Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: Jameson 12 year old Irish Whiskey

I am on a bit of an Irish whiskey kick lately.  I recently reviewed Jameson's standard bottling and wasn't terribly impressed.  Nevertheless, I will not give up.  I have a bottle of 12 year old Jameson and also an 18 year old.  I may not be of 'fightin' Irish' lineage, but damn I know those great people can produce good whiskey!  Let's see if the 12 year old can fulfil my conviction.

Nose (undiluted)
I’m not picking up much. Very subtle. Only some fleeting citrus notes and leather.

Palate (undiluted)
Delightful interplay between some citrus, sweet milk chocolate and hazelnut notes. Malty too. Silken texture. No jagged edges here. Nicely refined. You can taste the evolution from the uninspiring standard, bottom shelf (no age statement) Jameson into something pleasant. 12 years of aging makes a difference. There is a spiced buzz of sherry, cherries and other red fruit that gives the flavor profile some complexity too.

Finish (undiluted)
Not overly long. The flavors remain only briefly. A taste of drying, chocolate mousse, some salt and a little more malt/sherry.

General Impressions
This is good whiskey. Not incredible, but good.  Dependable.  It is a whiskey that delivers an enjoyable, gentle sherry / Belgian chocolate mouthfeel and a warm, camp fire afterglow that reassures you that you are among friends.  It is not the greatest whisky I have tasted, but certainly an acceptable standard to be added to the whiskey cabinet.  Some critics have described it as a 'daily drinker' but I think it is a little too expensive to fall into that category.

As with many Irish whiskies, triple distillation means it is very smooth. The challenge for many Irish distilleries is to somehow make a smooth whiskey interesting or nuanced. The typical strategy of distillers is to create a dram that has a certain degree of spiciness. 

The master blender at Jameson has succeeded in distilling a spirit that is interesting, yet not relying heavily on a spiced flavor profile. How he succeeded is not easy to articulate. Nevertheless, I am never at a loss of words, so here goes: the whiskey represents a melding of sweetly contoured sherry and Belgian chocolate against a background of malt that dries upon the palate. Not a lot of spices other than the corduroy road of sherry and certainly no peatiness.

If I had to sum this whisky up in a couple of words, it would be textured sherry and milk chocolate.  Serve this at a party and it is a good way to Win Friends and Influence People

Price Point
The price is fair though not a steal of a deal.  Try to buy it when the price is discounted.

This whiskey is priced slightly under a few entry level 12 year old single malts.  I find it similar to GlenDronach 12 years.  Irish and scotch whiskies are different branches of the same tree.  It gets challenging to say which is better.  If you place a premium on silky texture then Jameson would be the choice.

Jameson 12 year old makes for a good whiskey gift.  It will impress newcomers to whiskey and please veterans.  I wouldn't describe it as the greatest of whiskies, but rather a pleasing dram that delivers the basics that most consumers require:  smoothness, no bite, some spice, gentle flavors and some interesting twists in the flavor profile.

Jameson 12 years versus Jameson 18 years
I prefer the flavor profile, as well as the lower price of the Jameson 12yrs, when compared to the 18 year old Jameson (click here for my review).  The 12 is more chocolate based whereas the 18 is tasting more lime and Chinese tea based.

Jameson 12 years versus Bushmills Black Bush
This whisky shares similarities with Bushmills Black Bush, but is slightly superior. Black Bush is impressive initially, but becomes quite simple and mundane upon repeat tastings. While Jameson is more interesting than Black Bush, it is not taking any chances.  It is a very middle of the road whiskey that could become boring to the more serious whisky enthusiast.

What about Redbreast 12?
In a heads-up, all-in Redbreast 12 years  versus Jameson 12 comparison, I prefer the former.  However, the one you prefer will depend on the general flavor profile of each.  Redbreast is honeyed, cinammon and zesty, though not a scotch, it does have many similarities with many Speyside single malts.  Jameson, on the other hand, is darker, more sherry and chocolate, in the genre of some Highland malts like Oban.  I can appreciate both, but prefer the former.  You have to ask yourself, what do you prefer?  And as you know, there is only one way to find out . . .


