“So smooth I would drink it even if my name were not on it” – John Jameson

Today Jameson is recognised as the number one Irish whiskey in the world, and one of the top three in the whiskey/bourbon industry globally. Whiskey lovers the world over have lauded the quality and smoothness of Jameson, but where did it all start?

John Jameson, the founder of the brand, was actually Scottish (oh, the irony) and was born in 1740 in Alloa, Clackmannanshire. He was a lawyer who married into the whisky industry. His bride was Margaret Haig, whose family owned the Haig distilleries in Scotland. She was also a first cousin of the Steins, another large distilling family in the area with whiskey interests in both Scotland and Dublin.

John Jameson and Margaret Haig
John Jameson and Margaret Haig

In 1786 John and Margaret moved to Ireland where John was to manage the Stein’s whiskey distillery which had been established in Bow Street, Dublin in 1780. By 1805 John had taken full ownership of the distillery and expanded it along with his son, John Jameson II. In 1810 the name of the whiskey was changed to the brand we all know and love today, and from there it went from strength to strength. In 1786 the distillery had been producing about 30,000 gallons annually. Under John’s reign, by the turn of the century the Bow St distillery was the second largest producer in Ireland and one of the largest in the world at 1,000,000 gallons per year. Quite the leap!

Bow Street Distillery, Dublin 1786
Bow Street Distillery, Dublin 1786

John Jameson was a confident and assertive businessman who had turned a small distillery into a global operation and was laying the foundations for a brand that would survive many pitfalls and setbacks in the Irish whiskey industry over the next 200 years. So what were the ingredients for his success? Genes, innovation, and a bit of old fashioned hard work.

The Jameson family motto is Sine Metu, meaning “without fear”. The crest and motto were awarded to the family for fighting pirates in the 1500s. With a family background like this it’s no wonder John Jameson was able to take that fearless attitude into business! He also carried on their tradition of seamanship by sailing the seas to sell his whiskey worldwide.

Hard work is pivotal to the Jameson brand, and it all started with the man himself. John Jameson was known to reward his workers far and beyond the norms of the time and his employees were central to the success of the distillery. So much so that the emblem of the barrelmen has been instated on all Jameson bottles as a nod to the backbreaking work performed by the distillery workers. To this day the company are proud to be a whiskey made by hard working people, for hard working people.

Workers in the Jameson Distillery Bow St., Dublin.
Workers in the Jameson Distillery Bow St., Dublin.

Another mark left by John Jameson on the Irish whiskey industry is his commitment to quality and innovation. He hand-picked raw ingredients and barrels and accepted nothing less than the highest quality. He paid more for grain, aged his whiskey longer than competitors and invested in the welfare of his employees (which is maybe why they forgave all the previously mentioned micro-managing). It was a highly contradictory philosophy in the days of cheap labour and huge profits, and many thought he would run the distillery into the ground, but much to the dismay of his rivals this was not to be the case.

Jameson Distillery Bow St. today
Jameson Distillery Bow St. today

He also insisted on triple distillation in order to achieve the smoothest whiskey possible, and although he did not invent the method, he pioneered the concept and changed the face of the Irish whiskey industry forever as a result.

Jameson Whiskey Bottles
Jameson Whiskey Bottles

John Jameson died in 1823, leaving a legacy both as a businessman and a whiskey distiller that has made an indelible mark on the world. Four of his sons followed him into whiskey distilling in Ireland, one remaining in Bow Street while others went on to open their own rival distilleries throughout the country. But by far the greatest legacy of John Jameson is his name, his brand and the qualities that Jameson whiskey became known for which have survived for over 200 years and counting.

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