John Jameson’s Passion Pays Off

By: Anthony Head

“Lost Barrel” is the title of the Jameson Irish Whiskey commercial that’s known to many by now. It’s an excerpt from an epic sea voyage with a terrible storm and a giant octopus in the plot. (An entertaining alternative to the usual bar-banter pieces cluttering up the timeouts during football season). The 30-second spot follows the brand’s founder, John Jameson, as he saves a single barrel of his whiskey that had fallen overboard in 1781.

John Jameson struggles to save a single barrel of Jameson whiskey in the brand’s “Lost Barrel” television commercial.
Just imagine how he’d take the news that a million cases of his fabled Irish whiskey were sold in this country in 2010. (That’s one out of every three bottles sold worldwide.) Yet, as significant as it is to achieve the million-case sales milestone, don’t look for Jameson to be slowing down anytime soon. The brand has nearly doubled in size over the past three years, making it by far the strongest driver of the Irish whiskey category. 

“Our rate of growth is accelerating. We’re now the fastest growing premium spirit brand in the U.S.,” says Wayne Hartunian, Vice President of Whiskies and Cognac for Pernod Ricard USA. A brand does not achieve that standing without having gained the enthusiasm of guys 25 to 35 years old—a coveted demographic that is also sure to love a thrilling sea story.

“There’s a certain tone to that commercial spot—it reflects how the brand is serious whiskey that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Hartunian says, adding that Jameson is often perceived as something of a consumer’s “alternative” whiskey, with highly refined scotch on one end and the rebellious spirit behind American whiskeys and bourbons on the other. “In the middle is Jameson, being triple-distilled and having a smooth flavor and an engaging personality.”

With a background in brand management at large CPG companies such as Unilever and Campbell Soup Company, Hartunian has been with Pernod Ricard for nearly five years, including three years as Brand Director for Jameson. He says there was already solid growth in the brand when he arrived, “but we felt there was an opportunity to improve both the volume and brand equity trajectory even more, while also educating the trade on the potential of the brand and how to leverage it.

Key to successfully managing the potential of the brand is optimizing the growth rate—with an eye to the long-term, finding that point at which the brand is growing at a healthy sustainable rate, but not so fast that it is dependent on short-term tactics. Another key point is to recognize the importance of organic growth to Jameson and to strike the right balance between that and commercially driven growth. We have very unique and successful marketing support for the brand, but we also recognize that we need to continue nurturing the organic growth. 

An example of organic growth is the pervasive passion bartenders have for the brand. They’re true advocates, and historically they’re such key drivers of consumer perception. Because Jameson is so often a bartender’s drink of choice, consumers pick up on it. Our on-premise growth remains strong in all types of accounts, even during a recessionary era.”

At the top of all that on-premise growth sits a bar in Minneapolis, the largest Jameson on-premise volume account in the world. Hartunian says the bar is a great example of how other establishments can drive strong incremental sales year-round by focusing on the brand and leveraging and promoting a successful drink such as Jameson & ginger ale.

He says Pernod Ricard’s continued increasing investment in and commitment to the brand is why he knows that hitting the million-case mark won’t be the last major accomplishment in Jameson’s long and storied history. “I firmly believe that although we have surpassed a million cases, Jameson is still a brand in its infancy.”

It’s not clear from the “Lost Barrel” commercial where John Jameson was headed during that “great storm of 1781.” But, having established his Irish distillery one year before, there’s a good chance he might have been headed over to the New World to introduce his whiskey to the United States of America. Obviously, Jameson’s decision to save one barrel merely delayed the inevitable reception it has received.

Conitra Elzie at Blue Martini.
Category-Crossing at Blue Martini

Among the most popular—not to mention traditionally transparent and trendy—spirits served at Las Vegas’s Blue Martini, a jumping vodka and Martini outpost, is an Irish whiskey that’s snagging the spotlight from its clear counterparts in a surprising way.

“Here at Blue Martini, we’re typically a vodka bar, and you wouldn’t expect to sell so much Jameson,” admits bartender Conitra Elzie. “But it sells itself,” she attests, explaining that for this out-of-the-vodka-box spirit, it’s all about the shots. “Whenever someone asks for a shot, I always say ‘Jameson.’ It’s so smooth and has no bite.”

