Wednesday 19 January 2011

The Local and Jameson agree to be friends

Every year, The Local bar in Minneapolis wins the prize for serving more Jameson than any other boozer in the world - about 25 bottles a day. This is largely thanks to its signature drink, The Big Ginger, a mix of Jameson and ginger ale.

Now the owners have spotted a chance to improve their margins by swapping out the Jameson and replacing it with a private label Irish whiskey they will source from Cooley distillery.

Cooley's whiskey is, deliberately, quite different to Jameson. It's malt, rather than pure pot still; it's matured entirely in bourbon barrels, rather than a mix of bourbon and sherry; it's distilled twice, rather than three times. So it does not smell or taste the same neat. Honestly though, that matters a lot less when you throw a glass of ginger ale into it. Even a poor whiskey can make a nice drink when mixed. No doubt The Local has done some blind taste testing to ensure the change is marginal.

What I'd be less sure about is the perception of change. Jameson, the brand, has a lot of cachet. It is displayed prominently in the bar and the customers knew exactly what they were getting when they ordered a Big Ginger. The gloss might go off the experience if an unknown Irish whiskey takes its place.

On the other hand, consider the experience of the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco. Renowned for its Irish Coffee, it had for years a special whiskey blended for it by Irish Distillers, and later one made by Cooley. A few years ago it gave up the custom approach and bought in standard Tullamore Dew. There was a bit of a fuss in the local press about the loss of individuality. It probably didn't matter to the Irish Coffee but people like the idea that what they are getting can't be had anywhere else.

So maybe The Local has the right idea. A Jameson and ginger ale can be mixed anywhere. The one true Big Ginger, however, will only be served at The Local where they will include the magic ingredient, "2 Gingers" Irish whiskey.