Jameson’s Caskmates program is an interesting way of bringing together two spheres of the alcohol world, Irish whiskey and craft beer, that are inherently linked by the presence of a key base ingredient: Malted barley. When you really think about it, traditional Irish malt whiskey (and single-malt scotch, by association) is essentially nothing more than a beer base that has been distilled and aged in oak, albeit with certain parts of the recipe (such as hops) typically missing. The Caskmates program, on the other hand, seeks to put the beer back into Irish whiskey via partnerships with various breweries.
Now hitting the shelves in limited release comes the second iteration of Caskmates, which is dubbed the “Hyperlocal Limited Editions.” Unlike the first generation of Caskmates, which didn’t disclose the breweries providing the IPA and stout that were used to season each group of casks, this second release makes the identity of those breweries (and their specific beers) its primary selling point. One, targeted at the Chicago market, makes use of Revolution Brewing Co.’s Fist City Pale Ale, while the other uses Yakima, WA’s Topcutter IPA from Bale Breaker Brewing Co. In each case, the breweries traveled to Ireland, where they brewed batches of their signature beers and aged them in Jameson casks. Those beers were then sold in the brewers’ local markets, while the beer-seasoned casks were re-filled with Jameson Irish Whiskey to absorb the signature flavors of each brew. According to the distillery, “Caskmates Editions should be served neat, on the rocks or alongside a craft beer.”
We’ve tasted both new versions and are ready to weigh in, but first a few thoughts:
— Although we love both of these breweries, and both Fist City Pale Ale and Topcutter IPA are exemplary beers, it seems like a missed opportunity to not have the two participating breweries put forth offerings that are more fundamentally different from one another in terms of style. It’s not as if pale ale and IPA are the same thing, but to have both new offerings be hop-forward beers puts them at least in the same conceptual ballpark. Are you not curious how things would have turned out with an American porter? An imperial stout? Some kind of sour style, even? Perhaps thye’re saving these wilder diversions for later editions of Caskmates.
— At a mere $29.99 for a 750 ml bottle, these are very affordable ways to try locally influenced versions of Jameson, and both bottles are pretty snazzy looking to boot. As a Chicagoan, I’m particular partial to Revolution’s Chicago Flag design. Rock on.
Now let’s get to tasting.
City: Chicago, IL
Beer: Fist City Pale Ale
It was an interesting choice for Revolution to choose their Fist City Pale Ale for this experiment, rather than some variation of their flagship Anti-Hero IPA, but I can’t argue with the results, which I ultimately found to be my favorite of these two bottles. I can’t help but think that starting from a more subtle pale ale base was ultimately a big part of why this particular bottle works.
On the nose, the Caskmates Revolution Brewing Edition is pleasantly malty, with toasty bread crust impressions and a drizzle of caramel, supported by lemon thyme-like herbaceousness and a twist of citrus. There’s a bit of green, buzzy hop spice as well, of the sort that I’m almost reminded of Czech Saaz.
On the palate, this one is well balanced and approachable, with a tea leaf maltiness that makes up its body. Herbal hop notes and moderate residual sweetness place nicely with one another, in good proportion in terms of volume of flavor. Overall this seems distinctly more malty than I remember base Jameson being, with hop impressions that are light and delicate—lemon zest and a little florals that just tie everything together. Also notable is the texture, which seems more silky smooth than standard Jameson. All in all, this feels like a version of the base Irish whiskey that has been improved in almost every facet, without seeming completely alien.
City: Yakima, WA
Beer: Topcutter IPA
I am an avowed fan of Bale Breaker’s Topcutter IPA, and have written about my appreciation of this particular beer in the past, but in the context of a Jameson Caskmates edition I didn’t find it to work quite as harmoniously as Revolution’s beer. This one is much more overtly hoppy, which is definitely what some drinkers are going to be looking for, but I found some of these flavors to be overwhelming to the base spirit.
On the nose, there’s an initial presence of straight-up hop pellets that will be familiar to any homebrewer—it’s a much greener, more resinous aroma, which segues into Citra-like tropical fruit mustiness. It’s not a bad aroma, but it’s much more influenced by the beer involved than the previous bottle.
On the palate, the hops put forth an assertive degree of tropical fruitiness, with bubblegum-like flavors of pineapple and guava that didn’t seem like a natural pairing to me with the background of malt and vanilla found in Jameson. The notes of grapefruity hard candy in particular give this one a bit more of an artificial sheen, although I don’t doubt that this will be exactly what some drinkers want from this series to begin with. If you really wanted more tropical fruit/resinous presence in your Irish whiskey, then you will find it here. Personally, I find the subtlety of the Revolution edition to be more rewarding in the long run, but the Bale Breaker edition certainly isn’t hurting for beer character.
And with that said, I still do love Topcutter IPA.
Jameson Caskmates Hyperlocal Limited Editions are hitting store shelves now, with an MSRP of $29.99 for 750 ml bottles. For more information, check out the official website.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.