It’s a strange time for beer.
Craft beer’s here to stay after riding the surge that tore through every major city in the world five-odd years ago, but it no longer carries the buzz it once did. Everyone’s pretty much decided what they like to drink after being overwhelmed with options—including those deliberately swimming against the tide and drinking XXXX Gold (sticking it to the man, by buying his beer—work that one out). Young Henry’s of Newtown have ended up on the desirable side of the craft beer tide mark by equal parts timing, attitude, and by making a product that’s just universally drinkable. Their showpiece pale ale, Newtowner—now very much a part of the Australian beer canon—is interesting enough to make you go “mmm” after the first sip, but not so fruity as to make you nauseous after three of them. Yesterday we headed up to the Young Henry’s brewery to have a chat with Oscar and Andy, two of the YH A-team, partly because it’s a great excuse to skive off work for a few hours and have a beer with a couple of good blokes, and partly because they’ve just made a limited edition batch of Jameson Irish Whiskey. The boys got flown over to Ireland earlier in the year on whisky dime to try their custom batch, and were smart enough to take long-time friend of MC, James “Pappy” Adams, along to document the trip, thus the good photos.
“We’ve developed a really great professional relationship with Jameson over the years,” explains Young Henry’s co-founder and “Gentleman at Large” Oscar McMahon. “They asked us if we’d be keen on doing a beer and that possibly getting turned into a whisky. It’s kind of mental for a five-year-old company, so we were pretty humbled.” The boys got to tour the iconic Jameson distillery in Midleton, just outside of Cork in the south-west, and were struck by the family feel of the operation, despite the size and scale. “It kind of feels like a family business,” says YH Marketing Director Andy Muller, “like Young Henry’s would when it’s 100 rather than five years old.” Oscar goes on to describe how refreshing it feels, as a relatively small business, to see that something so huge can still operate with such heart and passion. “We were having a conversation with their CEO and there were people walking past and she was like, ‘Hi how are you…’ knows their name, knows their name, just talking to everyone.”
The way that the Young Henry’s whiskey was made is actually pretty cool. The collab’s called “Caskmates”, and it’s a pretty apt description of the process. Jameson shipped a bunch of whisky barrels to the YH brewery in Newtown. Then, the boys brewed an Irish red ale in the same barrels, especially for the project. Once the beer was aged, ready and bottled, the same barrels were shipped back to Ireland and filled back up with whiskey. “The whole idea with Caskmates is that a barrel will always absorb liquid up to about half its width, so when you pull liquid out and then rehydrate it with the next liquid, like our beer, all the whisky that was in the wood absorbs into the beer,” Oscar explains. “When you pull the beer out and rehydrate the casks with the whisky, then you’ve got that oaky beer taste that seeps into the liquid and adds to the flavour.” The boys tasted the last batch of their whisky alongside Jameson regular and the normal Caskmates batch which is made in stout barrels, and reckon that the difference was clear. “Our whisky is lighter in colour than the Stout edition and it has a really long, creamy finish and a bit of spice to it,” Oscar continues. “It’s really lovely, really easy drinking.”
As you’d imagine, whilst getting the royal tour of Ireland care of one of its cultural dons, the Young Henry’s fam also managed to dabble in their fair share of the craic. Literally translated as “fun”, it’s perhaps the country’s most famous export, and, on home soil no one does it quite like the Irish. From picking up folk singing hitchhikers to joining in pub-wide sing-a-longs (to which Oscar offered the gift of Paul Kelly), it’s clear that the Irish field trip made quite the impression on Newtown’s finest. More than anything, one gets the impression that aside from the fun, culture, and the booze, the most potent memory will be what Jameson represents as a business—that you can get to where you want to go without sacrificing what made it possible in the first place. Oscar summed it up quite eloquently: “I always just assumed that once you get to a certain size some corporate bully-boy comes in and kicks out all the long hairs. But it doesn’t have to be like that at all.”