Back in England, I was the friend of a guy whose father was a rich sort. Posh père belonged to a single-malt society and — if he was feeling generous, which was, fortunately, always — used to share his latest "off-cut" bottles with his son and me. So for a year or two I became an aficionado of single malts so rare they remained unnamed, although the bottles came with labels that said things like, "has a stereo nose: in one nostril, blackberries, in the other, the saddle room."
But then I discovered this little dreamboat of a whiskey (or whisky): Jameson. How, after considering first-hand the very best of single malts, could I lower myself to this humble blended brew concocted from the barley surrounding distant Cork, Ireland?
I'll tell you why.
For its price, it's a darned good drink. (There's a reason it's the number-one whiskey sold around the world). A flagon of Jameson is still an affordable treat, around the equivalent of two tickets to a movie or the latest hardcover bestseller. For that outlay, one might get a week or two of joy upon the palate.
An easily quaffed whiskey, Jameson isn't a challenging drink to let splosh around yer gob — its edge is closer to Coldplay than PJ Harvey — but that doesn't mean it doesn't have flavor. There's not even the merest hint of saddle room, to be sure, but one reviewer, Josh Peters, writing at the whiskeyjug.com, notes a whole panoply of other noses, including "malt, vanilla ... unripe citrus ... grassy notes ... cocoa" and "an ambiguous fruit that borders on banana." I should very much like to eat such a fruit, but will have to stick with Jameson to approximate it.
Jameson's other constant is consistency; somehow it manages to leave barely the trace of a hangover, which is a good thing in case you're ever lucky enough to find yourself at Billymark's West, a fine dive bar on 9th Avenue in Manhattan near the huge post office. It's a fair bet that if this is the first time you've set face in Billymark's, either Billy or Mark Penza — brother curators and all-around characters — will welcome you with a shot of Jameson, no questions asked, and sometimes more than one as the night progresses.
But this, for me, is the kicker: If you want a bar where everybody knows your name, and you're always glad you came, throw the punter a snifter of Jameson and watch the dawning realization that the martini is designed for human beings not entirely serious about getting their drink on.