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Thursday, March 28, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Jameson Select Reserve & Jameson Select Reserve

There are at least two Jameson Select Reserve Irish whiskies floating around out there.  Firstly, there's the Select Reserve Small Batch, distributed in Europe.  Then there's the Select Reserve Black Barrel, released only in New York (though I have seen it for sale in nearby NJ and CT).

What the Small Batch actually is may be a little ambiguous.  Master of Malt says that it's a Pot Still, but they are only folks making that claim.  Even their commenters disagree. One says it's "a blend made of 75% 12yo pot still whiskey with about 1/5 of that coming from sherry casks, the rest is grain"; another says the grain portion is a "rare grain whiskey component which is not seen in any other expression of the Jameson family".  Other online European sellers appear to agree with those comments, saying that the grain whisky is present and that it is rarely produced by Midleton.  The Whisky Exchange states first-fill bourbon and sherry casks are used.

To add some confusion, a Select Reserve Small Batch was earlier released in South Africa (at 43% ABV) using 12 year old pot still whiskey and a "rare" 5 year old grain whiskey, as per Dominic Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies.

The Select Reserve Black Barrel is a little more straightforward.  I haven't seen anyone arguing with Jameson's official explanation:
"It all began when our masters carefully selected a high proportion of Irish pot still whiskey and a rare small batch grain whiskey, and left it to mature in flame-charred bourbon barrels."
The cynic in me asks, "Are these the same whiskies, just named differently for the US release?"

Well, let's do some tasting.

I had the regular Jameson blend present as a sounding board, via a 50mL mini.  See here for my take on the Jameson's blend.  The Small Batch was from a 30mL Master of Malt sample.  The Black Barrel is actually from my own bottle...

...the majority of which awaits me in New York.  So, for the sake of these notes, remember: Small Batch from a purchased sample.  Black Barrel from my bottle.


Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Jameson
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey (pot still and grain whiskey)
Current Owner: Pernod Ricard
Age: possibly 12 year old pot still
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels and ex-sherry casks, with some first-fill casks in the mix
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Color -- The lightest gold of the three, even lighter than the regular Jameson's.
Nose -- More focused and brighter than the classic blend.  Sawdust and vanilla beans arrive first, then quickly followed by whipped cream, cupcakes, a berry tart, dessert wine, strawberry bubblegum, cherry liqueur, and milk chocolate.  Can the palate match this goodness?
Palate -- The creamy texture holds lychee, passion fruit, flower kiss candy, apples, notebook paper, then a little salt and brown sugar.
Finish -- The flower kiss candy and lychee hang around in the finish.  There's also strawberry bubblegum, white cake, and salt.  The classic Jameson's blend's rougher note floats in at the very end.

A fan of most things Jameson's, I have to say this is my favorite whiskey released under their brand.  Both the nose and palate joyful.  The finish is the weakest part, but not a deal breaker.


Distillery: Midleton
Brand: Jameson
Type: Irish Blended Whiskey (pot still and grain whiskey)
Current Owner: Pernod Ricard
Age: NAS
Maturation: flame-charred (more than usual?) ex-bourbon barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Color -- A mid-dark gold.  The darkest of the group.
Nose -- Very classic Jameson's blend up front, though slightly fruitier (strawberries?) and less raw.  Some vanilla beans, dried apricots, and sour cream in there as well.
Palate -- A nice thick texture gives us nutty vanilla, nondescript citrus juice, brown sugar, and notebook paper.  Not a whole lot going on here.
Finish -- The Good: It's very nutty.  The Bad: It's also very grainy, a little bitter, feels like young raw whiskey.  The Ugly: Loooong lasting.

When I'd first opened the Black Barrel bottle -- with great excitement, mind you -- I poured a quick glass, sniffed it and downed it.  Kristen inquired, "So......?"  I responded, "It tastes like Jameson's."  It really does.  Smells like it too.  The original Jameson's blend is interesting in its roughness (or "crispness" per Jim Murray).  While the Black Barrel has some clearer fruity notes, it's disappointing...

...especially after the delicious Small Batch.  Those flower candy and tropical fruit notes are reminiscent of elements I've found in single grain whiskies, so I've got to wonder if they're coming from this "rare" grain whiskey that Jameson added to this blend.  I don't think it's coming from the casks.  No matter where the quality comes from, this is a very enjoyable whiskey.

Going by what I've read, I'll say these are not the same whiskey.  It appears as if -- at the very least -- different casks are used.  The lack of information on age statements on the Black Barrel makes me think that younger whiskey may have been used as well.

Going by my senses, I'll say these are not the same whiskey.  I can't blame the difference on a sample gone bad.  In fact, the sample gone good.  Thus the problem would be present in my bottle.  But the bottle appeared to be stored correctly: out of the sun in an air-conditioned shop.  Perhaps it'll get better with time?  If so, I'll find out next December.

But here, I declare these are two different blends.  Go with the Small Batch.


Availability - Europe only
Pricing - $45-$60 w/o VAT, before shipping
Rating - 88


Availability - New York area only
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 74 (as of Aug '13, this is getting downgraded to 66)