March 2018 Archives

Jameson's Caskmates owes its origins to a chance meeting between the master brewer of the Franciscan Well craft brewery and the master distiller of Jameson's at a pub in Cork, Ireland. The brewer was looking for some casks to condition his latest stout and thought some ex-Jameson barrels would be interesting to test as a finish. By all accounts, the resulting stout was delicious and it led the distiller from Jameson's to ponder, "What might happen if we finished some of our whiskey in these stout casks?" 

Using the standard, triple distilled, Jameson's blended Irish whiskey, the newly "stouted" whiskey casks from the Franciscan Well were filled and left to finish for nearly 4 months. The result, as they say, was a whiskey "greater than the sum of its casks." The colour looked the same but a subtle stout influence appeared in the whiskey's flavour profile with new aromas of coffee, chocolate and butterscotch. 

From that experiment the idea for Caskmates took off and the folks at Jameson's recognized that they had a fantastic opportunity ahead of them. Not only could they innovate on their product line with a new beer cask finish but they would also reach out to select brewers around the globe to build new partnerships under the framework of the Caskmates program. Jameson's would provide their ex-whisky casks to brewers, who would in turn use them to condition their ales for a few months and then the brewers would ship the casks back to Jameson's to be used to when finishing the next version of Caskmates. 

Within months, Jameson's established a series of partnerships with craft brewers that would see the Irish whiskey giant loan out barrels on an unprecedented scale. For Jameson's, the appeal was two-fold: the possibility of developing more prosperous relationships in existing mature markets and the opportunity to experiment with dozens of styles of beer soaked barrels for future, limited runs of Caskmates unique to the brewer's country or region of origin. A partnership with a brewer in Kenya, for instance, would yield a beer conditioned in Jameson's casks for the local market and, later, a special version of Jameson Caskmates finished in those Kenyan ale-filled would be made available exclusively for Kenya. 


So when Jameson's reached out to Steve Beauchesne, co-founder and CEO of Beau's All Natural Brewing Company, about participating in the Caskmates program he was understandably, "over the moon!" The chance to partner with a leader in the spirits business on a cask exchange program is the stuff of fantasy for most Canadian brewers; after all, Ireland is a long ways off and "what are the odds they'd look here for a partner?" mused Steve at a meeting in downtown Toronto earlier this year, "but I think they took notice of our use of organic ingredients and our experimental, collaborative approach to brewing and I think that spoke to them." 

To most Canadians, the eastern Ontario brewery is probably best known for their flagship "Lug Tread" lagered ale but the award-winning, innovative, craft brewery has a varied product line with upwards of 50 different beers made each year. But before fully committing the sole Canadian brewery to the partnership, Mr. Beauchesne and team "traveled to Cork and met with Jameson's fifth generation cooper Ger Buckley to learn more about their process.

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It was to be a meeting of the minds as Ger's experience and passion for his craft confirmed for Steve that the venture promised to be a fruitful partnership for both parties. "There's a bit of urgency to the process when you're working with beer casks," chuckled Ger at our meeting, "as the wood can go a bit funky if it's exposed to air for too long." Since the casks are broken down for transport, it's up to Ger to put them back together again for use at Jameson's, "there's no room for error when repairing and reconstructing a has to be water tight as the cost margins are so narrow!" said Ger in between the bangs of his hammer as he assembled a barrel for my education.

For the Caskmates partnership, Steve had just the beer: a seasonal Irish Red ale named  "Strong Patrick"they've produced every year since 2012 in honour of St. Patrick's Day. All organic and brewed to 6.7% ABV from roasted malt, Pilgrim hops and Irish Red yeast, about a sixth of the total volume of beer was finished in Jameson casks for about 4 months before being re-introduced to the rest of the beer prior to bottling. According to Steve the result was "really the best [version] we've ever made," with its bold take on the style, brewed stronger than usual, and with a creamy texture, with flavours of toasted caramel, coffee notes and a mild bitterness at 24 IBU.

McClelland's Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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The McClelland's brand of regional single malts is a fairly common sight on LCBO shelves nearly everywhere across the province. Named after 19th century Glaswegian whisky firm, T&A McClelland's, it's four expressions are inspired by Scotland's "key whisky distilling regions": Lowland, Islay, Speyside, and Highland. Bottled at 40% ABV, all the whiskies share the same $45.20 price tag making them among the cheapest Scottish single malts around. But without a distillery name or an age statement, is it worth a gamble?

Given that the Morrison Bowmore Distillers' "McClelland's" product line isn't a distillery nor owns any distilleries, there's much speculation that it's regional single malts are actually unnamed whiskies from the parent company's distillery holdings: Auchentoshan, Bowmore, and Glen Garioch. Being a lover of Bowmore, I tested this theory with the Islay expression and it was a let down. 

Could the Highland expression be better?

Nose:  Sharp; redolent of wood shavings and damp cardstock with a whiff of vanilla buttercream icing. A little time in the glass reveals a delicate fruitiness.

Palate: Light-bodied with flavours of thinned caramel, more wood shavings, fruit lozenge, ginger, and a dash of cocoa powder.

Finish: Plenty of hang time here; the cocoa notes, tinged by lime, twist into a sour, burning, tootsie roll whose smoldering embers emit a mouth-coating reek of whisky-soaked ashtray.

Overall: Truly unpleasant and that finish tastes like someone cleaned out my throat with an old bong brush. There's not much appeal here for me and the cheap-ish price still doesn't make it go down any easier. If McClelland's Highland expression really is Glen Garioch, (and I don't think it is...) I can understand why they'd rather not say.


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