As the ambassador for 2 Gingers Irish whiskey, Kieran Folliard makes introductions glass by glass, bar by bar.
Kieran Folliard, the high-profile Twin Cities pub master and whiskey entrepreneur, is in the midst of a YOLO (you only live once) moment.
Fresh from a gig in Denver to promote his 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, Folliard celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in his adopted Twin Cities Monday and then dashed off for a series of stops in St. Louis, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, all in the name of the amber liquor he commissioned and introduced in Minnesota three years ago this week.
It’s been a whirlwind two months for the irrepressible native of Ireland as he’s crisscrossed the United States on behalf of 2 Gingers and Beam Inc., the multinational spirits giant that purchased the label from Folliard in late 2012.
“No one is going to outwork us,” Folliard said in an interview Sunday while sitting in a custom-fitted Airstream trailer emblazoned on the outside with the 2 Gingers label and decorated on the inside like an Irish pub.
“This is not something coming from a Madison Avenue ad agency. This whiskey is a living, breathing thing that was born inside a pub,” Folliard said.
Folliard’s timing with 2 Gingers is fortuitous. The Irish whiskey market is hot these days. According to Nielsen, the market research bible, U.S. demand for Irish whiskey grew 17 percent in the last year.
“It’s on fire,” said Jack Farrell, the CEO of Haskell’s Wine and Spirits in the Twin Cities about the Irish whiskey market. “It’s something new. When I got in the business 40 years ago, we didn’t hardly sell any at all.
“Irish whiskey still has a small base, but it is growing by double digits,” Farrell said. “Vodka has been flat, the big beer brands have been flat. All the growth has been in individual, stylized wine, spirits and beer.”
While fabled Irish brands like Jameson and Bushmills still dominate the category, an upstart like 2 Gingers, with the marketing power of the Jim Beam family behind it, showed some staying power, too, with year-over-year sales up by 41 percent, according to Nielsen.
The taste of Irish whiskey is “less peaty and smoother” than Scotch whisky, Farrell said. Folliard said Irish whiskey is smoother than U.S. whiskey, too. “It doesn’t have the burn,” Folliard said.
Two Gingers — named in honor of Folliard’s redheaded mother and aunt whose faces adorn the bottle’s label — was born in 2011 when Folliard teamed up with the Kilbeggan Distilling Co. in Ireland to produce the whiskey for his pubs. To comply with Minnesota liquor laws, Folliard eventually was required to sell his dining and drinking establishments.
In January 2012, Folliard began selling and distributing 2 Gingers beyond his pubs into parts of Minnesota and surrounding states.
Almost immediately, he became locked in a legal dispute with Jameson’s, which had been the primary whiskey sold in Folliard’s four establishments — Kieran’s, the Local, the Liffey and Cooper Pub. At issue was the name of the signature drink of the pubs: the Big Ginger (Irish whiskey and ginger ale with slices of lemon and lime). The lawsuit ultimately was settled and Folliard retained the right to pour the Big Ginger and its diet ginger ale cousin, the Skinny Ginger.
In December 2012, 2 Gingers was sold to Beam and Folliard was retained as the brand’s official ambassador. In August 2013, the footprint of 2 Gingers was expanded beyond the Midwest into nine additional states. Last month 2 Gingers became available throughout the United State.
With Beam’s pending acquisition by the Japanese company Suntory, the marketing muscle for Beam’s other brands, including 2 Gingers, is expected to become stronger.
Since February, Folliard has been on the road, touting his Irish whiskey. He’s been to Milwaukee, Chicago, New Jersey, New Orleans, Dallas and San Diego. Last week he got word that the 700-store CVS pharmacy chain in California is going to stock his product.
“Our marketing campaign is about hand-to-hand selling, sampling in liquor stores and bars,” Folliard said.
In each city and town, including Geneva, Minn. (population 555), Folliard meets with liquor distributors, bar owners and liquor store employees to explain the 2 Gingers story, describe the distillery in Ireland where it is produced and the thinking behind the finished whiskey.
“It’s a new town every day and you meet with these people and it’s like, ‘Let’s keep it going all night,’ ” Folliard said, belying any outward weariness. “Now that’s the grueling part.”
David Phelps • 612-673-7269