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As Jameson’s Growth Continues, Pernod Ricard Looks To Move The Brand Upscale

August 23, 2018

Even amid a wave of change and expansion in Irish whiskey, the lion’s share of the category’s growth remains with longtime leader Jameson, which holds an 83% share of Irish whiskey volume in the U.S. market, according to Impact Databank. With over 3.2 million cases depleted in 2017, the Pernod Ricard-owned brand has been busy extending upward from its core label and creating a platform for further growth.

“We’ve seen an increase in understanding and appreciation of Irish whiskey,” says Jameson brand director Matt Foley. “In response, we’ve expanded the portfolio to meet the demand for more inventive and premium expressions.”

Jameson’s move to the higher end arguably first started back in 2011 with the launch of Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel ($40 a 750-ml.), a small-batch grain whiskey that’s triple-distilled on one occasion each year, then matured in flame-charred Wild Turkey Bourbon casks and blended with single pot still Irish whiskey aged 12 years in ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry butts. In 2015 Jameson extended again with the launch of its Jameson Caskmates ($30) series, a line of Irish whiskies finished in barrels used for craft beer. Then, in 2016 came Cooper’s Croze ($70), named for one of the tools a cooper uses to seal barrels of whiskey. Cooper’s Croze is the first in a series of three new Jameson expressions that will each highlight a part of the production process. It was matured in virgin American oak, seasoned Bourbon, and Iberian Sherry barrels.

While Black Barrel and Cooper’s Croze are more limited expressions, Caskmates has taken on a substantial role within the Jameson portfolio. The series is now the second-largest Irish whiskey label in the United States in Nielsen channels, and is on track to eclipse 200,000 cases this year. The first Caskmates expression, Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition, was finished in Jameson casks used by Irish craft brewer Franciscan Wells to make its Irish stout. The second expression, Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition, was released in late 2017 and finished in IPA barrels likewise used by Franciscan Wells. A special Caskmates series—Caskmates Drinking Buddies—debuted in 2014 and features limited edition whiskey and beer offerings made in collaboration with various American craft brewers, including Harpoon Brewing in Boston, Green Flash Brewing Co. in San Diego, and Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. in New York, among others.

This spring, Pernod Ricard’s Irish Distillers unit also acquired County Cork, Ireland-based craft brewer Eight Degrees Brewing, to support future production of the Caskmates series. Eight Degrees is best known for its core Barefoot Bohemian Pilsner Lager, Howling Gale Irish Pale Ale, Sunburnt Irish Red Ale, and Knockmealdown Irish Stout labels.

Pernod Ricard also is backing Jameson with a new multi-million dollar ad push that rolled out in March. The campaign, taglined “Taste, That’s Why,” includes television spots showcasing real-life brand stories, as well as out-of-home, digital, display, and social media components. A documentary series is also part of the new campaign.—Julia Higgins

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