Drink of the Week: The JJ

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For two years in a row, the Local--a relatively small bar in a relatively small town that's not particularly known for its Irish population---has sold more Jameson Irish whiskey than any other bar in the world. Last week, Jameson reps came to town to present the bar with a plaque to honor its accomplishments and I talked to Peter Killen, managing partner at the Local, to find out how the bar had possibly accomplished its mission.

"We have to down a couple of bottles ourselves every day just to make it happen," Killen joked, in his Irish brogue, before giving me the real story:

Jameson, Killen explained, is owned by Pernod Ricard, the world's second-largest liquor company (Kahlua, Absolut, Seagram's), which divides its US sales into four divisions. At a 2004 conference, Jameson announced that the Local had sold more of its product than anyone else in the region--which included Irish stronghold, Chicago. Killen says he was shocked: "Here we are always in the shadow of Chicago...so we asked, 'Who has the most in the country?' and they said, "Huh...nobody’s reallly asked."

The Jameson folks looked into it and it turned out the leader was Nine Fine Irishmen, a bar in the New York, New York casino in Las Vegas, and the Local was 50 cases behind, in second place. So, Killen says, the Local's managment sat down and put together a strategic plan to move into first place, which included staff incentives and training, and a signature drink called the Big Ginger made with Jameson and ginger ale.

Killen says the staff really embraced the challenge, and, motivated by workplace pride and a little Jameson swag, competition to be the top seller heated up. Staff encourage drinkers to try Jameson with the 'when in an Irish pub...' rationale and an explanation of Jameson's triple-distilled superiority (brands like Jack Daniels are distilled only once). The staff put up posters up in pub to let customers know about their mission and, Killen says, the community embraced the idea. "People were pounding their chests to support the cause. They'd say, 'I’ll help you, I’ll take one,' and order a Jameson." A little cultural moxie probably didn't hurt either. "Don’t ever say never to an Irishman," Killen remarks.

In 2006, the Local took the number 1 spot, and again, in 2007. Killen says they're on pretty good pace to take 2008 as well--helped by the fact that about a third of the liquor they sell is Jameson.

Killen says die-hard scotch drinkers are tough to convert to the idea of mixing whiskey with anything but ice or water: "Big Ginger’s almost sacrilege to them." But, for those who aren't offended by the idea, they've recently created a second whiskey cocktail to encourage those new to the spirit. The JJ mixes 2 oz. of Jameson with black currant and mint, and tastes something like a fruity, whiskey-based mojito. Overall, I'd say it's a pretty pleasant way to help the Local make its hat trick.


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