A scotch whisky distiller, when asked recently if he made any blends, was gloriously sniffy and dismissive of blended whisky. It would have been interesting to see and hear what he would have made of the Johnnie Walker Directors Blends, which I got to taste last Thursday (November 28) in London.
Simon Fay was speaking to Drinks Intenational in New York following the launch of Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel. He said the brand is showing double digit growth in 50 states in the US. California, the number one market, accounts for 200,000 cases which is nearly the same as the whole of Russia with 220,000 cases. Jameson accounts for 71% of total Irish whiskey sales in the US alone, more by value, he claimed.
Asked how the brand has become so successful, he gave three reasons. Firstly, "Irishness. There is great goodwill towards the Irish. At only 4.5 million people, Ireland punches well above it's weight in the US," said Fay. Although he pointed out that the population of California is approximately 50% of Hispanic origin. Secondly, Fay cites the taste of Jameson. "It is easy to drink, approachable and smooth," he said. Finally, he said the brand represents "camaraderie and connectivenesss" so people enjoy going out and sharing it.
The US market breaks down to 25% on premise, 75% off while Jameson's profile is 40:60. In New York and California the ratio is nearer 50:50% on to off premise. Black Barrel is a blend of malted and unmalted barley that is distilled in pot stills. It is then aged in used sherry casks. Grain whiskey is aged in deep charred used bourbon casks from Wild Turkey. The two whiskeys are blended to give a "creamy, spicy and toasted wood" notes, according to Fay. Because stocks are limited, Black Barrel is only available in New York for the time being.