey and its image of success today is a result of the brand's philosophy displayed on every bottle. 

Furthermore, the Jameson motto has also helped the brand progress and innovate, even if it took a little while. Despite some initial hesitance, distillers have tried new approaches and methods to help expand the Jameson brand worldwide. Although very small, the "Sine Metu" on every bottle of Jameson is the fine print you should always take notice of.

Jameson only started bottling in 1968

Despite the long and storied past of the Jameson brand, the business model they used to execute is seemingly unrecognizable compared to what it is today. For the vast majority of its lifespan, Jameson was only available to be purchased in full casks and never in the bottles that stock shelves today.

To put a full barrel of whiskey into perspective, one cask of Jameson would hold an estimated 53 gallons of whiskey. So, buying one at the local liquor store and rolling it home was not an option. Instead, the only way to enjoy Jameson was at a pub or bar that had made the investment on an entire cask.

This is because back then, bottling spirits and selling them in cases or as individual bottles was very expensive and simply not worth the money. Plus, many distilleries, like Jameson's, did not have the infrastructure in place to bottle whiskey efficiently enough to distribute it and turn a profit. So, the bottle of Jameson you have on your bar cart or notice on the back bar of your favorite pub is a more recent invention than you may have thought.

It was the only Irish whiskey distiller in the 1970s

Although Irish whiskey was on top of the spirits world for decades, Irish distillers failed to keep up with more modern-minded whiskey makers in Scotland at the beginning of the 20th century (via Difford's Guide).

Blending was a part of this modernization. Jameson and many other Irish distillers initially dismissed the concept of blended whiskey, which came about with Aeneas Coffey's invention of the Coffey Still in the mid-1800s. Irish whiskey makers did not want to sacrifice the distinct taste of their whiskey so they rejected it, but this rejection ended up hurting them in the long run.

As other distillers adapted and thrived, Irish distillers collapsed and nearly died out. By the 1960s, only three whiskey distillers remained in Dublin — Jameson, Powers, and Cork Distillers. So, the three merged and formed the Irish Distillers Company in order to survive. After the acquisition of Bushmills, the last surviving whiskey distillery in Northern Ireland, the Jameson brand, along with its new allies, was the sole whiskey provider in the entire country.

This was the case all the way until 1987 when the Cooley Distillery was established. Luckily, this was the first step towards a rebirth of Irish whiskey, which has started to once again look the way it used to. Jameson remains the leader of the pack, but the many distilleries continuing to open across Ireland will always be good news for everyone.

Lady Gaga thanks Jameson for her creativity

Speaking of modernization, Jameson received one of the greatest honors anything could receive in the contemporary era, and that is an endorsement from a pop superstar.

Following the release of her hit 2011 album "Born This Way," Lady Gaga spoke about her inspiration and process behind the record and how a certain amount of booze helped fuel her creativity. According to Her, she said, "I have made so much of my music with Jameson. I'm not being paid a cent to advertise the whiskey. I should be. The whiskey has made my new songs."

During a performance at Aviva Stadium in Dublin while on her world tour of the album, Gaga invited audience members on stage to take a shot of Jameson with her, and the party continued backstage after the show with the iconic whiskey.

The pop star also spoke on her love for Ireland and the copious amounts of pubs, and Jameson, all over. Not only does she love the whiskey it has to offer, but Gaga also has lots of love for the Irish people, who she referred to as "some of the nicest people in the world" during the launch of her perfume around the same time.

Other Jameson expressions

Jameson's product line goes far beyond its signature bottle. While Jameson is rooted in a rich history, it remains keen on innovation, keeping up with and setting trends, and combining its tradition with modern demand.

As if Jameson wasn't refreshing enough in a cocktail, the brand introduced an orange-flavored edition of its classic whiskey. As opposed to some flavored spirits that taste unnatural or artificial, Jameson Orange is made with natural orange flavors for a subtle, bright, citrus-forward whiskey that is perfect for a crisp, vibrant highball. Another flavored edition is Jameson Cold Brew, which combines coffees from Brazil and Columbia for a rich smoothness.

Jameson is also inspired by locals in the industry, as its IPA and Stout cask bottles came about after the distillery's Master Distiller met a local brewer in a pub. The two Caskmates editions are made by finishing the normal whiskey in beer seasoned casks, the beer provided by Eight Degrees Brewing.

The final item in Jameson's bottle catalog is Black Barrel. Instead of regular oak barrels, Black Barrel is aged in charred oak barrels. Charring the barrel opens up the wood fibers more, allowing the whiskey to penetrate the barrel more deeply and take on more of its character. Black Barrel's blend is also made up of a higher percentage of single-pot still, which translates to an even softer, more delicate whiskey that is able to carry the subtle roasted notes of the wood that it is aged in.

How is Jameson made?

Jameson is a blended Irish whiskey, a category made by mixing any combination of single-malt, single-grain, and single-pot still whiskeys. In Jameson's case, its whiskey is made from a blend of single-pot still and grain whiskeys. As is the case with both, it all starts with the barley.

The entirety of the barley used by Jameson is locally grown and sourced, directly from the environment surrounding the distillery in Midleton. Even the water used is taken from the Dungourney River flowing directly through the distillery property.  Maize, the other grain used, is grown by a farmer in France due to the crop's need for sun.