What used to be the choice of an older generation is now hitting high notes with new demographics, thanks to the brand’s versatility and velocity at various points of distribution. From dive bars to the top national accounts, and high-end nightclubs like Blue Martini, Jameson is smashing through any notions of the “traditional” Irish whiskey drinker. Another notch on Jameson’s venerable belt that Elzie reports? “It’s really popular with the ladies.” —Rachel Burkons

Jameson Thinks Outside of the Jar at The Palm

 The Palm restaurant at Vegas’s Caesar’s Palace may be known for their signature caricature-enhanced walls, but they’ve had their share of real-life characters in there as well. Jax Budde, bartender at The Palm remembers one personality who had just arrived from New York, bringing a veritable cocktail craze with him. “Do you have any pickle juice?” he’d asked Budde, who laughingly recalls, “I’d never had that request!”

Then, Budde may have reeled with first-time shock, but now she knows better: The Pickle Back, a shot trend that originated in New York City, is a one-two punch of a shot of Jameson followed by a shot of pickle juice that combines in a savory marriage of heat and sweet from the whiskey and salty/sour from the brine.

“This drink is on fire!” reports Michael Cate, On-Premise Division Manager in Las Vegas for Pernod-Ricard. “It has such an east coast vibe. It’s gone viral and definitely heading west. Even Ireland is talking about the pickle back.” 
Jax Budde of The Palm in Las Vegas.

“It mixes really well,” says Budde, who also serves up plenty of Jameson in more, well, traditional cocktails, like the sweet, light and smooth Jameson and Ginger. For customers looking for something a bit weightier, Budde is a fan of the Thin Lizzy, mixing Jameson with Patron XO Café in a sweet-and-smoky sipper. Any way you take it, The Palm is helping fuel the fires in Jameson’s rise to the top. —R.B.

Sails Are High For Jameson At Brady’s Yacht Club

Amber Hogge, owner of Brady’s Yacht Club in Santa Cruz, CA says the Bloody Molly is not only over-the-top in sales volume as the bar’s signature cocktail, but also over-the-top in its array of edible ingredients—from tomato juice to pickles, onions, okra, olives and celery. “It’s a meal!” she claims. 
 Living up to its reputation as the “Best Dive Bar in Santa Cruz,” Brady’s Yacht Club is a beloved landmark in a sleepy Northern California beach town, where the pool table is juxtaposed to the jukebox and one of the house specials is a $7 combo: a shot of Jameson, followed by a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Amber Hogge, owner of the bar, which is neither yacht club nor Irish pub, was gifted the establishment as it passed down through family ownership. “My dad used to manage the place,” the 29-year-old tells THE TASTING PANEL, “and not only did he not want me to work here, he just wanted me to stay away, period.”

Formerly a resident of San Francisco’s East Bay, Hogge preferred the nightclub scene and certainly didn’t picture herself as a t-shirted local tavern type. That is, until she took over Brady’s two years ago. “I proved myself,” she admits proudly, “to my dad and to myself.”

And although Brady’s wasn’t recession-proof, Hogge’s impact has induced adoring local fans to call this place home. In fact, if you check out Brady’s on Yelp.com, you’ll find a tome of tributes to the bar. As one cyber-fan wrote, “[At Brady’s] you’ll find a cook sitting next to a judge, a janitor shooting pool with a Fortune 500 CEO—and this tiny bar probably sells more Jameson than any other place in the West.”

Brady’s is actually steeped in history, according to Hogge. “It’s been around for 77 years. It was a Speakeasy in the ‘30s, called the 413 Club [named after the street number on Seabright Avenue] and the original building was actually three times the size. “It burned down in the 1960s,” Hogge explains, “but it was resurrected three days later in an old-fashioned barn-raising.”

Brady’s was meant to be, and Hogge and her team utilize it beyond its everyday function as the bar Old Man Brady created decades ago. From fund-raisers to memorial services for its once-loyal customers, Hogge quotes one of the regulars who insists, “It’s as important as our living room.”  —Meridith May    

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