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The John Jameson Bow Street Distillery in 1886 - Click for larger size image

Delivery trucks for Jameson whiskey in the 1920's - Click for larger size image

An old outdoors Jameson advertising sign - Click for larger size image

Coopers at work in the Bow Street Distillery - Click for larger size image

The entrance to the old Jameson distillery as it is today - Click for larger size image

An old bottle of Jameson whiskey - Click for larger size image

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Bow Street Distillery (John Jameson & Son) - Dublin

1780 - 1971


The Bow Street Distillery, which was established in 1780, is one of the oldest in Ireland.  John Jameson was originally from Scotland and was related through his wife to the Haigs and Steins, powerful Scottish distilling families.  Around 1777, he moved to Ireland, and a few years later bought into the Bow Street Distillery.  He was initially the General Manager, before taking full ownership and enlarging the distillery in 1805.  By 1810 it had been officially renamed to John Jameson & Son.


In 1886, the distillery covered upwards of 5 acres. It was located on the North side of the river Liffey, close to St. Michan’s Church, the crypts of which Barnard visited (they can still be visited today).  The distillery at that stage had become a city inside a city, with, in addition to all the necessary distilling works, a Smithy, Cooperage, Saw Mills, Engineers, Carpenters, Painters and Coppersmiths’ Shops. The water came from two deep wells underneath, where it was said an oak forest from Celtic times had once stood, which gave this water very special qualities.  John Jameson imposed strict quality controls on all production elements:  from the sourcing of the very best barley, for which he paid well above market price, to the storage of his whiskey, for which he initially dug hundreds of feet of cellars under nearby streets, to ensure the cool and damp conditions he wanted for  maturation.


John Jameson’s Distillery had the reputation of being the best and most famous distillery in the entire British Empire and this was the first distillery Barnard visited when he arrived in Ireland.  He noted how three hundred men were employed on the premises and many were “hale and hearty old men; one old veteran was over eighty-six years of age”.  It was a notable fact that workers in Bow Street were never turned away except for misconduct, a remarquable feat in an era when men could be hired and fired at will.  The distillery had maltings and kilns in Bow Street, but also at Drogheda.  There were four Stills and the two Wash Stills, each holding 24,000 gallons, were heated by both fire and steam coils.  The warehouses contained 25,000 casks of whiskey and the annual output was 1 million gallons, making it the second largest distillery in Dublin at the time (it would become the No.1 distillery in Ireland by the beginning of the 20th century).  Jameson had 6,000 duty paid casks on the premises, which they sold to trusted merchants who would in turn bottle it as a Jameson whiskey.  So careful was the distillery about quality control, that any merchant found adulterating a Jameson whiskey was inevitably blacklisted and prosecuted.


Despite Jameson’s dominance of domestic and international markets, it suffered like all Irish distilleries from the introduction of Scottish blended whiskies, American prohibition and Ireland’s Trade War with Great Britain.  The first imports of Jameson whiskey after American prohibition were welcomed across the Atlantic with celebratory zeal, but even Jameson’s great name could not counter balance the inroads which Scotch whisky made into international markets in the first half of the 20th century.


In 1966 the Jameson distillery joined forces with their rivals the Cork Distillers Company and John Powers to form the Irish Distillers Group.  The Bow Street Distillery became one of the last distilleries in Ireland to close, the stills going cold in 1971, when the production of Jameson whiskey was transferred to Midleton. The millions of bottles of Jameson whiskey produced each year from Midleton still embrace the Bow Street, Dublin 7 address on their labels and Jameson has now once again become one of the world's best selling whiskeys, available in over 120 markets and accounting for over 75% of all Irish whiskey sold worldwide.


What remained of the distillery after 1971 was sold on or dismantled, with the exception of one of the larger buildings, kept on by Irish Distillers as their head office.  By the late 1990’s the main distillery complex had become a sorry sight, a fire having ravaged the buildings some years earlier.  However, the new Millennium saw new life breathed into the old distillery as the site was rebuilt into a complex of apartments, shops and a hotel.  More importantly however, Irish Distillers repurchased part of the old site and opened the Old Jameson Distillery, an excellent visitor’s centre recreating the history and distilling techniques of the Bow Street Distillery.  Even though whiskey is no longer distilled in Bow Street, Irish Distillers have done a fine job of recreating the many aspects of the old distillery on a smaller scale, making the Old Jameson Distillery one of Dublin’s most famous and popular tourist attractions.


The John Jameson Bow Street Distillery - Bow Street,  Dublin


Further reading:

The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard



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