After a portion of the barley is malted, this combination of grains is milled, mashed, and made ready for fermentation. After fermentation, the liquid is strained and distilled three times, a traditional Irish whiskey-making practice. Triple-distillation makes for a more concentrated flavor profile, allowing all of the aromatics and flavors to shine bright over a smoother, cleaner spirit.

The distillates are then transferred to oak barrels made in Spain and the U.S., previously used for fortified wine and bourbon, respectively. Both contribute their own flavors over a three-year aging period after Head Blender Billy Leighton takes over and combines only these Jameson-made whiskeys for the final product we all know and love.

Finally, the world-famous whiskey is bottled, labeled, and distributed to every corner of the globe to be enjoyed and shared by millions.

What does it taste like?

The best way to describe Irish whiskey in general is that it is the best whiskey for a whiskey novice. Where a Scotch is bold, hearty, and peaty, depending on the specific bottle, Irish whiskey is more mellow, subdued, and approachable. Jameson is no exception, of course. After all, it is the most fundamental Irish whiskey on the market.

Everything that goes into each batch of Jameson makes it a straightforward whiskey that is, in the best possible way, uncomplex. Of course, complexity is an attribute that is normally favorable, but in the case of Jameson, its straightforwardness is actually what makes it so likable and reliable. Essentially, you know exactly what you are getting before you even take a sip.

The combination of single-grain and single pot-still whiskeys that are all triple-distilled make for a delightful, accessible whiskey that does not require any advanced palate to be enjoyed. The grain makes for a more floral whiskey rich with notes of honey and a subtle maltiness that is just the right amount.

The blend brings together subtleties from each of its contributors. The malted barley, sweet corn, and spicy grain all come together towards a common goal of easy-drinking, undemanding bliss. Jameson is rich in its simplicity, and just an Irish whiskey is the perfect gateway for beginners of dark spirits, Jameson is the very first stop.

How to drink it

The most fundamental way you can enjoy any whiskey is neat, and the best way to do so is with the right glassware. Basically, sipping whiskey neat (or any spirit neat, for that matter) should be done from a glass that allows room for both your mouth and nose. Therefore, you can take in all of the whiskey's aromas with every sip. A typical rocks glass is applicable, but the best glassware would be a Glencairn glass. These glasses are designed especially for whiskey and have a tulip-shaped body atop a sturdy base, which lets the spirit breathe while you enjoy it.

As mentioned earlier, Jameson is not a luxury spirit and its straightforward profile makes it suitable for any whiskey function. So, if you like sipping whiskey on the rocks, no whiskey snob will stop you. Diluting with some water or club soda is a great, easy way to make Jameson more approachable if whiskey is not usually your thing.

Jameson is also the perfect Irish whiskey for cocktails due to its classic taste and accessible price point. Classics like the Old Fashioned or Manhattan can be reinvented by subbing in Jameson, and an Irish mule or highball is a fun, delicious way to utilize your bottle as well as get festive around St. Patrick's Day.

There are certainly no rules for using any spirit, of course, and Jameson is no different. Jameson is meant to be enjoyed, no matter what that means to any specific drinker.

Is it expensive?

Given its quality and functionality, one might think Jameson is a more expensive spirit than it is. Still, given the massive production scale that the Midleton Distillery is able to sustain, the worldwide supply of Jameson keeps it one of the most affordable bottles in its category.

A regular bottle of Jameson costs an average of $31. This puts Jameson right in the middle of its competitors, so any concern of its price being magnified because of its label or the whiskey itself just not being worth the money can be dispelled.

Another important reason why Jameson's price is more than fair and justified is that you know exactly what you are getting when you buy it, even if you have yet to purchase a bottle. When trying out other spirits for the first time, apprehension regarding their quality, profile, or value is sure to come up. When going for a bottle of Jameson, however, you can rest assured you are purchasing a classic Irish whiskey that is made using traditional methods and ingredients. It is a current and longtime leader in the world of Irish whiskey, and that position is earned and sustained because of its quality and value alike.

Jameson vs Tullamore D.E.W.

Of all of the Irish whiskeys competing with Jameson on the market, Tullamore D.E.W. Original is the most comparable. Tullamore D.E.W. was founded in 1829 in the town of Tullamore in County Offaly. The name of the brand comes from the town it is made in and the initial of one of its most important distillers, Daniel E. Williams, who began working at the distillery at age 15 and became its manager 10 years later.

Tullamore D.E.W.'s signature whiskey is made from a blend of three whiskeys, each one a different Irish style. The single-malt, single-grain, and single-pot still whiskeys are blended after maturing in three different casks. Aging is done in refill barrels, ex-bourbon barrels, and ex-sherry barrels. This triple-distilled, triple-cask, triple-blend is well-balanced, flavorful, and very fine Irish whiskey.

In terms of price, a bottle of Tullamore D.E.W. Original costs an average of $27. Although this is a few dollars less than the average cost of Jameson, Jameson remains a better investment. This is not to discourage trying Tullamore D.E.W. as, again, it is a good Irish whiskey. However, the two whiskeys are quite different from one another, and Jameson remains the classic, tried-and-true option based on quality, character, and prevalence.