Life of Riley

14 December, 2017


As Manhattan rents soared, many young people moved to Brooklyn. According to Riley, it became the “epicentre for Jameson” with all the students and artists adopting the brand.

On top of that, the brand’s ad agency came up with a campaign based on the theme What’s the Rush for the triple-distilled whiskey.

Another key moment for Riley was when Richard Burrows requested he go to Paris in 2000 around the time Pernod was negotiating with Diageo to buy Seagram. Under strict secrecy, he was asked to look at Seagram’s flagship whisky, Chivas Regal. It had been a favourite of the Seagram family.

“I was asked: ‘Could we revive it?’ I spent some time looking at it. I thought it was one of the most iconic brands in the spirits industry. Also, scotch whisky sells everywhere.

“Again, it was the taste. It was scotch but it was very smooth, not challenging. Seagram had been remarkably consistent with its message around the world. With the small brown bottle and silver and gold, the message was: ‘If you are successful, you drink Chivas.’ Slightly arrogant, but that comes with success. It was aspirational,” says Riley.

One of the advertising executions featured three friends “chewing the fat”, chilling out, ice fishing in Alaska. “This was the Chivas life – modern luxury.” On acquisition and with the addition of Seagram’s global distribution, the instruction from above was: “Get behind Chivas.”

So what is Riley doing now? He is a non-executive director of a design agency and has been sharing his wealth of knowledge with the owners of a mezcal brand called Silencio and an artisan Polish vodka, Kavka.

One of Riley’s bugbears is ‘FMCG’, in marketing speak. As far as he is concerned spirits are not fast-moving consumer goods. So the advertising, marketing and promotional strategy for spirits brands should not be treated as such. Beer and wine brands, such as Jacob’s Creek, yes, but spirits? No.

He asks: “How often to people buy spirits? One, two bottles a year? Spirits are relatively expensive for most people. The supermarkets are not always appreciative of spirits – they have craftsmanship, authenticity, heritage, provenance.”

His favourite drink: “Gin and tonic, followed by whisk(e)y and Armagnac (he is an ‘Armagnac musketeer’, as is this writer… more of that in the future).”

His epitaph: “The glass is more than half full. He lived the life of Riley.”

So, that’s the Life of Riley for you.


Some scholars argue that this Riley (originally spelt Reilly) referred to the character who appeared in a song written by Pat Rooney in 1890. In the song Riley says if he ever became the president of the US then New York would “swim in wine when the White House and Capitol are mine”.

Some others argue that it was an American poet by the name of James Whitcomb Riley who gave rise to this idiom. Apparently, Riley (1849-1916) wrote sentimental poems about young boys, which were very popular during his time. The poems told the stories of young boys lazing around during the summer without a care in the world — wandering about barefoot, swimming in the river and fishing.


Philip Duff

Duff Said: Awash with rum

As the weather gets bleak Philip Duff turns to the warming notes of rum for comfort. But there are currently several elements unsettling the category