Irish whiskey: Sky's the limit

21 November, 2014

Buckley calls Jameson the “category icon” and reiterates that Jameson’s runaway success comes down to its smooth, easy-to-drink delivery. But that’s not all.

“Trial and furthering our relationship with bartenders are still a big part of the strategy,” he says. “They are the ‘filters’ to consumers. With Jameson, it starts with the product. It is a long-term investment to educate (consumers) and nurture bartenders. Hence the Irish Whisky Academy (at ID’s huge distillery in Midleton, Cork). It started with bartenders and journalists, now it is open to the public. We want to immerse them in the experience,” he says.

But Buckley and ID are not sitting back on the coat tails of Jameson’s success. He reels off a startling number of other things that are going in the portfolio.

ID has just launched Midleton Very Rare, a pot still blend created by former master distiller Barry Crockett and his successor, Brian Nation. There will be two new pot still expressions before the end of June 2015, thanks to the undertaking given by former ID boss and soon to be overall head of Pernod Ricard, Alexandre Ricard.

There is Jameson Cask Mates, where Jameson barrels were sent to a brewery in Cork, filled with beer then sent back empty and re-filled with Jameson. A genuine collaboration – Buckley sees legs on that concept.

ID’s single pot still whiskies have grown 15.2% since the category was created in 2009. Redbreast accounts for the lion’s share, followed by the ‘Spots’ – Yellow and Green (at some stage there will be a Red, which is likely to be a 15-year-old), not forgetting Midleton with it latest launch.

Going back to bigger brands, Buckley says Power’s, which was originally a Dublin whiskey, is being repositioned as a whiskey for serious drinkers. Buckley says it is being positioned against “the bruiser whiskies such as Johnnie Walker Black Label, Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek”.

On the other hand, Paddy, a lighter whiskey originally from Cork, is being aimed at entry-level whiskey drinkers, hence the flavoured variants which were launched last year in the US and France.

Buckley also points to the formation of the Irish Whiskey Association this year, modelled on the highly influential Scotch Whisky Association and ID’s academy as further evidence of the growing importance of and interest in Irish whiskey.

Bushmills in the north, Diageo’s Irish whiskey outpost has also delved into flavours with Bushmills Irish Honey, which is available in the US, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, Portugal, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Baltics, Israel, Czech Republic and GTME (global travel retail and the Middle East). The brand seems a little lost among Diageo’s huge scotch whisky portfolio. It is not one of the company’s strategic brands so it does not get the focus the likes of Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Tanquerary get.

Nevertheless, Bushmills’ Irish whiskey global brand director Kate Glenn is bullish. She says: “The latest results from Bushmills for the year ended June 30, 2014, show strong global growth of 8% volume and 7% NSV (net sales value). Our fastest-growing markets are currently Russia and eastern Europe, Germany and GTME, which are all outpacing the category growth.

“Premiumisation is playing a big part in expanding the category. Global expansion presents a great opportunity. There are many countries where consumers still aren’t that familiar with Irish whiskey, where we’d hope to replicate the success that we are seeing in Russia, Bulgaria and other eastern European countries - where we only began selling Bushmills about five years ago and the brand is now well established with many adorers. Premium spirit drinks such as flavoured whiskey innovations are also playing a big part in expanding and energising the category,” says Glenn.

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Tess Posthumus

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