Ask Your Bartender: Protestant vs. Catholic Whiskey

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Hey Bartender

My South Side Irish Chicago Dad always told me that Jameson was the Catholic whisky and that Bushmills was the whiskey made by “the damn Protestants”. Now this character I met at the bar is trying to tell me it’s the other way around. Help! Who do I believe, the man who raised me, or some drunk I met in a bar? You can see why I am confused.

School Marm

Hey Marm

I was wondering when someone would ask this question. The truth of the matter is, the age-old faux-pas of ordering Bushmills for fear of supporting English aggression and offending the Republic of Ireland is about as Irish as corned beef – which is to say, not very Irish at all but rather Irish-American (Sorry, kids, corned beef is a Jewish invention).

Anyway, both of your sources are wrong, but at least your father got the order right. The widely-accepted Irish-American version is that Jameson is Catholic whiskey and Bushmills is Protestant whiskey. But that’s merely based on geography: Bushmills is from Northern Ireland (a predominantly Protestant region) and Jameson is from Cork – Catholic country.

Jameson was pretty much founded in 1780 when John Jameson – a Scottish guy – purchased the Bow Street Distillery, which at the time was one of the biggest distilleries in Ireland. Now, it’s important to note that the Scottish Reformation occurred in 1560, so odds are in favor of the founder of the Jameson distillery, being Scottish, was a damn Protestant.

Bushmills, on the other hand, was officially licensed in 1608 by King James I (of Bible fame) and despite of its location deep in the heart of Protestant country (and this next bit is straight from my local Bushmills rep, so take it or leave it) has a Catholic as a master distiller.

According to everyone I’ve spoken with on the subject, you only really find this debate in the States, where Irish-American support of the Republic can sometimes be blind and often fueled by the very product we’re speaking of. But none of it means much, anyway: both distilleries are owned by huge international entities: Jameson by French liquor conglomerate Pernod-Ricard, and Bushmills by the English firm Diageo.

As for my preference, I tend to like the lighter Bushmills as it’s the first Irish whiskey I discovered years ago, and I’ve certainly enjoyed my share of Jameson from time to time. But my personal preference is Redbreast, a twelve-year pot still Irish whiskey produced at the Old Midleton Distillery and a real delight to sip while enjoying a late-night Irish breakfast of sausage, egg, pudding and soda bread. Delicious.

151 Replies to “Ask Your Bartender: Protestant vs. Catholic Whiskey”

  • Bob61571 says:

    To make it even crazier…..

    Went on the Bushmills tour in November 2015. 1 line was bottling Bushmills. 2nd line was bottling Jameson. Asked the guide about it. He said Jameson trucks it up there when Jameson is at capacity, and Bushmills has the resources to do it. Simple business transaction where both sides benefit.

  • Marty D. says:

    Yep, this goes back to when Bushmills was still part of IDL (Irish Distillers Limited) and owned by Pernod. They also bottle Powers & Paddy’s as well. Bushmills, in turn, supplies the Midleton Distillery with single malt, which they use to make Tullamore DEW. Very easy arrangement.

    Can’t believe this discussion thread is still going on since 2009! Jeffrey, isn’t there an expiration date to such things? 😉

    • DDennisD says:

      Do note that the greatest tv show of all time, “The Wire”, always showed the Baltimore cops ordering Jameson in the bars, and the “hero”, McNulty, becomes indignant when only Bushmills is available at a party’s open bar – ( I guess most of the cops were Irish – Catholic ), so traditions prevailed…

  • Karen says:

    Just got back from Dublin yesterday & loved reading the post & all the comments here. I’m not surprised this thread is still going strong.
    Didn’t think I liked any kind of whiskey until last week when I asked our waitress at Murray’s to bring me something Irish…she brought me Jameson’s on the rocks along w/ a small bottle of ginger ale & a lime. I tasted the Jameson’s before I poured in any ginger ale & so glad I did, Irish whiskey is sooooo much better IMHO than Scotch or bourbon IMHO. Spent the rest of the week getting to know Irish whiskey & came home w/ small bottles of Irish Whiskeys I wasn’t sure I could get in the US so I could continue my coyage of discovery at home. Currently sipping on a Writers Tears neat & have two types of Teeling, The Irishman single malt, The Irishman Founders’ Reserve, a 12 y/o Redbreast, a GreenSpot single pot, a Powers’ John Lane Release, a Middleton Barry Crockett Legacy, a 12 y/o Jameson Special Reserve, & a Green Spot still to try. I was told by one Irishman the RedBreast would change my life and another one told me that The Irishman Founders’ Reserve would do the same. Can’t wait to find out.
    The whole time I was in Dublin (or even while I was Belfast) I never once heard anyone say anything about any whiskey having a religion. Also absolutely no one gave a rat’s ass what my religion is & Dublin is currently commemorating the Easter Rising centennial! Peter Knox hit the nail on the head in #103 & Hey Bartender is right, giving a crap about what religion founded a whiskey’s distillery is about as authentically Irish as corned beef…FYI: not a single Irish person I spoke to knew had ever heard of corned beef, it wasn’t in the grocery stores & certainly not on any menus.

  • Aidan says:

    The new Tullamore Dew distillery is up and running the past 2 years and back in Tullamore town. They’ve also started work on a massive bottling plant on site to bring all areas of Dew production back to the town.

    As regards the Catholic v Protestant whiskey debate. Who really cares. I’m sure there were dodgy discriminatory practices based on race or religion in most big corporations in many countries in the past. As long as it’s no longer going on in the company today then enjoy.

    • MGsilll hoe to thos says:

      My wife has just blown raspberries on my belly whilst I’ve been reading this crap – seriously it doesn’t matter which type of sky fairy you believe in – bushmills black label vs tulamore dew is a close run thing and depends on how and what mood you’re in rather that some stupid pagan affiliation

  • Martin says:

    Very true Aidan.

    As for the Tullamore Dew, it actually is the perfect mingling of North & South, since the pot still & grain comes from Midleton in Cork and the single malt is distilled at Bushmills (then aged down at LDI). Those whiskeys seem to get along just fine!

    I hear that William Grant & Sons has a contract with LDI to have Tullamore Dew produced in Cork until 2025, so they will have to either be creative to release anything from the new distillery or have some mighty fine aged whiskey come the latter half of the next decade.

    Happy Holidays all!

  • Aidan says:

    Can’t comment on the long term contract in Cork as I hadn’t heard that, but I assume they have some sort of get out clause if there is a contract.

    They have started construction now on a grain still on site now which means that the full three components of the blend will be produced in Tullamore. This was a long term plan but they’ve brought it forward by about 8-10 years. The new bottling hall is also taking shape even though it’ll be a while before the on site whiskey will be bottled. Maybe they will bottle the Cork supply in Tullamore in the interim.

  • Liam mcavoy says:

    I was born in buncrana moved to Derry then to Belfast and am now living in the uk I’m Catholic and I must say I prefer Bushmills to Jameson’s although I’ve been a life Long fan of Jameson’s it doesn’t matter whether your Hun or teag drink what you like don’t bring sectarianism into it it’ll spoil the taste

  • MiGWind says:

    Tulley Dew 10 Year Single Malt! What a treat.

  • jP says:

    Had drinks in the Irish Embassy (in Korea) as an invited Englishman. The Ambassador had both Jameson and Bushmills on offer. She didn’t give a toss about anyone’s religion, let alone the whiskey’s.

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