Caskmates: Jameson's Stout Edition and Beau's Strong Patrick

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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.

Strong Patrick

Nose: Subtle caramel and biscuity notes with tones of roasted malt.

Palate: Rich, full-bodied and deliciously creamy with loads of toffee, malty sweetness and a hint of vanilla.

Finish: Off dry with roasted malt flavours and a lightly hopped finish. 

Overall: Food-friendly and loaded with malt and toffee flavours, it's bound to appeal to fans of the famed Innis & Gunn series of whisky finished ales. Only lightly influenced by hops, this unique take on an Irish Red is particularly approachable to those who might not be familiar with the style or even whisky cask conditioned ales.Beautifully rich and creamy, Strong Patrick is a seasonal cask conditioned ale worth seeking out.  At $7.95 / 600ml bottle in the LCBO, Strong Patrick is sure to be a crowd-pleaser and will indubitably be a welcome addition to any St.Patty's gathering overstocked with the perennially predictable trio of Guiness, Harp and Kilkenny.

Caskmates Stout Edition

Nose: Dried hay with citrus peel zestiness and a mocha note akin to a tootsie roll.

Palate: Full-bodied with rich chocolate tones and dried fruit. Candied citrus peel and ginger combine with a dash of peppery spice and a light camphor note to round out the palate. 

Finish: Warming spice fades into mouth-coating chocolate flavours with a gently bitter hop note appearing late into the drying finish.

Overall: An interesting twist on the original Jameson's and one of the best beer-influenced whisky experiments I've tried to date. The hop flavour is restrained and is quite well-balanced within the dram, it's actually quite remarkable that this much influence can be transferred to the whisky in such a short amount of time. There's good interplay between the sweet side of the flavour profile and an almost-but-not-quite medicinal element that occasionally pokes though with lightly bitter and aromatic herbal notes. 
Just in time for St. Patty's day, Caskmates is now on sale for $34.95 in the LCBO.   

The Caskmates program is a prescient strategy of renewal for a giant in the drinks business and, who knows, perhaps this program might even prove to be a catalyst for other distilleries with global reach to experiment with beer finished whisky? I don't think there's a beer and/or whisky geek alive that isn't excited by the whole new world of flavour possibilities that are waiting to be discovered....

But, in the meantime, we'll just have to wait until June for the Beau's-Jameson's partnership to go full circle with a Canadian exclusive expression of Jameson's finished in ex-Beau's Strong Patrick barrels.

1 Comment

Great article and great reviews! Speaking of stout finishes, last night I tried for the first time the Teeling Stout Cask and it was excellent. I'm usually very hit-and-miss on finishes (and I wasn't crazy about the Jameson Caskmates) but the Teeling is very good.

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