Jason Debly

Note:  The Jameson 12 year old as reviewed above has been referred to as the '1780.'  The date refers to founding of the distillery.  The '1780' has now been re-released as the 'Special Reserve.'  The whisky hasn't changed.  Just the labeling.
© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Great review, as always! Beautifully written, and I just love your detailed descriptions! Makes me want to try the 12-year old Jameson as well...
    I have a 5cl miniature of Jameson NAS (very bland, nose and taste are somehow "swilly" alcoholic) and the Jameson Gold on my shelf here. The latter is a very good whiskey, I detected no sherry, but a very soft creamy, oily milk chocolate toffee, though it has somewhat of a bitter alcoholic aftertaste that I dislike with this whiskey. I would say it is in a way similar to Redbreast 12, which I also have on my shelf and like very very much. However, the Redbreast has less milk chocolate toffee and more sweetness I'd say, and most importantly doesn't have that (not very likeable) aftertaste, which downgrades the very very good overall impression of Jameson Gold a little.
    If you ever get hold of a bottle, I would love to read about your impression of that one as well.

    Greetings from Germany!

  2. Kristen, to date, Redbreast is the best Irish whiskey I have tried.

    Unfortunately, the Jameson Gold is not available where I live. However, my next review is the Jameson 18yr old, so we will see where that takes us!


  3. Not a fan of Jameson's. I have tried several bottlings and always come away disappointed. Redbreast is an excellent Irish Whisky. I heartily recommend it. My everday Irish Whiskey is Powers Gold. Less refined for sure, but a good economic choice that still gives you what you like about Irish Whisky.

  4. The last time I had jameson( some years ago) it was the standard blend that some people highly rated. I found it unimpressive and gave my bottle away. Your review of the 12 year old gave me the courage to give jameson another try. I am glad i did and your review was right on the mark! I have enjoyed Bushmills Black in the past and would agree the jameson is a little better.The jameson 12 does have a bigger sherry influence than I expected but that is what makes it so smooth and drinkable especialy if you have a sweett tooth like me. It does remind me of some speyside single malts.
    If you get a chance try the Bushmills 10 single malt. It is my current favorite of the Irish whiskies. There is a vanila,honey and sherry flavor componet but it is more restrained than the jameson 12. Bushmills 10 is light as most irish whisky is but if you give this one some time you will find yourself going back for another sip to discover the flavors.
    If you get a chance give it a try and let us know your impression.

    Thanks for the Jameson recommendation. It has replaced the Blackbush in the cabinet.

  5. I will try to locate a bottle of Bushmills 10 and review it!

  6. If you like a peaty whiskey try the Connemara irish whiskey brand, I'm currently enjoying it after reading a Jim Murray review. It's been a long, long time since Ireland has used this once traditional peat smoked method and this is currently (as far as I'm aware) their only one. I thought only the Scots did peat whisky, I like both but cant decide which one is better!!! LOL

    Just a note on spelling!!

    The Irish and Scots are very pedantic when it comes to the proper and correct spelling of their beloved "uisce beatha". Whisky (Scottish English) or whiskey (Irish English/Hiberno-English). Please do add the "e" when referring to the Irish water of life.
    Whiskey or whisky is an anglicization of a Goidelic name (Irish: uisce beatha and Scottish Gaelic: uisge beatha) literally meaning "water of life".

  7. Hey Jason,

    What's your opinion about the recently launched Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel? Can you please review it?

    Thanks once again for all your wonderful reviews!

    1. It's another Irish whiskey I have not tried. My problem is where I live many whiskies (particularly Irish) are not available.

  8. Hi Jason,

    Just wanted to thank you for your work. I've only gotten into Whisky/Whiskey fairly recently and your blog seems to be the best resource to get an actual opinion rather than something designed not to upset distillers.

    Bravo! and thanks again.


    1. Stu, I have upset the distillers. I am not on their favorite list and one of their global brand ambassadors is really offended by my negative reviews. He feels I do not appreciate all the hard work a master blender and his team put into the production. He is right. I don't really know everything they do, but I do not care as it is all about the taste experience, something, I, you and all readers can speak about with some authority.


  9. I have a sneaking suspicion that if you were to remove the grain whiskey component from Jameson 12 that you would end up with Redbreast 12. This comes from the fact that Power's John Lane 12 is essentially the pot still component of Power's 12 by itself. The same can be said of Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy to Midleton Very Rare.

  10. I have my first bottle of Jameson 12 year sitting next me, and I must say that your review is quite accurate -- well-written to boot. I have nothing to add; nice review.

    1. Thanks! Always nice to hear independent confirmation that I am not asleep at the wheel.

      Appreciate you commenting.

  11. What would one of these bottles be worth now? I am cleaning out my fathers stuff as he passed away and he has one of these bottles unopened. I am planning to drink it with friends and family on his birthday as he always said he wanted to drink it before he got sick.

  12. I wonder what this is worth now as my father has an unopened bottle of this blend. I intend to drink it with family on his birthday this year (as he passed away recently)