February 2012

Follow the Leader

By: E. C. Gladstone


Jameson isn’t just a popular drink, or a historic brand. In Ireland, it’s practically a way of life. So when Kate Flanagan talks about telling her father back in County Louth that she’d joined the company as one of six Brand Ambassadors for the U.S., you can almost hear the emotion and pride.

Kate Flanagan, Jameson Brand Ambassador.

Despite 230 years under its belt, Jameson has seen its U.S. sales increase markedly this decade (three million cases worldwide and one million in the U.S. alone in 2011), even while faced with ever-expanding competition from American, Irish, Caribbean and other brown spirits. To experience how a venerated label stays fresh and vibrant, THE TASTING PANEL asked Flanagan to let us tag along on a typical day in her Ambassador life, visiting a variety of Jameson-friendly venues.

“You have to have a lot of energy,” says Flanagan, “and really like meeting people.” Flanagan, 24, handles all of Colorado, Nevada and Arizona for Pernod Ricard’s Irish whiskies, but Kate has spent almost her entire first few months in Las Vegas—hardly surprising considering the number of venues and volume of consumption in Sin City. What does surprise, though, is Jameson’s top account here: It’s not a big steakhouse or cigar lounge on the Strip, but the decidedly downmarket off-Strip punk club Double Down Saloon, which moves up to three cases a week (in the nightclub world, it’s The Cosmopolitan’s Marquee that dominates). Flanagan will end her day there at a midnight promotion for Jameson & Ginger highballs. But there are miles to go before she gets there.

McMullan’s Irish Pub

Next door to the locals-friendly Orleans Hotel & Casino, McMullan’s Irish Pub may resemble just another typical tavern from the outside, but indoors, it is a serious replica of the old country. Flanagan greets Head Barman and Manager Dallas Perry, making sure he has the full line behind the bar, including 12 Year Old Special Reserve, Gold Reserve, 18 Year Old Limited Reserve and award-winning Rarest Vintage Reserve.
Dallas Perry, Head Barman and Manager of McMullan’s Irish Pub at Orleans Hotel.

“These are the best Irish Coffees in all Vegas,” Flanagan tells me in her soft lilt, proffering a small goblet filled with fresh black coffee and standard Jameson with a thick cap of whipping cream. It is, indeed, perfectly blended and balanced, drinking with dangerous ease—a great way to kickstart a day.

Flanagan discusses St. Patrick’s Day plans in the works, obviously including some of her biggest promotions of the year, such as a whiskey festival at the elegant off-Strip M Resort, and a special bar crawl which will feature a unique Jameson signature cocktail at each stop.

Bar + Bistro Chef Beni Velasquez with Kate Flanagan and owners Wes Isbutt and Debra Heiser.

Bar + Bistro

Speaking of stops, next, Flanagan heads to Vegas’ burgeoning Arts Factory and the popular loft-like Bar + Bistro, whose owners Wes Isbutt and Debra Heiser are brown spirits fans in general, and strong Jameson supporters specifically. Flanagan gives the staff a refresher tasting of the Jameson line, as well as Redbreast 12 year old—the only single pot still Irish whiskey available Stateside. She also revisits the success of a Jameson Fusion Dinner they held last week, featuring Jameson-infused and -paired dishes by Chef Beni Velazquez, including Marcona almond rainbow trout (cooked with Midleton Very Rare) and whiskey ice cream made with Jameson Gold.

“Everything you need to know about Jameson is right on the bottle,” Flanagan tells them, retracing the story of John Jameson founding his Dublin distillery in 1780, when there were some 2,000 such houses in Ireland. Today, Jameson is one of only three, and the family motto “Sine Metu” (Without Fear) has become a popular bartender tattoo.

Crescent School of Gaming and Bartending

“Essentially, my role is education and mentoring,” says Flanagan on our way to the next stop, a well-established training ground for casino employees. The Crescent school isn’t really a client (most of the bar training is practiced with colored water), but Flanagan’s complimentary tasting for the students is more than altruistic. To be sure, a bartender familiar and comfortable with Jameson is one who’s likely to hand-sell it more.

Kate poses with students of the Crescent School of Gaming and Bartending.

While Crescent instructor Bret Stanley (who won a mixology contest with a Jameson-based cocktail) directs the 30 students on how to properly nose and taste the whiskey, Flanagan stresses the importance of asking the customer’s preference for “neat” or “rocks.”

“To me, it’s the taste of the product that really matters,” says Kate, adding suggestions for different easy mixers (ginger ale, cranberry juice, even orange juice shots or pickle juice backs). She recommends the 18 Year Old as a dessert drink and suggests, “If a girl came to your bar who wasn’t sure she liked whiskey, I’d upsell Gold Reserve to her.”

Stanley offers the unofficial statistic that “whiskey drinkers tip an average of 30% on drinks,” before Kate gives a pop quiz, awarding bottle openers to the winners, and mentioning that Jameson hosts an annual Bartenders Ball on the Strip as a way of thanks.

Vanguard Lounge bartender Stan Stilwell.
Vanguard Lounge

“I don’t miss anything Jameson involved,” says bartender Stan Stilwell at our next stop, the Vanguard, one of the more serious mixology spots in downtown Vegas. “Your dedicated Jameson drinkers are downtowners,” Flanagan tells us. Unlike other brands, Jameson is more interested in supporting real patrons than promoting image. “We have many celebrity advocates,” she says, “but we don’t invest in that at all.” While Flanagan and Vanguard Manager Nathan Greene discuss an upcoming cocktail competition there that Jameson is sponsoring, Stilwell makes us one of their signature drinks. The MacGruber features Guinness Stout foam and Kona coffee-infused Jameson; the malty nose gives way to a sweet, milky, mouth-coddling full Jameson flavor. A real winner.

“I’m picking up a big undertone of heaven,” says Stilwell, over a glass of Jameson 18 Year Old, neat. And when the Rarest Vintage is poured, even the bar’s owner appears out of nowhere to share.

The Whisky Attic owner, Adam Carmer.


The Whisky Attic

Flanagan’s next stop is something of a Brigadoon–a place steeped in Las Vegas legend. Created by University of Nevada professor Adam Carmer, the Whisky Attic is part saloon and part museum, a tasting room dedicated to collecting every single brown spirit ever made. Yet with literally thousands of unique bottles, Carmer still reserves a very prominent shelf for the Jameson line. “There’s nothing better in all of Ireland,” he says of their Midleton Very Rare, pouring a sampling alongside the simpler but classic Paddy and a few other rarities. Carmer’s enthusiasm and knowledge is both infectious and overwhelming.

As the witching hour nears, Flanagan is off to the Double Down. “Jameson is actually comfortable with the grittier side of things,” Flanagan confides. Clearly, this is a spirit that can go anywhere. 

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