Barrel Aged Craft Beer: Jameson’s Drinking Buddies Program

The famed Irish whiskey distillery teamed up with American craft breweries to create something unique.

Christopher Osburnby Christopher Osburn

Americans really love whiskey. The whiskey renaissance has led to increased awareness and increased sales. The only thing that Americans love more than whiskey is craft beer; the American craft beer industry is booming with new breweries opening every day.

What if there was a way to combine the two liquids into one magical, mythical beverage that couldn’t possibly be rivaled by any other libation on the earth? Recently, iconic Irish whiskey maker Jameson teamed up with a group of American craft breweries to make this dream a reality. This beautiful collaboration is known as the Jameson Drinking Buddies program. 

Jameson Drinking Buddies

drinking-buddies

This links a select group of American breweries and Jameson through a very special barrel-sharing program. “The program started in the U.S. last year with a successful collaboration with KelSo Beer Company of Brooklyn and has now expanded to breweries across the country,” says Patrick Caulfield, Senior Brand Manager, Irish Whiskey for Jameson parent company Pernod Ricard USA. Each of the five breweries received six Jameson Whiskey barrels to produce their own uniquely crafted limited edition beer.

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The collaboration between craft brewers and Jameson was born out of a conversation a while back between one of Jameson’s Distillers, Dave Quinn, and his friend Shane Long. The aforementioned Long also happens to be a local brewer at Franciscan Well Brewery located in Cork, Ireland. The brewery sits only twelve miles from the Jameson Distillery. 

“Shane inquired about borrowing our barrels to barrel age his stout.” Once the folks at Jameson saw the success and demand for this beer in Ireland it became apparent that collaborating with brewers that shared the same passion for craft was a great way of supporting and celebrating craft brewer throughout some of the most important cities and neighborhoods in the America.

There’s nothing wrong with drinking Jameson neat. In fact, it’s encouraged. But, most of the time when the whiskey is consumed neat, it’s followed by a beer. This beer is more often than not a craft beer. “It was a natural choice to work with American brewers, as we believe in partnering with companies that share the same passion for producing high quality products and are part of the fabric of their communities.” With the creation of these locally brewed Jameson-inspired beers, the goal is to pay homage to the spirit of each brewery’s neighborhood.

The Selection of Breweries

great-divide

Great Divide Brewing

The five breweries are: Captain Lawrence in Elmsford, New York, Deep Ellum in Dallas, Texas, Great Divide in Denver, Colorado, Angel City in Los Angeles, California, and Hilliard’s in Seattle, Washington. “The breweries were selected based on two criteria’s.” First, they all share Jameson’s commitment to craftsmanship, quality and creativity and second they’re all located in neighborhoods that have played a key role in driving the success of the Jameson brand over the last few years. “The release of each of the Jameson-aged beer will be in the style of a neighborhood party open to bartenders, musicians, the kind of people who are synonymous with our industries and who together make up the fabric of the neighborhood.” 

Recently, the brewers visited Ireland and got an insider’s look into what goes into every bottle of Jameson and spent time with the people behind the brand. “They met with Jameson Master Distiller Brian Nation who explained the Jameson crafting process—everything from where Jameson sources its barley to what happens to the mash once it has been drained and filtered.” They also met with Jameson fifth generation Cooper Ger Buckley who looks after all barrels at the distillery and Jameson Master of Whiskey Science, David Quinn, to learn about all of the quality controls and aspects that go into producing Jameson Irish Whiskey. “They also got to sample the local nightlife and get a feel for Jameson in its heartland.”

The Aging Process

beer-barrels

After the beer ages in barrels that previously held whiskey, it gains complexity from the previous resident’s left over flavor articles, and from the wood of the barrels themselves. “This beer acquires tannins, slight wood undertones and unique flavors from the whiskey the barrel previously held, such as caramel, vanilla and slight wood undertones, flavors generally associated with spirits,” says Caulfield. Each beer will be unique based on the style the brewer has chosen and the beers will be available for sale at the brewery and a select amount of retailers for a short period.

Scott Vaccaro, founder of Captain Lawrence Brewing Company was more than happy to take part in this unique collaboration. “We were lucky enough to be picked by Jameson, hopefully based on the quality of our beers and our involvement in the New York metro area drinks scene,” says Vaccaro. “We have been around for almost a decade and are poured alongside Jameson in some of the best accounts in the New York City area.”

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A great deal of work went into deciding which beer Captain Lawrence would put into the barrel to age. “We brewed an imperial red ale that we should be up to the task of standing up to the flavors of the barrel, the spirit of Jameson, and the char of the oak.”

Vaccaro believes that whiskey barrels as perfectly suited to age his beer. “There are few combinations that are natural as whiskey and beer, and aging our beer in a Jameson barrels is a big honor.” He adds, “We have been aging our beer in various wood barrels since we opened our doors, but this is the first time we have ever had the opportunity to age our beers in Jameson barrels.”

This is the first year of the program and Jameson plans to continue with a whole new group of breweries every year. “We are very pleased to continue the Jameson Drinking Buddies program and will be announcing more details in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for updates on a few special events at the local breweries and when the beers will be available,” says Caulfield.