The Message Is the Medium
With the evolution of Irish whiskey products, brand messaging has shifted as well. Emphasis has gone from mythic adventures of founding distilling families to more communication about the liquid in the bottle. The inside scoop on mash bills, distillation, maturation and finishing technique appeals to whiskey geeks, as well as ever-more knowledgeable consumers.
“Some of these brands are just inventing a history or buying a story,” Smith says. “They are trying to sell new whiskey packaged with a little history. But that’s falling on deaf ears, I think.”
“There is a segment of consumers that loves the details and are able to differentiate the spirits they’re tasting,” Pfenning notes. “With the surge in popularity of whiskey and more consumers coming into the category, it gives an opportunity to educate them about the differences among Bourbon, Scotch and Irish – particularly what’s unique about our brand.”
Tullamore D.E.W.’s Parting Glass campaign does evoke the imagery and romance of Ireland. However, the company also has a team of ambassadors fanning out across the U.S. market, spreading the word about Tullamore’s triple-distilled, triple-blended approach to whiskey, with sampling to reinforce the message.
“If you have a lovely package and a beautiful story but the liquid is not up to scratch, they may buy a bottle once but they will never buy it again,” Teeling says.
Liquid on the Lips
When it comes to getting the message out in the market, “It’s a liquid-on-the-lips type of education,” Teeling says. The company is aiming at the premium $35-$60 mark, a price range which was underdeveloped. At that price point, people are looking for deeper insight about how the whiskey is produced.
Brand ambassadors in key markets handle tastings, training and education for consumers and the trade. The company is nimble enough to produce bespoke POS materials, including lending iconic elements from the distillery. A co-branded effort with Fixie Bikes produced a beautiful custom ride that retailers (where legal) can show off in their stores, as an opportunity to raffle off to customers or incentivize staff. Plus, Teeling has launched a collaboration with American craft brewer Sixpoints, which is aging a red ale in whiskey barrels.
“We have very different messages for each of our three Irish whiskey brands–Concannon, Michael Collins and Barton,” says Mark Brown, president and CEO of the Sazerac Company. Concannon Irish Whiskey focuses on the quality story through its ties to the Concannon Vineyard in California; the whiskey is matured in wine barrels (and Bourbon casks) for a minimum of four years. The recently acquired Michael Collins brand is centered around the personality of Michael Collins, a general in the Irish war of independence. And Barton Irish Whiskey, Brown says, is a widely trusted brand name by many consumers representing exceptional quality and value.
While some brands hearken back to ancient Ireland, 2 Gingers looks to modern Minnesota. There, pub owner Kieran Folliard created Gingers Whiskey and the Big Ginger cocktail. “2 Gingers is unique in that, although it is distilled, aged and bottled in Ireland, it has an American backstory. It was conceived in an Irish pub in Minnesota,” says Patel at Beam Suntory, now owner of 2 Gingers. Folliard is now a busy brand ambassador.
“In this neck of the woods, 2 Gingers is very popular,” Farrell says. “Kieran is a bit of a rock star here.” Haskell’s is planning a bottle-signing event with Folliard. “Customers will be lined up out the door,” he predicts. BD
Thomas Henry Strenk is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with over 20 years experience covering the beverage and restaurant industries. In his small apartment-turned-alchemist-den, he homebrews beer kombucha, and concocts his own bitters and infusions.